IOWA CITY — Just mere minutes into the game, Kinnick Stadium was silent.
And that’s how it stayed for the majority of the game on Saturday as No. 4 Michigan beat Iowa, 27-14. But it was more than just a win, it was a statement. In their first opportunity to do so, this year’s Wolverines proved their road mettle.
A decisive and calculated 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open up the contest quieted the nearly 70,000 fans in attendance almost as soon as they settled into their seats.
I would know, as I was actually in the stands. A quick sidebar:
Before you label me a ‘homer’ or ‘unprofessional’, allow me to explain the circumstances.
Though The Michigan Daily football beat applied for four credentials for the game, we received just three — one fewer than the number of writers we have. So instead of leaving one of our writers home to sulk and watch the game in solitude, we decided to split the cost of a single ticket to the game and have one of our writers do the job from the stands, Jim Cantore style.
That’s where I come in.
That perspective provided me with more than just a sunburn and a couple of five-dollar water bottles; it gave me a first-hand look at what the Wolverines did to the opposing crowd at Kinnick — and, if you’re an Iowa fan, it wasn’t pretty.
After Iowa’s second-straight three-and-out to start the second half, a child in front of me, no older than 12 and certainly not taller than five feet, let out a high-pitched scream in frustration. They weren’t screaming at any one player or a single event, but merely the circumstance that their Hawkeyes were in — down by 20 points and completely suffocated by Michigan’s defense.
Throughout most of the game up until that point, frustration was the sound most common in the stands of Kinnick. Disgruntled groans, protesting screams, everything but actual cheering.
It wasn’t always like that, of course. Just before the game commenced, an older man behind me tapped me on the shoulder. We had chatted for a while earlier and he had told me that he was a lifelong Iowa fan as well as a graduate. But this time it wasn’t just small talk:
“Just wait until you hear the roar on the first play,” he said.
He was right. To start, Kinnick was deafening.
But it wasn’t for long. Michigan methodically marched down the field, only getting to third down once, and that being with one yard to go — shockingly, they converted. It was the type of drive that sucked the life out of the stadium and after three more unanswered scoring drives, it took a while for the atmosphere to recover.
Eventually, it did; it was Kinnick after all. Fourth quarter gaffes from the Wolverines allowed the Hawkeyes a brief opening back into the game and that did get the stadium jumping again. But the comeback never really materialized, and Michigan left with a comfortable victory.
That’s what teams need to do on the road when facing an environment like Kinnick, the stadium where ‘top-five teams go to die,’ according to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. And that’s why the Wolverines won on Saturday.
After the game, Michigan’s players talked about how much they embraced being the villain on the road.
“I love the Big House, but away games are definitely my favorite,” senior edge Mike Morris said. “I love the crowd chiming in. I love the crowd being right on top of us, yelling. And I love the hostile environment.
“I liked being the enemy.”
Outside of last season, that’s a mindset that Michigan football simply hasn’t had for years. What it did on Saturday proves that last season’s road magic wasn’t just an aberration.
Parallels were drawn between this contest and the Wolverines’ game at Camp Randall last season. In that case, it was another stadium that Michigan had struggled in for years, leaving battered and demoralized after every trip. The Wolverines had not won in Madison since 2001, just like they had not won in Iowa City since 2005. But last season, they bucked that trend in emphatic fashion, dominating the Badgers 38-17.
Saturday, they did the same at Kinnick.
“I definitely feel like it feels like (the Wisconsin game last year),” Morris said. “… (And) big-time players make big-time plays, like last year.”
Michigan played some of its best football on the road last season, a major reason why it had its best campaign in decades. But to simply assume that trend would continue this year would’ve been foolish.
So then it was fair to wonder what this year’s Wolverines would look like in a similar scenario.
They fared well, and it’s safe to say that the Iowa fans in Kinnick on Saturday would agree.