For the second time this season, the Michigan football team is headed on the road to play a game that was circled on most fans’ preseason calendars. And for the second time, the hype surrounding the game has faded considerably.
After Iowa raced to a 12-2 season in 2015, including an 8-0 Big Ten regular season record, a mid-November game at Kinnick Stadium seemed make-or-break in 2016. But while the Hawkeyes (3-3 Big Ten, 5-4 overall) are still a real threat, the attention that once might have been expected has dwindled. Iowa has already lost games to North Dakota State and Northwestern in addition to No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 10 Penn State.
For Michigan, though, the stakes aren’t any lower. The third-ranked Wolverines (6-0, 9-0) have everything to lose when they take the field in primetime Saturday.
“It makes you prepare that much harder because you know people are gunning for you,” said fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow. “You’re going to get everyone’s best shot every week. And if you don’t prepare, you can easily slip up. Anyone in the Big Ten can beat you any given Saturday.”
After blowing out Maryland, 59-3, last week, Michigan should be in for a more substantial challenge from the Hawkeyes. Senior quarterback C.J. Beathard is back from last year’s powerhouse, but he leads an offense that could struggle against the Wolverines’ vaunted defense.
Beathard has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,584 yards and 13 touchdowns through nine games. That puts him on pace to match his 2015 total of 17 passing touchdowns, though he has already equaled his five interceptions from last year. With an offensive line that has given up 24 sacks so far this season, Beathard can expect steady pressure all game against one of the top pass rushes in the country.
Rushing the ball, Akrum Wadley leads Iowa’s stable of backs and has been a threat both rushing and receiving. He has 664 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, and 220 yards and two scores through the air.
The Wolverine defense won’t make it easy to keep up those numbers. Michigan is ranked 10th nationally in rush yards allowed per game (107.44), and it rarely allows ball carriers to score. The Wolverines are one of four teams tied for first in the country with three rush touchdowns allowed, and they boast the nation’s best pass defense, too. The result could be a mismatch when the Hawkeye offense is on the field.
But it’s still a road night game, so Michigan is preparing for a slugfest.
“(Iowa is a) very tough, physical team,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers. “When you go up to Iowa City, you know they’re going to give you all they’ve got. So we’re preparing for a tough, physical game, and we expect nothing less.”
With redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight and the Michigan offense rolling, it could be more than the Hawkeyes can handle. There is, however, one factor Michigan’s young players may not be prepared for.
Kinnick’s visiting locker room is famously painted pink — a psychological trick intended to put the opponents in a passive mood. There are differing theories on the efficacy of such a tactic. But according to Glasgow, the impact may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
“I thought they were going to be way more pink,” he said. “They’re pretty pale.”