At the beginning of this year, many thought these two teams would be fighting for a spot in the Rose Bowl – or at least a Big Ten Championship. But Iowa lost a nonconference game to Iowa State, and Michigan, well, Michigan has lost every other game this year – putting the Wolverines on pace for another loss this week. Here’s how the two teams match up.

Michigan rushing offense vs. Iowa rushing defense:

This will probably make or break the game this week. Michigan is going to try desperately to get the running game started. Mike Hart is off his pace from last year, but he has still rushed 117 times for 567 yards and four touchdowns. The offensive line, which struggled with injuries early, has come together to form a cohesive unit.

But the Iowa linebackers might be the best in the country. Iowa likes to crowd the middle and force running backs to the outside, where linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway can roam freely. The pair has already racked up 173 tackles this season.

The Wolverines will try, but it might prove difficult to establish the running game this week.

Edge: Iowa

Michigan passing offense vs. Iowa passing defense:

Last week, when the offensive line held strong against one of the best front sevens in college football, the result was a good game from quarterback Chad Henne – 21 for 36 for 212 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns. The receiving corps is hitting its stride too. Co-captain Jason Avant has been solid all year, and he’s third in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game. But the emergence of freshman Mario Cashmere Manningham and the return of Steve Breaston have made this unit one of Michigan’s strengths. Manningham has just 16 catches this season, but five of them have gone for touchdowns.

The Iowa secondary is adequate, holding teams to an average of 240 yards per game and just once has the unit allowed more than 300 yards. Its five interceptions helps but isn’t indicative of much. The bottom line is that if Henne has time to throw, it’s going to be difficult for Iowa to stop the receivers.

Edge: Michigan

Iowa passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense

Drew Tate was tabbed as the Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year. But he sustained a concussion in the Hawkeyes’ loss to Iowa State and then struggled in the loss to Ohio State. But on the season, he has completed 63 percent of his passes and thrown for 11 touchdowns against only three interceptions. Senior receiver Clinton Solomon has helped Tate this season, reeling in 20 catches for 434 yards and six touchdowns. He has been the Hawkeyes’ deep threat, averaging almost 22 yards per catch.

Although it’s hard to believe with the loss of Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor, Michigan leads the Big Ten in passing defense. As a unit, the defense is giving up just 181 passing yards per game. Junior cornerback Leon Hall has spurred the secondary this season, locking up on the opponent’s No. 1 receiver week after week. Michigan will be without at least one of its starting safeties – Willis Barringer – and possibly strong safety Brandent Englemon. Although their replacements played well, look for Iowa to try and challenge youngsters Jamar Adams and Brandon Harrison.

Edge: Push

Iowa rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense

Last year, the Hawkeyes were decimated with injuries to their running backs. But this season, Iowa has sophomore Albert Young toting the rock. Young has been the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 option, rushing the ball 121 times for 738 yards and five touchdowns.

In past seasons, Michigan was stout against the run, but soft against the pass (remember the nicknamed “Suspects”). This season, the rushing defense is struggling while the pass defense leads the conference. The Wolverines have surrendered 155 rushing yards per game, and it would be worse if not for their showing against Eastern Michigan. That said, the front seven have played better since games against Wisconsin and Minnesota. LaMarr Woodley and David Harris will have to contain Tate’s scrambling and lead the charge against the shifty Young.

Edge: Iowa

Special Teams:

Garret Rivas has been up and down this season. But he hit a 47-yarder to put Michigan up 21-18. Once again, Steve Breaston showed why he is one of college football’s best special teams players. With the game on the line, Breaston came up with a 42-yard return to set up the Wolverines’ game-winning drive. If it comes down to a field goal, Iowa would be in good hands; kicker Kyle Schlicher has hit 9-of-10 this season.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles:

Iowa has won 20 straight home games at Kinnick Stadium, and it’ll be tough to reverse that trend on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are urging their fans to “paint it black” by wearing black to the game, and, knowing Iowa fans, it shouldn’t be tough to get rowdy for this game. Both teams have something to prove, but it’s Iowa that has the fan support. Plus, Michigan will have to dress in those pink locker rooms.

Prediction: Iowa 31, Michigan 27

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