Breaking down the Michigan-Iowa game with Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette
Denard Robinson, now a Heisman candidate and national sensation, showed flashes of what was to come in that game. He entered the game in the fourth quarter and created an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive to cut Iowa's lead to what ended up being the final margin.
Michigan had a chance to win, too, but Robinson threw an interception near midfield in the final minute. At the time, coach Rich Rodriguez's decision to play Robinson during that final drive -- rather than Tate Forcier, who had already pulled off late-game heroics in wins over Notre Dame and Indiana -- caused an uproar.
Will the same type of game happen when Iowa travels to Ann Arbor for a 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday? AnnArbor.com caught up with Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette to talk about the possibility.
Q: How does this year's Iowa defense compare to last year's?
"The D-line has gotten stronger with the emergence of tackle Mike Daniels, a 6-foot-ish, 270-pounder who's strength jumps off the page. DE Adrian Clayborn has been schemed out of stats, but he's still very disruptive. DE/DT Christian Ballard has shown more athleticism than last season. He made a great pursuit play to stop Penn State at the 1-inch line two weeks ago.
"Safeties Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash are the same. They're aggressive and, for the most part, positionally sound.
"Defensive coordinator Norm Parker will not be at the game. He's been out since Sept. 10 and has had a foot amputated due to diabetic complications. His return is still weeks away. Iowa hasn't changed its stripes without him. It's still a contain mentality, probably more so this week."
Q: With the speed Iowa possesses on the defensive line, is it possible they could try to spread out and contain Denard Robinson in the pocket? With that, who do they use to simulate him through the week?
MM: "It's certainly possible. Iowa's an "outside in" kind of defense. It wants to contain an offense between the numbers. It doesn't like to give up the outside shoulder, so the D-line, for the most part, will be playing the blocker's outside shoulder. I don't see any tricks coming out of the Hawkeyes here. I'm not sure they will be able to draw much from what it did against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Tech relies on a running QB, but it's the triple option against Michigan's spread. Plus, Josh Nesbitt isn't the passer that Denard Robinson is. Robinson could challenge an Iowa D-end on the zone read. Iowa's DEs can run, but they can't run like that.
"This week in Iowa's practice, Nick Kuchel is doing his best Denard Robinson on the scout team. He won a Drake Relays title in the 110-meter high hurdles as a sophomore at Kingsley-Pierson High School. This will be a "learn on the job" deal for Iowa's defense on Robinson's speed."
Q: Iowa seems to like to take shots downfield when it can. Do you anticipate that being a big part of the Hawkeyes' gameplan this week?
MM: "Yes. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is a strength for Iowa this season. Maybe "the" strength on offense. He admitted this week that his football IQ might've been in the single digits at times last season, when he was a bit reckless with 15 interceptions. This season, he's not taking the risks he did in '09, but then again, he hasn't had to with the competition Iowa has faced.
"But Iowa coaches are comfortable with his decision making. His a video rat, spending three to four hours a day on video study. His numbers this season show it's paid off. He has 10 TD passes and just two interceptions, including one that bounced off Marvin McNutt's hands and went for six at Arizona.
"Here's a little insight from him on his video work: 'The main thing is you want to be confident and you want to be comfortable. That's how you play your best. The only way to do that is to watch as much film as possible and to watch everything and to know you've seen it all. Now, you can just go out and play.'"
"He's 22-5 as a starter, that's No. 8 among active FBS quarterbacks.
"Another factor, Iowa has one running back with any stripes left on the roster, sophomore Adam Robinson. Iowa has more proven players at wideout. Senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos needs 10 receptions and 67 yards to become Iowa's career leader in receptions and receiving yards. McNutt might even be a bigger headache matchup-wise, with a 6-4, 215-pound body, a 30-something vertical and catcher's mitt hands. Senior TE Allen Reisner is already in career-season range with 17 receptions."
Q: Has Adam Robinson settled into more of a feature back role or is Iowa doing what it kind of did last year, with multiple backs sharing the work?
MM: "Adam Robinson has settled into the only back role. In August, the questions were how Iowa would split carries to keep three running backs happy. Well, sophomore Brandon Wegher walked out of practice on the second day of camp never to return. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has left the reasons at "personal." Wegher remains in school. A return is up to him, but it's not happening this season. The spring semester might be a tipping point. Then against Arizona, sophomore Jewel Hampton suffered a torn ACL. He was just two games into a comeback from a torn ACL he suffered in '09. The only consolation here is that it was the other knee, but that's little solace.
"So, now it's Robinson. He's not in the same weight class as Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell (6-2, 230) and Larry Caper (5-11, 220), but, at 5-9, 200, does compare somewhat to Edwin Baker (5-9, 208). Robinson has great balance and strength to go with a great understanding of the offense and good enough speed.
"Two freshman sit behind Robinson. Marcus Coker (6-0, 230) tore off the redshirt, but a broken collarbone in camp set him back immeasurably, Ferentz said. He's an intriguing prospect, but does he know the playbook, who to block and what route to run? Brad Rogers (5-9, 215) is a redshirt freshman. He moved to fullback early in fall camp. He's very much in the running back plans, but also remains the No. 2 fullback.
"The gauge on Ferentz's confidence in playing them on meaningful snaps is illustrated with this quote: 'They're going to be fine, but a year from now I'll be feeling a lot better about them.'
"It's not dire. Robinson is a full-service back. At 5-9, 200, is he built for the long haul playing a physical brand of football in a physical conference?"
Q: What is the best-case/worst-case scenario for Iowa? In other words what needs to happen for the Hawkeyes' perspective for a blowout win? A loss?
MM: "Best case -- Stanzi starts fast, like maybe 10 of 12, and Iowa doesn't settle for field goals (with a true freshman walk-on now starting at kicker, I'm not sure they would anyway) when a TD is possible. Adam Robinson clips along behind an O-line that is still looking for a signature game and keeps Denard Robinson off the field and builds a level of anxiety where he'll feel pressure to do something big right away. Iowa forces Robinson to speed up his clock with an early pressure or two and that he throws an early pick. I suspect hits on Robinson will be rare, making that job one for Iowa's front four.
"Iowa wins special teams, even if the win is simply senior punter Ryan Donahue keeping Michigan inside the 20.
"Worst case -- Michigan's front seven doesn't have that one crucial bust that Michigan State found and turned into big runs last week. The Michigan front seven is under the gun here. It has to protect a secondary that has been beaten up and is facing a senior quarterback with two experienced and talented WRs.
"But if Michigan is going to win, Robinson has to control the game via the big play. If he can force Iowa into a shootout, Michigan's percentage for victory blooms. For this to happen, Robinson has to make good decisions in the passing game and save his riskier choices for the run, specifically the zone read."