Iowa has no answer for Michigan’s relentless defensive pressure during Saturday’s 10-3 at the Big House
By Pat Harty
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Facing a ranked Big Ten opponent on the road continues to be Nate Stanley’s kryptonite with the latest example being Saturday’s 10-3 loss at 19th-ranked Michigan.
But you also win as a team and lose as a team, and there was plenty of blame to go around for No. 14 Iowa’s sloppy performance against the Wolverines, which included allowing eight sacks, committing eight penalties, having four turnovers and rushing for just one yard on 30 carries.
Stanley’s performance at quarterback, which included his first three interceptions this season, certainly left much to be desired, but his offensive line also let him down repeatedly by failing to handle Michigan’s relentless blitzing.
“I hate it, and I know the rest of the guys don’t like it,” Iowa junior right tackle Tristan Wirfs said when asked how frustrating it was to look back and see that Stanley being sacked. “It’s tough. That’s our whole position is keeping it clean to protect him and protect our backs.
“So that’s really frustrating.”
The Iowa offensive line was at close to full strength on Saturday with the return of starting left tackle and Detroit native Alaric Jackson from a knee injury.
But it still didn’t matter as the Michigan defenders just kept coming, while facing little resistance up front.
“It’s pretty sad because we take pride in that, keeping (Stanley) clean because as we go he goes pretty much,” Jackson said. “Because if it’s clean in the pocket, then he plays well and keeps on schedule pretty much.
“That’s the part of the o-line, so it’s our fault I would say.”
Iowa hasn't defeated a ranked Big Ten opponent on the road since a 40-10 victory at Northwestern in 2015.
If there is one positive to take from Saturday’s loss, besides the performance of the Iowa defense, it’s that all of the Iowa players took responsibility afterwards.
There was plenty of finger pointing, but it was players pointing the finger at themselves and not at their teammates.
“Everybody is on the same page as far as what we want to accomplish and where we want to get to, and that really comes with that extreme ownership,” said Stanley, whose record fell to 10-10 against Big Ten opponents. “And if you have ownership in what happens, then it makes it that much easier to be on the team, to be invested, to be bought in.
“And there’s no question that everybody on this team is bought in one-hundred percent. And I think that’s just an attitude as far as the Iowa way and the way that we do things.”
Iowa’s record to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten with Saturday’s loss, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with Penn State up next this coming Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Michigan improved to 4-1 and 2-0 in conference play and defeated Iowa for just second time in the last seven games.
“Obviously, it was a tough loss for our football team, a really good defensive battle out there,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “Both teams I think played hard on both sides of the ball, but defenses really kind of controlled the game, certainly.
“And we didn’t help ourselves with some costly errors, especially in that first half, and that made the hole a little bit higher to climb. But you’ve got to give our opponent credit on that. They played extremely well. And we knew coming into the game that we were going to have to execute basically on every play and give ourselves the best opportunity, but came up short in that regard.”
Ferentz said he wasn’t surprised with how often Michigan blitzed because that’s what the Wolverines are known for doing under defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“They’re a high-blitz team, and I think with any team, once you get some momentum doing anything, you’re probably going to stick with it,” Ferentz said. “So that was not a big surprise, but our protection was not good enough, obviously.”
You had to wonder if Iowa might be in trouble when the usually sure-handed Mekhi Sargent fumbled on his team’s first play from scrimmage.
Michigan recovered the fumble at the Iowa 18-yard line, but then had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Jake Moody after the Iowa defense had stiffened.
That sequence would prove to be a theme for the game as the Iowa defense rose to the challenge numerous times after being put in difficult situations by the offense.
Michigan only finished with 267 yards and was just 3-for-13 on third-down plays.
“Our offense practices hard and they do a lot of the right things,” said junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa. “I watched them today. They played hard, and things just weren’t going our way. So there’s always room for improvement. Our guys work incredibly hard and I know they’ll bounce back.”
Michigan scored all of its points within the first seven minutes of the game, including the game’s only touchdown, which came on a 2-yard run by Zach Charbonnet with 8 minutes, 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
There was a sense of urgency surrounding the Michigan program heading into Saturday’s game because the Wolverines already had been crushed by Wisconsin 35-14 on Sept. 21 in Madison, Wis., and because Michigan still has to play Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.
This is year five under head coach Jim Harbaugh, but the results have not been what Michigan fans expected when Harbaugh was hired to make his alma mater elite again.
Harbaugh has led Michigan to three 10-3 seasons, but he is also just a combined 1-7 against Ohio State and Michigan State, including 0-4 against the Buckeyes.
It might seem premature to have called a game in early October a must-win, but that’s how it felt for the Wolverines on Saturday, and that’s how Michigan played on defense.
Stanley entered Saturday’s game with a streak of 139 passes without having thrown an interception.
But he threw two of his three interceptions in the first half and completed just 23-of-42 passes overall for 260 yards.
Stanley also expected Michigan to blitz frequently, but even knowing what to expect didn’t make it any easier.
“They did a lot of things that were very hard on us pickup wise, probably the hardest that we’ve seen all year, and quite possibly the hardest we’ll see all year,” Stanley said. “It was more so just the schematics of the blitzes with things that were very tough on us.”
Saturday’s game marked the first time that Iowa was held to three points since losing to Florida 30-3 in the 2017 Outback Bowl. It was also the first time that Iowa was held to three points in conference play since losing to Penn State 13-3 in 2011.
“It’s like any loss, what’s really critical right now is how we handle it and what do starting tomorrow in terms of learning from it, and then most importantly, growing from it,” Ferentz said. “And if we do that, then we have a chance to have a good football team.
“I think we’ve got high-quality guys on our football team. They played hard today and played tough, and our opponent did the same thing. It’s a tough day for our guys, but we’ll get back up on our feet and move forward starting tomorrow.”
Iowa 0 0 3 0 – 3
Michigan 10 0 0 0 – 10
M – Jake Moody 28 FG
M – Zacg Charbonett 2 run (Quinn Nordin kick)
I – Keith Duncan 22 FG