Former Michigan star Jamie Morris says no way Michigan will take Iowa lightly
Morrris says Jim Harbaugh has too much respect for Iowa dating back to his playing days
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Until Jamie Morris became family, I didn’t care which team won the annual showdown between Michigan and Ohio State.
I’ve always enjoyed watching what many consider the greatest rivalry in college football because both teams are usually outstanding and because there is usually something very significant on the line.
That was the case again this past Saturday with the Big Ten East Division on the line, along with a potential spot in the four-team college playoff for the winner.
I found myself pulling for Michigan simply because of my connection to Jamie Morris, and the Wolverines would go on to prevail 30-24 in yet another epic battle.
The stage is now set for Big Ten East Division champion Michigan versus Big Ten West Division champion Iowa this coming Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Hardly anybody outside of the Iowa locker room gives the Hawkeyes much chance of winning, or much chance of even being competitive.
The injury-riddled Iowa offense has been historically bad since the start of last season, so bad that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was fired in season, but is being allowed to coach through the season, while Michigan is undefeated, strong in all three phases of the game and angry and motivated by what has happened to head coach Jim Harbaugh, who is coming off a three-game suspension as part of the investigation surrounding a sign-stealing operation run by a former analyst.
Jamie Morris said in a telephone interview Sunday morning that he believes the typical Michigan fan thinks the Wolverines will win easily, and it’s easy to see why they would, given Iowa’s inability to score points.
Only once this season has Iowa scored more than 30 points in a game, while only once has Michigan not scored at least 30 points in a game this season. And that was a 24-15 victory over Penn State, which crushed Iowa 31-0 in the Big Ten opener.
“They’ve seen Iowa and Iowa can’t score points and different things like that,” Morris said of Michigan fans. “But you just don’t score points offensively. You score from defense. You score from special teams. You have special plays, and different things like that.
“This is a team that we traditionally have angst about. We don’t like to play that team at night time, particularly in their house. Iowa is sometimes a thorn in Michigan’s side.”
The 2023 Big Ten Championship game has mismatch written all over it, and yet, Jamie Morris still gives Iowa a chance to shock the college world because for one, anything can happen in a game, but also because he has a deep respect for Hawkeye football dating back to when he was a star running back and four-year starter for the Wolverines in the mid-1980s under legendary head coach Bo Schembechler.
For those who aren’t aware, Morris was the running back that Iowa linebacker Larry Station tackled for a two-yard loss late in the 1985 showdown between No. 1 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium.
Michigan was then forced to punt and that led to Rob Houghtlin’s game winning field goal as time expired, giving Iowa a 12-10 victory.
Jim Harbaugh was also Michigan’s starting quarterback in that game.
One of the highest points in Hawkeye football was one of their lowest points as Michigan players.
Harbaugh hadn’t won at Kinnick Stadium as a player or head coach until last season’s 27-14 victory.
The Wolverines were undefeated, and ranked No. 2 nationally in 2016, when freshman kicker Keith Duncan made a last-second field goal to give Iowa a 14-13 victory.
“I’ll say it again, Iowa has just been a thorn in our side,” Morris said. “But with that coms respect.”
And while Michigan fans might point to what happened in the 2021 Big Ten Championship game when Michigan crushed Iowa 42-3, Morris sees it differently, and he knows that Harbaugh does, too.
“That was two years ago,” Morris said. “I don’t think they’re talking about it because it’s two brand new teams, personnel.
“It shouldn’t have any effect on this game.”
The oddsmakers give Iowa little to no chance of winning with Michigan favored by a whopping 22.5 points.
The circumstances could point to a possible Michigan letdown, because let’s face it, players are human.
But Morris believes that Michigan has too much riding on Saturday’s game big-picture wise, and that Harbaugh, who as a young child lived in Iowa City for three years in the early 1970s, has too much respect for the Iowa program, and for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, to take this game lightly.
“Jim Harbaugh has got respect for Iowa because of his playing days,” Morris said. “He knows and he’s experienced the horrors of Iowa. He knows what Iowa can do. We all know that. It’s never forgotten. We always remember and we know the mindset of Iowa.
“This is a big game for Michigan and Michigan knows that. And I’ll say this, they know about the world-famous Iowa defense. And they know that Iowa can stop people. So, they have to get prepared and ready. And I think the coaches are already. I think Jim Harbaugh was breaking film down last night.”
Both head coaches have sort of become sympathetic figures within their own program.
Michigan believes that new Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti rushed to judgement in suspending Harbaugh for the final three regular-season games, while Kirk Ferentz supporters believe that it was unfair and unwise to fire Brian Ferentz in season.
“It’s Michigan against everybody,” Morris said. “You’ll see the shirts. Michigan against everybody. You’ll see that everywhere you go in Indianapolis this weekend, Michigan versus everyone. The narrative is it’s Michigan versus the Big Ten really.
“Think about it. Tony Petitti will have to get up if Michigan wins, he’s got to get up and give that trophy to Jim Harbaugh. Everybody knows what Tony Petitti did. He made 13 other schools happy in the Big Ten. He made the one school that we feel like is one of the most important schools in the Big Ten, you came at us. You came at us and didn’t give us our just due.
“Now we should pay if we did everything they say we did, okay. But there’s a process that everybody goes through.”
Morris is obviously biased, but he also brings up a good point about due process, and about Harbaugh being a sympathetic figure for the Michigan players.
Morris lives in Ann Arbor with my niece, Becky, a former Michigan soccer player, and with their 31/2-year old son C.J. He also hosts a popular radio show that airs Monday through Friday in Ann Arbor, and he helped launch an NIL collective for Michigan student-athletes.
Morris also still attends all the Michigan home games and many of the road games.
In fact, when I called him Sunday morning, Morris was watching a replay of the Michigan-Ohio State game on television despite having attended the game in person because he wanted to get a better feel, and a better understanding about what had happened on the field.
My first question to him, besides asking how my niece and C.J. are doing, was if he gave Iowa a legitimate shot to win on Saturday.
“I give every team we play against a chance,” Morris said. “People get up for Michigan. That’s what is expected.
“We know that; Iowa-Michigan, two traditional powers that go against one another, since Hayden Fry, I mean, think about that.”
Morris played for Michigan from 1984-87, which was also the glory years for Iowa under Hayden Fry.
Fry was responsible for finally breaking the stranglehold that Michigan and Ohio State had on the Big Ten in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
“Hayden Fry was the guy that coined the phrase when they won the Big Ten championship, he said there are two people that were upset at the time; they were Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler,” Morris said.
While attending Michigan, Morris broke the school’s all-time records for rushing yards in a season (1,703), in a career (4,392) and for all-purpose yards in a career (6,201).
His career rushing total was once third in the Big Ten Conference history. He also continues to hold the career receptions record for Michigan running backs, and still holds the all-time NFL record for most rushing attempts in a game with 45 as a member of the Washington Redskins in 1989.
So, it’s probably fair to say that Jamie would be picked first in a game of touch football involving family members.
I’m still amazed about what he accomplished as a 5-foot-7, 175-pound Michigan running back.
I once heard Bo Schembechler say in an interview that Jamie Morris was recruited mostly to return kicks, but he would go on to be a four-year starter at running back despite his lack of size.
Michigan now has another undersized running back with big-time talent in senior Blake Corum.
Combine him with versatile quarterback J.J. McCarthy and arguably the best offensive line in college football and you have an offense that is so hard to defend.
Morris is a huge McCarthy fan and he admires the way in which McCarthy has sacrificed individual statistics, especially as a passer, for the good of the team.
“The one thing that we have, and that we’ve developed over this season is we’ve developed our five-star quarterback, J.J. McCarthy,” Morris said. “The good thing about J.J. is he is mobile. He is smart and he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s a kid who is cognizant of his surroundings. He will take the chunk yardages, not just looking to throw over the top all the time. He’s not looking for yardage. He’s looking for moving the ball.
“He’s got legs and he’s got arms, but most importantly, he’s got a brains. He’s smart. He doesn’t take chances. It’s hard for quarterbacks because they see all these kids on TV now throwing for long yardage and talking about the Heisman Trophy.
“J.J. is a kid that could have won the Heisman Trophy, but what it calls for him is to be a team player and that’s what he is. He’s a team player first and anything else, Bo Schemebechler used to tell us as long as we win, the accolades will come.”
McCarthy’s rise to being a starter ultimately led to previous starter Cade McNamara transferring to Iowa where he started the first five games this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Michigan State in the fifth game.
Former Michigan tight end Erick All also transferred to Iowa and was leading the team in catches and receiving yards when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Wisconsin in the seventh game.
In fact, his 299 receiving yards and three touchdown catches still lead the team, which doesn’t speak well of the Iowa offense.
“That would have been the perfect match,” Morris said. “I think it would have been great. I have no ill-will toward the young men because they got an opportunity to go elsewhere and get a starting job.
“I would have loved to see those two play against their former team. They would get to look them in the eye, but that’s not going to happen. For me, I would love to have seen that.”
Michigan was dealt a huge loss on offense in the win over Ohio State when All-America offensive lineman Zak Zinter suffered a broken tibia and fibula.
“Zak Zinter has been with us for a long time,” Morris said. “He’s a young man that was able to come back and we were appreciative of that. We knew he was first-rounder. He’s been recognized since his sophomore year as the best athlete on the offensive team. I don’t know how we’re going to replace him, but we have the motto when one man goes down, the one that replaces him plays even harder for both of them.”
Before wrapping up our interview, I couldn’t resist asking Morris about the invalid fair catch that was called against Cooper DeJean in Iowa’s 12-10 loss to Minnesota. Morris returned kicks for Michigan, so I was curious what a former player from a different Big Ten school thought about the call that still has Kirk Ferentz angry and saying Iowa “got screwed.”
Hawkeye fans would like what Morris had to say about the controversial call.
“There’s no flag. The guy didn’t throw his hat. The guy didn’t throw a flag down. He didn’t do anything until that touchdown. Anything,” Morris said. “You guys got together and then you guys decided that it wasn’t a touchdown. That was bull sh–.
“It’s not like the players slowed down. They played the whole thing out. It was a touchdown and everybody was going crazy. And then all of the sudden, the referee opens his mic and say that was not a touchdown. That was ridiculous.”