Hawkeyes can't handle Michigan pass rush, and a winnable game gets away

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley spent almost as much time on his back as he did on his feet Saturday.

The Michigan defense blitzed him relentlessly because the Iowa offensive line did little to stop them. Stanley didn’t help his cause by hanging on to the ball too long at times, waiting for open receivers that never materialized. Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was slow to adjust and continued to call plays that were slow to develop.

It added up to eight Wolverine sacks for minus-65 yards. Iowa’s entire rushing output was 66 yards.

This was a dispiriting day for the Hawkeye offense. And it stung the entire group.

No. 18 Michigan didn’t score a point for the final 53 minutes and 33 seconds at sold-out Michigan Stadium. And still won the game 10-3.

“We had some series where we were kind of moving the ball but we just got stalled out,” Iowa’s redshirt freshman center Tyler Linderbaum said. “We’ve got to push through and help our defense. We’ve got to put more points on the board. Three is just not enough.”

Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone (44) sacks Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It was no secret that the Wolverines, under fourth-year defensive coordinator Don Brown, are prone to blitzing out of their 4-3 scheme. But that had produced only seven sacks through four games this season.

Against Iowa, once Brown saw it was working, that Stanley was seeing shadows and the offensive line was out of sync, he kept the blitzes coming. From every angle.

Two fourth-quarter drives spoke to Iowa’s pass-blocking futility. First, Iowa had a second-and-4 from its own 48-yard line when Stanley was sacked for 9- and 12-yard losses on back-to-back plays.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, Iowa got the ball back at its 33 and started moving, reaching the Wolverine 25 in three plays. Tight end Nate Wieting and left tackle Alaric Jackson got flagged for holding on consecutive snaps. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs threw in a false start infraction. Stanley was sacked for 12 more yards. Suddenly, inexplicably, the Hawkeyes were back on their own side of the field. Another punt. Another wasted chance.

What went wrong?

It depended on who you asked.

Stanley credited Michigan with showing some schemes that Iowa had not encountered.

“They did a lot of things that were very hard on us, pickup-wise and probably the hardest that we’ve seen this year. And quite possibly the hardest we’ll see all year,” the senior quarterback said.

“After the ball was snapped, they were doing a lot of things, jumping people out, bringing people down. … And they timed up some (blitzes) on plays that were longer-developing routes for us.

“They did a good job of blitzing four or five guys. Schematically, we weren’t able to pick it up. That just comes back on to me. I have to know where my problems are and get the ball out.”

Ferentz said it was more a matter of the Wolverines sensing blood, and going for the jugular.

“They’re a high-blitz team. And once you get some momentum going in anything you’re probably going to stick with it,” he said.

“We came in with a plan we thought was good. The bottom line was their tempo. Once they get momentum, it’s pretty tough to stop them.”

Wirfs said the Hawkeyes had prepared for the blitzes they saw, including from linebackers Jordan Glasgow and Cam McGrone.

“We’ve just got to have our eyes up and move our feet, not lunge at guys,” Wirfs said.

“I hate (seeing Stanley sacked). I know the rest of the guys don’t like it. It’s tough. That’s our whole position is to keep Nate clean, protect him.”

Jackson, making his first start since injuring his knee early in the season-opener, was the victim on at least one sack, plus the costly holding penalty. He said he felt 100 percent healthy, but conceded it wasn’t his best game.

Ferentz said the blame was on him for playing Jackson throughout the game, knowing that the junior would be rusty. Ferentz promised Jackson would be sharper in next week’s home game against Penn State.

Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson (77) jogs off the field to the sideline during a NCAA non conference football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Senior Levi Paulsen, who saw spot duty at right guard, offered up the most telling quote after a punishing day for the Iowa offense. It was a mixture of what Stanley and Wirfs said: The Hawkeyes saw some Michigan blitzes they had seen on film and others they needed to adjust to. The play-calling wasn’t always ideal.

In the end, the only thing that mattered was the offensive line wasn’t good enough on this Saturday afternoon. And each of them are going to see that in living color when they watch the film Sunday.

“Every game you expect to see some of what you practice all week and other times you don’t know what’s going to come. Maybe there in the second half when you’re in some passing situations and the loud environment, we took a step back with a couple of penalties,” Paulsen said.

“And we had a couple of play calls that weren’t really set up for our success, in my opinion. And that’s nobody’s problem. We just had a play call and we’re going to block as many guys as we can. And if they bring an extra guy off the edge, we can’t pick that guy up.

“I think we’re going to have to show a lot of maturity and really be brutally honest with what we put on film. I can guarantee you it’s going to come down to execution.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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