Can Iowa's offense move against Michigan's defense? Players outline the game plan to success

Iowa's offense steadily improved in November, and the regular-season finale at Nebraska kept that momentum going. The Hawkeyes recorded their second-highest total yards output in Big Ten play (364) in their 28-21 win and actually outgained the Cornhuskers, who are third in the conference in total offense.

Yardage and points will be at a premium in Saturday's Big Ten championship game against Michigan (7 p.m, FOX). And it'll take a full effort from Iowa's offense to keep pace in the game. The Wolverines have scored 30-plus points nine times this season and are second to Ohio State in total offense. 

Iowa will have to sustain drives and convert those into points to have a realistic chance to win. How do the Hawkeyes continue their momentum against Michigan's defense? It starts with what has paced them during this month: running the ball effectively. 

"That's really an emphasis every week with how we're built," quarterback Spencer Petras said. "We need to be able to run the ball if we want to be successful. (Michigan) did a good job (on Saturday) of making Ohio State play different than they wanted to and that's a big reason why they won."

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After a slow start, Iowa's rush offense improved dramatically in November. Running back Tyler Goodson recorded three 100-yard rushing games compared with just one prior to November. He eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing this season against Nebraska. Goodson sees that accomplishment and overall success as a confidence and momentum booster entering Saturday's game.

"We've been focusing on our consistency up front," Goodson said. "Linemen's footwork getting to their first steps and getting up to (line)backers and our timing with things. The running backs are back there working on their footwork so everything can time up perfectly."

Iowa's rushing success is especially important when accounting for two of Michigan's most impactful players: defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. They've accounted for 24 sacks between them and Michigan overall has 33 sacks, third best in the conference. Negative plays will force Iowa into obvious passing situations, and that's where Hutchinson and Ojabo can wreak the most havoc. 

"We have to make those guys respect the run," Goodson said. "Us being successful in the run game will open things up for the pass game. They're like Purdue but they have another edge rusher who can get the job done." 

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras is back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench against Nebraska.

The person in charge is Petras. After missing three games with a shoulder injury, Petras was listed as the No. 1 quarterback on Iowa's Monday depth chart. Playing in the second half of last Friday's game served him well in getting re-acclimated. He hasn't experienced any major setbacks. 

"I don't think it was much rust," Petras said. "I'm 100%. It just takes me a little longer to warm up. Once I'm warm I have no pain; it's just getting warm that I have to be very cognizant of." 

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday that he can't recall many times when his team has faced a pass rushing duo like Hutchinson and Ojabo. Containing them isn't just limited to good blocking, it's also sound decision-making at quarterback. The Hawkeyes cannot afford to take unnecessary sacks. If the play isn't there, throw the ball away and live for another down. 

Petras' experience in big games combined with his knowledge of the offense to potentially switch protections or plays are huge in a game like this.

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson (15) had a strong November and hopes to carry that success into the Big Ten title game Saturday.

 "I think his experience certainly helps," Ferentz said. "He's played more than Alex (Padilla). That's a benefit, potentially. And he's been knocked around. He's had success and been knocked around, too. And just kind of built a resume, if you will. That's got to help. It's still going to be a real big challenge. These guys are really good on defense." 

Michigan's secondary hasn't been as opportunistic as Iowa's, with only seven interceptions, but those defensive backs are well coached, according to Petras. He noted that there are moments when offenses can hit for big plays due to missed assignments, bad angles, etc., against some teams but Michigan isn't one of them. In order to win, Iowa will have to out-execute the Wolverines. 

Their last four games have instilled more confidence inside and outside the facility that Iowa is more equipped to handle a top-ranked defense. Players admitted on Tuesday that it's gratifying to see their work paying off down the stretch, but their foot must be on the gas in order to pull off an upset. 

"Every position group, every player working hard to execute what we need to," Petras said. "Depends on the play. If it's an inside zone (run) we might have to be aware of a certain thing up front. In the pass game I have to be aware of certain things depending on the concept. That doesn't really change week-to-week. The big thing is that you study personnel and know what their strengths are. 

"Every team is beatable. There's a lot of ways to attack these guys on tape and that's what we're working on." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at