Michigan football's 'defensive masterpiece' too much for Iowa, 10-3

Orion Sang
Detroit Free Press

Jim Harbaugh saw the same as what everyone else did. 

Which is why he opened his comments after No. 18 Michigan football's 10-3 win over No. 14 Iowa with a tip of the hat to his defense.

“Obviously, that was a defensive masterpiece," he said. 

The Wolverines put together one of their best defensive performances under Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown, holding the Hawkeyes to just a field goal and bailing out an offense that didn't score after 8:33 of the first quarter.

[ U-M's defense bails out offense, overpowers Iowa to stay in Big Ten race ]

The Wolverines had just 267 total yards. They averaged 4.5 yards per play. They converted 3 of 13 third downs. The eye test was just as bad as the numbers. 

Still, the defense made those 10 points count.

Iowa entered the game with only one turnover in the previous four games, tied for fewest in the nation.

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Michigan forced four. Three were interceptions of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, who had none entering Saturday.

"Don called a great game," Harbaugh said. "They were very well-prepared. Player-wise, it was just obvious from play one to the last play of the game that everybody was hustling, running and playing with great effort. So, great job.”

Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone, bottom, and defensive linemen Michael Danna (4) and Aidan Hutchinson pressure Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during the second half of U-M's 10-3 win on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.

After winning the toss, the Wolverines elected to receive. Two runs for 14 yards and a first down were followed by three consecutive incompletions and a punt. Iowa gifted Michigan with a fumble and the ball inside the red zone — and the Wolverines were able to turn it into just three points.


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On their third drive, quarterback Shea Patterson threw deep to receiver Nico Collins, who won the jump ball for a 51-yard gain. A few plays later, the Wolverines punched it into the end zone.

Iowa seemed to adjust as the game continued and hit a few big gains. It found some success targeting short crossing routes over the middle, a pass concept that has victimized Michigan's defense dating back to last season. On one third-and-22, Stanley hit a deep ball down the sideline for 34 yards. Later in the game, Iowa converted a third-and-15 with a screen pass. There were several other big plays or third-down conversions.

Each time, though, the Wolverines stood tall. Aside from an early 14-play, 61-yard drive that ended in a field goal, Iowa did not reach the red zone. 

U-M generated consistent pressure all game long, led by defensive ends Kwity Paye, who had a game-high 2.5 sacks before leaving with an injury in the third quarter, and Aidan Hutchinson and Mike Danna, who combined for two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Linebackers Cam McGrone and Jordan Glasgow often blitzed, accounting for 3.5 sacks between them. The Wolverines finished with 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks — the most since they also had eight at Ohio State in 2016. 

It was a grueling victory, one that called upon Harbaugh's memories of previous low-scoring battles between the two teams.

“I thought (the offense) took what was there," he said. "It’s about every Michigan-Iowa game I’ve ever been associated with. I thought Shea in particular took what was there, and sometimes there wasn’t anything there. Managed the game extremely well. Did the job on the turnovers. Won that battle. I thought the offensive line played really good, played really physical. Played against some really good players, too.”

Michigan linebackers Khaleke Hudson (7) and Cameron McGrone celebrate a sack on Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during the second half of U-M's 10-3 win on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.

Michigan (4-1, 2-1) found a way to beat a top-15 team, and in doing so, kept its Big Ten title hopes alive.

But while the defense nearly shut out the Hawkeyes, the offense didn't play nearly as well. That most likely won't be a winning formula against teams such as No. 11 Penn State, No. 10 Notre Dame, No. 23 Michigan State and No. 5 Ohio State. 

For what it's worth, Harbaugh says the Wolverines are "hitting their stride" on offense.

But will they hit their full stride in time for the rest of their grueling schedule?

That's the question that will determine where Michigan's season goes from here.

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

Michigan linebacker Khaleke Hudson tackles Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. during the second half of U-M's 10-3 win on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.