Big Ten: Wolverines-Hawkeyes 101009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Maybe everything changed for Iowa when Daniel Murray's toe struck the football on that frigid November night against No. 3 Penn State.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Iowa's Ricky Stanzi bounced back from an early interception to finish with 284 yards and two touchdowns.

Before Murray's kick sailed through the uprights, Iowa couldn't buy a close win. The Hawkeyes had lost 11 of their previous 13 games decided by five points or fewer, including four contests during the 2008 season. The sour streak stretched all the way back to the 2005 Capital One Bowl, the final game of a magical three-year run for Kirk Ferentz's team.

But since the Penn State upset on Nov. 8, Iowa has been fail-safe in tight games. The Hawkeyes have won four straight games decided by five points or fewer, including Saturday night's 30-28 triumph against Michigan.

Suddenly, clutch is spelled I-O-W-A.

"We know we can do it," Murray said. "That's the main thing, is believing in yourself. Until you can get that elusive first one, it's harder to believe in yourself. For a while, we knew we'd get close and I don't know if people thought we'd screw it up somehow, but we're finally getting to the point where we can actually be comfortable in those tight situations."

The clutch play has sparked Iowa to its first 6-0 start since 1985. The Hawkeyes own a 10-game win streak, the second longest in the country and the team's longest in Ferentz's 11-year tenure.

Iowa should be sniffing the top 10 on Sunday, and as the Big Ten's only unbeaten team, there are lofty goals on the table. Things don't get much easier with upcoming trips to rival Wisconsin and surging Michigan State, but the Hawkeyes are starting to believe.

"It's just guys growing up, playing in the games they didn't win, being sick of that," quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. "You've been there before and you don't want to lose the close ones. There's nothing fun about it. There's no such thing as a moral victory when you lose a close game."

The feeling comes from a formula for success rooted in solid fundamental play, excellent special teams, opportunistic defense, just enough offense and tremendous mental toughness.

Iowa needed two blocked field goals to survive a scare in the season opener against Northern Iowa. It needed dominant play from the defensive line to rally past Penn State in Happy Valley. It needed some late-game poise to avoid disaster against Arkansas State, and it needed all those qualities to beat Michigan.

The Hawkeyes forced five turnovers, executed extremely well on special teams, hit on big pass plays when they needed them and received another resilient performance from their Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback.

"You expect every game to be close," Stanzi said. "You don't expect to blow out any team. ... When you have that mindset, you don't let anything, thinking it's going to be a blowout, slip into your head. When you're not thinking that way, it helps you fight harder in those close games."

After the game, Ferentz and his coaches joked that the team might set a record for onside kick returns this season. But he knows that good teams find ways to win tight contests.

Asked if this year's team reminded him of others that had stepped up in the clutch, Ferentz replied, "In 2004, we were masters of the close game because we weren't fast enough to pull away from anybody. ... Some years are like that, some games are like that."

This appears to be one of those years for Iowa.

It didn't start that way, the Hawkeyes endured a rough preseason. They lost running back Jewel Hampton, the projected successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, to a season-ending knee injury. Then star left tackle Bryan Bulaga had to be hospitalized with a thyroid condition. Then tight end Tony Moeaki suffered yet another injury.

But things seem to be falling into place. Moeaki caught two long touchdowns against Michigan after missing three games with an ankle injury and barely practicing last week. Bulaga played his second straight game and anchored the line.

There are bigger challenges ahead, especially on the road, but the Hawkeyes have earned the right to dream a little.

"Whenever you get off to this good of a start, you start to think what this might turn into," running back Adam Robinson said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves, but it's always in the back of your mind, what's going to happen next?

"There's really that special feeling."

Posted's Adam Rittenberg

 AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
 Coach Rich Rodriguez inserted Denard Robinson into the lineup to provide a spark but Robinson could not carry Michigan in the end.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When a team official handed Rich Rodriguez a box score after Michigan's 30-28 loss to Iowa, the Wolverines head coach angrily flung the sheet of paper over his shoulder.

"I can tell you why we lost," Rodriguez barked.

He could point to five turnovers, woeful special teams play or two defensive breakdowns that led to long Iowa touchdown passes. But possibly the most glaring reason, at least for anyone who has watched Michigan play this year, was Rodriguez's decision to stick with quarterback Denard Robinson over Tate Forcier in the final minutes.

Granted, Robinson had boosted Michigan by leading an 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive minutes earlier. And Forcier had struggled throughout the night, completing just 8 of 19 passes with an interception and a fumble.

But Forcier has been Mr. Clutch for Michigan this year, leading game-winning touchdown drives against both Notre Dame and Indiana and a game-tying drive last week at Michigan State. Robinson, meanwhile, boasts tremendous running skills but seems ill-suited to lead the two-minute drill with no timeouts. He entered Saturday night having completed 4 of 11 passes for 57 yards with two interceptions.

"I put Denard in to get a spark, and we got a spark, and that spark was still lit," Rodriguez said. "We made a couple plays, we had moved the ball, he had got a first down or so. He just threw a pick at the end. As the head coach, I can do that."

And as the head coach, he can take the heat for sticking with Robinson, whose deep pass sailed right into the arms of Iowa safety Brett Greenwood. Rodriguez said Forcier wasn't 100 percent healthy during the game, but injuries didn't keep the freshman on the sideline.

Both Robinson and Forcier weren't made available to reporters after the game. Rodriguez disputed a report that he and Forcier had a heated exchange on the sideline before the final series.

"There were no words on the sidelines," the coach said. "Are we going to try to create something that's not there? We were coaching. Our guys are very, very coachable. ... Tate was right behind us on the last drive, rooting on, trying to help out Denard and all that. Tate made a few plays that he'd probably like to have back, but we made a change to get a little spark."

Given Forcier's reputation, Iowa safety Tyler Sash was suprised to see Robinson trotting out for the final drive.

"Forcier's really proven himself to be a magical guy," Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But Robinson didn't look too bad on that series prior. We were having a hard time with him. I don't question that one at all."

Michigan fans undoubtedly

Final: Iowa 30, Michigan 28

October, 10, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Tate Forcier could only watch from the sideline this time, as teammate Denard Robinson tried to lead another Michigan miracle.

But Robinson's long pass sailed right to Iowa safety Brett Greenwood, who recorded the Hawkeyes' fifth turnover and sealed the victory. There is no way to know if it would have been different had Forcier stayed in the game, but Michigan didn't deserve to win with so many miscues. Robinson missed a wide-open Brandon Minor down the field.

No. 12 Iowa remains unbeaten and wins its 10th straight game, the second-longest win streak in the country. The Hawkeyes won with special teams, opportunistic defense and just enough offense. Iowa is 6-0 for the first time since 1985.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- I was wondering when we'd see Denard Robinson in this game.

Rich Rodriguez finally inserted the dynamic Wolverines freshman quarterback into the game with less than eight minutes to play. Robinson was brilliant on an 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive, but his run-heavy style ate up 4:26 from the clock. Michigan has only one timeout remaining. Is too late?

If Michigan goes on to lose, Rodriguez undoubtedly will be asked why he didn't use Robinson a lot earlier.

By the way, Robinson is awfully fun to watch.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Tight end Tony Moeaki is showing how valuable he can be when healthy, and Iowa has a two-score lead on Michigan in the fourth quarter.

Moeaki caught his second long touchdown pass of the game, but the story for Iowa has been special teams and opportunistic defense. The Hawkeyes have totally outplayed Michigan on special teams, from covering kicks and punts to returning the ball to Daniel Murray's career-high three field goals. The Wolverines have been pretty bad in the third phase, culminating with Greg Mathews' muffed punt on the same play Michigan was flagged for roughing Ryan Donahue.

Field position totally set up Moeaki's 42-yard touchdown, as Michigan's Zoltan Mesko had to punt from his end zone two plays earlier. Michigan's offense really hasn't been that bad, but turnovers are completely killing the Wolverines tonight.

Michigan entered Kinnick Stadium having committed eight turnovers in five games. The Wolverines already have four.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Michigan running back Brandon Minor has played an excellent game, but he didn't have much to show for it until just now.

Minor finally turned his production into points as he bulldozed Iowa's stout defensive line on a 10-play, 57-yard scoring drive. With help from a physical offensive line, Minor had 42 rush yards on the drive, including the final yard for his second touchdown. The Wolverines are a different offense with a fully healthy Minor, who pounded away at the Hawkeyes defense and displayed a physical running style.

Minor now has 20 carries for 94 rush yards and two touchdowns. Aside from a first-half fumble, he's been brilliant.

Iowa's running game also has picked up, so it'll be interesting to see which defense stiffens first.

Hawkeyes rediscover run game

October, 10, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After generating just three rush yards in the first half, Iowa knew exactly what it needed to do coming out of the locker room.

The Hawkeyes finally established their run game on an impressive scoring drive to open the second half. Redshirt freshman Adam Robinson set the tone with a 19-yard gain on the second play and added rushes of 15 and six yards. Though the drive stalled after quarterback Ricky Stanzi misfired on two passes, Iowa showed it can move the ball on the ground. Robinson had just four yards on two carries in the first half as Iowa went mainly with true freshman Brandon Wegher.

With Stanzi's unpredictability, the run game will loom large for Iowa down the stretch.

Halftime analysis: Michigan-Iowa

October, 10, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Halftime analysis from Kinnick Stadium, where No. 12 Iowa leads Michigan 20-14.

Turning point: Trailing 14-13, Iowa faced third-and-24 from its own 45-yard line when Ricky Stanzi found a diving Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for a 47-yard gain. The pass set up Brandon Wegher's go-ahead touchdown run.

Stat of the half: Iowa finished with 204 first-half yards, 201 of them through the air. The Hawkeyes have been fairly balanced on run-pass attempts (18-21) but generated very little on the ground despite having the lead.

What Michigan has to do: Hold onto the football. Turnovers have absolutely killed Michigan in this game, wiping away a decent performance from the offense. Running back Brandon Minor is showing what he can do when healthy, but he needs to hang onto the football. Same goes for quarterback Tate Forcier, whose good plays have been overshadowed by two turnovers. Michigan also has to tighten up in the secondary, which still allows too many big plays.

What Iowa has to do: Generate a run game. Stanzi can make plays against a vulnerable Wolverines secondary, but he also has a tendency to commit costly turnovers. The Hawkeyes need to spark their rushing attack and do a better job of containing Minor in the second half.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Michigan's secondary has been a weakness all season, and Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi knows it.

Stanzi repeatedly took advantage of the Wolverines' back four on a 9-play, 78-yard scoring drive. The key play came on third-and-24 after a bad snap pushed back the Hawkeyes. Most teams would run a draw or a screen to set up a punt, but Iowa wisely attacked downfield and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos made an electrifying grab over cornerback Donovan Warren.

Iowa surprisingly continues to attack Warren, the Wolverines' best defensive back, but Stanzi is having success. He also found a leaping Trey Stross for a 33-yard gain on third-and-6. Stross also beat Warren.

If the Wolverines don't improve in the back four or generate more pressure on Stanzi, Iowa could start to pull away.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A wild first quarter just ended, and we already know one thing: Both starting quarterbacks are extremely resilient.

After Ricky Stanzi answered his interception by leading two scoring drives for Iowa, Michigan freshman Tate Forcier bounced back from his own pick with a masterful drive. The Wolverines have been able to run the ball against Iowa's defense with Brandon Minor, and Forcier converted a fourth-and-4 by recognizing an open area behind defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

Forcier led a 12-play, 72-yard march and made several tough throws. The true freshman continues to show no nerves and loads of confidence, as Michigan got Iowa on its heels with a no-huddle offense.

Minor capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, marking the first rushing touchdown against Iowa in 34 quarters. Penn State's Derrick Williams was the last player to record a rushing touchdowns against Iowa, in the third quarter of a Nov. 8, 2008, game.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ricky Stanzi might have a reputation for interceptions, but he also is known for his short memory and ability to bounce back.

After throwing a pick-six to begin the game, Stanzi once again displayed great poise to bounce back against a clearly vulnerable Michigan defense. Two plays after missing a wide-open Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for a sure touchdown, Stanzi called an audible and found a streaking Tony Moeaki for a 34-yard score.

Michigan was coming on an all-out blitz, but Stanzi saw it coming and Moeaki was left unattended in the middle of the field. After missing the last three games with an ankle problem, Moeaki showed no signs of an injury as he sprinted into the end zone. The Wolverines clearly blew the coverage on third-and-13, something that has happened too often this season.

You've got to take the good with the bad when it comes to Stanzi, but most coaches want a quarterback with his type of resiliency.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has defended quarterback Ricky Stanzi multiple times this season, and he'll likely have to do so again.

Stanzi and wide receiver Paul Chaney Jr. appeared to have a miscommunication on a short route, and the result proved disastrous for the Hawkeyes. Michigan got the start it wanted, as star cornerback Donovan Warren picked off a Stanzi pass thrown nowhere near a receiver and raced 40 yards untouched to the end zone.

Stanzi has now thrown pick-sixes in consecutive games. He has as many interceptions as touchdown passes (8) on the season.

As strong as Iowa's defense has been, no team can repeatedly survive major mistakes from its starting quarterback. Just as Wisconsin after today's loss to Ohio State.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Michigan sophomore cornerback Boubacar Cissoko didn't make the trip to Iowa City, team officials said.

Cissoko lost his starting job to J.T. Floyd last week after a rough outing Sept. 26 against Indiana. Michigan staged an open competition for the top spot opposite Donovan Warren in practice this week. Cissoko has 16 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup this season.

Expect Floyd to get the start tonight.

Also, Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki is warming up and doesn't appear to be limited. He and cornerback Shaun Prater both worked with the first-team offense.

Moeaki has missed Iowa's last three games with an ankle injury. Prater missed last week's game with a hyperextended knee.

It's game day at Kinnick Stadium

October, 10, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Greetings from Kinnick Stadium, site of Iowa's homecoming clash tonight against Michigan (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

There were snow flurries this morning, but the sky is clear right now as clouds have moved out of the area. It should be clear for the rest of the night, but extremely cold with temperatures in the high 30s. The wind shouldn't be too big of a factor, unlike last year's Iowa-Penn State game.

As far as injuries, Michigan will be without leading rusher Carlos Brown, who didn't make the trip because of a concussion suffered this week in practice. Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki will try to play after missing the last three games with an ankle injury.


1. Get creative -- Rich Rodriguez needs to push the envelope on offense and try some new tricks against a stingy Iowa defense. Michigan can't simply expect Tate Forcier to bail out the team in the closing minutes. The Wolverines need to establish other weapons, whether it's Brandon Minor, Denard Robinson or someone else.

2. Rattle Ricky Stanzi -- Stanzi has kept Iowa's opponents in games with mistakes, and Michigan needs to disrupt his rhythm early in the game. The Wolverines are far from a finished product on defense, but they do have some playmakers in Brandon Graham and Obi Ezeh.

3. Win the field-position battle -- Punter Zoltan Mesko can be an extremely effective weapon for Michigan in tonight's game. If Michigan's offense can limit mistakes and play most of the game on Iowa's side of the field, the Wolverines should have a good shot.


1. Handle Michigan's speed -- The Wolverines will be the fastest offense Iowa has faced this season, and the Hawkeyes need to be aware of all the playmakers on the field. Iowa is extremely assignment-sound on defense, but it will need to make good open-field tackles in this game.

2. Limit turnovers -- If Stanzi can get through the game without a turnover, Iowa shouldn't lose. Michigan's defense will give up yards and points, but Iowa has let teams hang around because of giveaways.

3. Pressure and contain Tate Forcier -- Without Forcier's late-game heroics, Michigan would be a 2-3 team right now. Iowa needs to pressure the freshmen with Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard but keep him in the pocket as much as possible.