IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Perhaps the lowest point of Iowa’s disastrous 2012 season came at Michigan, where the Wolverines handed the Hawkeyes their biggest loss in five years.
Iowa gets another shot at Michigan on Saturday, a chance to show the rest of the Big Ten how far it has come in 12 months. The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) can clinch at least a .500 record in league play and improve their bowl status if they beat Michigan for a third straight time in Iowa City.
“It was hard to watch,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of last season’s 42-17 loss. “The good news is I think we’re a totally different team than we were a year ago.”
It’s not like the Wolverines (7-3, 3-3) are rolling into Iowa City, either.
Michigan needed a late field goal and three overtimes to beat scuffling Northwestern 27-19 last week, snapping a two-game losing skid. The Wolverines rank next to last in the Big Ten in rushing offense and just seventh in scoring defense.
They also have Devin Gardner — and in 2012 he tore up the Hawkeyes like few players ever have. Gardner had six total touchdowns, three each rushing and passing, and was the first Michigan quarterback to notch six scores in nearly 30 years.
Gardner also had a pair of overtime touchdowns and a two-point conversion last week to help Michigan hold off Northwestern.
“I think winning the football game, you can throw the weather in, you can throw a lot of things in, they responded well, and they never panicked,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Here are five keys to consider when Iowa and Michigan face off for the 59th time:
STOPPING GARDNER: Opponents have had success blitzing Michigan’s inexperienced line and getting to Gardner. The Hawkeyes aren’t typically aggressive with their linebackers, but they could introduce a few wrinkles defensively to try to prevent a repeat performance from Gardner. “For us to get there we’ve got to get there with our front four. That is an area we need to improve upon. It’s going to be a challenge. But we certainly can’t let (Gardner) get comfortable back there and we can’t let him get outside, either. He did that a few times last year and we paid for it, both run and pass,” Ferentz said.
THE PACK AT BACK: Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint missed the win over Northwestern because of the effects of a concussion. He’s listed as a starter this week, but freshman Derrick Green had 79 yards rushing against the Wildcats. Green and fellow rookie De’Veon Smith could be used more to help Michigan’s efforts to improve a languid rushing attack. “Those guys are pretty much downhill runners. They have a chance to end up north-south because of their size and their style. They have pretty good vision, most of the time,” Hoke said of Green and Smith.
A PRETTY GOOD EXCUSE: Teams in the Big Ten often take heat nationally for supposedly weak schedules, and that could keep Ohio State out of the BCS title game this year. But the four teams that have beaten Iowa — Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin — are 38-3 this season. The Badgers have lost twice, to the Buckeyes and on a strange final play at Arizona State, and Michigan State lost to Notre Dame 17-13.
WINK AT PINK: Iowa’s famous pink visiting locker room is intended to annoy opposing teams. But Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan said it doesn’t bother him at all. “It’s soothing. It’s nice. It keeps it mellow. It’s a light pink, not a dark pink or anything like that,” Lewan said. The game is not played in the locker room. If it was it would be a very calm and soothing game.”
FINAL SWARM: Iowa on Saturday will honor its seniors, who’ll be playing at Kinnick Stadium for the last time. The biggest loss for Iowa next season will be at linebacker, where it has three senior starters in James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. That trio has been huge this season for the Hawkeyes, who are allowing just 18.7 points a game. “They’re playing at a much higher level this year, I think, and that kind of tells the story. The deeper story to me is the leadership they’ve given and leadership is all about what you do in terms of demonstrating your commitment,” Ferentz said.
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