IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Michigan’s unbeaten start has been built on a schedule loaded with home games in one of the nation’s most intimidating stadiums.
The second-ranked Wolverines (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 3 CFP) will finally have to go on the road Saturday to face a tough opponent in Iowa, although the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) aren’t nearly as tough as they were expected to be. Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) has been on the road just twice, throttling Rutgers by 78 points and surviving Michigan State by nine on its way to the top of the league.
But neither the Scarlet Knights nor the Spartans have won a Big Ten game. Iowa, even with all of its struggles , should present the heavily-favored Wolverines with a challenge unlike anything they’ve seen so far this season.
Not that they’re worried.
“We’ve been here before,” Michigan linebacker/defensive back Jabrill Peppers said. “We know how to win now and what and what not to do. It’s just part of growing up and maturing. We got a lot of savvy guys out there.”
Realignment has put a damper on this long-time league rivalry, which has been dormant since 2013. But the Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan at home three times in a row, and another victory would shake up the playoff picture and give a struggling Iowa program a major boost.
Here are some of the keys to consider as Michigan and Iowa prepare to meet for the 60th time:
JABRILL VS. DEZ
This game will feature two of the nation’s best defenders in Peppers and Iowa cornerback Desmond King. Peppers is a finalist for nearly every award in the country and is on track for an invitation to the Heisman Trophy presentation, and King is the reigning Thorpe Award winner. But while King will finally get tested by an attack featuring Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt, Iowa’s receiving corps has yet to prove it can test a decent defense. Peppers, of course, is much more than a defender, too.
“He’s a really dynamic return guy,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But he plays great on defense, and he’s a threat offensively, too, so he’s a tremendous football player. That’s such an unusual combination.”
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight has been fantastic, with 15 touchdowns, three interceptions and a completion percentage of 64.5. But this will be a road test for the junior, who helped Michigan win at Minnesota last year. “This is where we expected to be, this is where we wanted to be, and we’re here, so it’s rewarding,” Speight said. “But there’s a lot more to do.”
Iowa won the Big Ten West in 2015 and was favored to do it again. But last week’s 41-14 loss at Penn State was a sobering reminder that this year’s team simply isn’t as good. “In life, you have peaks, you have valleys,” Ferentz said. “We all do, individually, collectively, and that’s real life. That’s just the way it goes, and if you go out and compete in sports against good oppositions, you’re going to experience the good and the bad.”
Michigan’s success has thrust the program into the seemingly endless conversation about the playoffs . But the Wolverines themselves aren’t talking much about the postseason just yet. “Win the next game. That’s where we put our focus — and rightfully so,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
HE SAID IT
“It’s really hard to find many cracks or weaknesses.” — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, asked what Michigan gives opponents to exploit.