Defending Michigan rushing attack a focus for Iowa ahead of Big Ten Championship

The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in rushing yards per game this season with 224.9 per contest. The Hawkeye defense is third-best in the conference, only allowing 105.8 yards per game this season.

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© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan running back Hassan Haskins (25) scores a touchdown against Ohio State during the second half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. 2021-11-27-michigan haskins

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh had plenty of messages to sort through in the hours following the Wolverines’ win over Ohio State, but a text from a Hall of Fame head coach stood out above them all.

“I got a great text from John Madden, and John Madden said that this is as good an offensive line performance as he’s seen in a football game,” Harbaugh said Sunday.

Madden won over 75 percent of his games and a Super Bowl in 10 years leading the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and later went on to a celebrated broadcasting career. Harbaugh sent the text to Michigan offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, telling him to “Keep that on your phone forever.” The Wolverines ran for 297 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground in their 42-27 thumping of the Buckeyes at The Big House. Michigan running back Hassan Haskins compiled 169 yards and six scores on the ground.

Iowa plays Michigan on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game. Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz and his defense noticed the same thing that Madden did when reviewing the Michigan-Ohio State game — the Wolverine ground game presents a problem.

“It all starts up front,” Iowa middle linebacker Jack Campbell said Monday. “The offensive line, they’re big, athletic dudes. That’ll be a challenge in itself. Then you look back and you have two or three outstanding running backs. They know to hit the seams and hit them hard. They’re all explosive runners.”

The Hawkeyes are the third-best in the conference at stopping the run. Campbell, who has recorded a team-leading 124-tackles this season, is in the middle of an Iowa defense that has held opponents to 105.8 yards per contest through 12 games.

The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in rushing yards per game this season with 224.9.

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Haskins was named the national offensive player of the week for his performance against Ohio State, and leads Michigan with 1,232 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground this season. Blake Corum also has 865 yards and 10 scores out of the backfield this season.

“Both their backs have been stellar and really had great seasons,” Ferentz said Sunday. “They both present different challenges. And they’re not the only two guys involved, obviously. But they’re getting good play from their running backs. The guys up front are really doing a nice job. All five guys are coordinated.”

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said the Wolverines fully realized how effective their running game could be when they tallied 343 yards and four touchdowns against Washington in the second week of the season.

“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve obviously put an emphasis on the type of run game team that we want to be,” McNamara said. “The level of physicality, the gap schemes, you know, even just the simple zones and coming off the ball. We have plays in our offense we call mentality plays. They’re not as much about the scheme as the level of intensity that we’re going to come off the ball with.”

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But last weekend against the Buckeyes, a team the Wolverines hadn’t beaten since 2011 prior to last Saturday, was the most satisfying win and rushing performance of the season, McNamara said.

His Wolverine teammates agreed.

“After watching the film, very proud of our guys,” Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis added. “All the work we put in during the week, during the whole year even, really came into fruition. It really showed on Saturday. We executed very well. Always some things to fix. But we couldn’t be happier with how we executed, and that goes across the whole team, not just the line.”

The Hawkeyes opened as 10.5-point underdogs against the Wolverines and their stout rushing attack ahead of the Big Ten Championship Game. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:17 p.m. on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It will air on FOX. Iowa is seeking its first Big Ten title since 2004 and first outright conference championship since 1985.

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