Big Ten Championship scouting notebook | No. 13 Iowa vs. No. 2 Michigan

Saturday’s game to decide the Big Ten champ will test the toughness of Iowa’s defensive front.


Grace Smith

Iowa linebacker Jestin Jacobs makes a tackle during a football game between Iowa and Kent State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Flashes with a score of 30-7.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

Hassan Haskins seemed to be running in the open field a lot last Saturday when the Michigan tailback and his teammates dismantled rival Ohio State Buckeyes, 42-27. Haskins, a senior from Saint Louis, Missouri, totaled 169 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in Ann Arbor last weekend — something the Hawkeyes cannot let happen.

Six of Haskins’ 28 carries went for more than 10 yards and Iowa’s defense knows if the Hawkeyes have any chance to win the title on Saturday in Indianapolis, they must limit the run game before Haskins gets going.

Michigan’s rushing game has produced 35 of the Wolverines’ 53 touchdowns and Haskins has contributed 18 of those scores. By contrast, Iowa has scored 28 offensive touchdowns.

Haskins is the Big Ten’s second leading rusher with 1,232 rushing yards.

Iowa linebacker Jestin Jacobs said the Hawkeyes have to be ready for a battle against the Wolverines.

“There’s just a big physical team up front,” Jacobs told reporters Tuesday. “They get after the defense, they have good fundamentals, gain leverage and whatnot. They’re just a tough team. They know what they want to do. And if they want to run, they’re just gonna line up and just run right at you.”

Michigan’s starting offensive line only consists of one underclassman and all five of this season’s starters were either starters or second-team players last season. Across the five starting offensive linemen, the Wolverines average player stands nearly 6-foot-6 and weighs in at approximately 317 pounds.

Iowa’s four starters on the defensive line average about 6-oot-3 and 275 pounds.

On paper, Iowa’s defensive line and the Hawkeye’s as a whole are not supposed to put up much of a fight against Michigan, but Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg says his team is used to playing spoiler.

“We’re used to that,” VanValkenburg said Tuesday. “We’re used to being underdogs. That’s not anything new to us. We’re used to playing against guys that are supposed to be more talented than us. So, you know, we have to make that advantage on Saturday.”

Getting to know Michigan

The Daily Iowan interviewed The Michigan Daily’s Senior Sports Editor Daniel Dash to learn more about the Wolverines. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Iowan: What did a win like that over Ohio State mean for a program like Michigan? I know it’s been quite a long time since the Wolverines took down the Buckeyes.

Daniel Dash: Yeah, I think it just completely upends the national perception surrounding Michigan. I think before Saturday they were really seen as a program that was a former powerhouse gone stagnant. I think now they’re seen as a program that’s back on the rise and serious about everything that they’ve said over the last year. I think Harbaugh no longer has that stigma of the coach who can’t get over the hump. And I think that these next six weeks, give them an opportunity to build on that even further. It’s something that they can sell every inch of on the recruiting trail. It’s something that completely changes the perception of the rivalry. And the fact that this wasn’t a close win, but a thorough domination, I think speaks volumes.

DI: And, and I know, I mean, every team pretty much says, ‘Oh, every week is a 1-0 season.’ But do you think that a win like that last week can fuel Michigan, going up to Indianapolis here on Saturday?

Dash: Absolutely. Michigan, actually since January when spring practices started, they implemented a drill called the beat Ohio drill 11 months in advance. And again that shows you the level of seriousness that they approach that game with. I think if anything, it makes it harder to refocus for another team coming off an emotional high of beating Ohio State. Coming off 11 months of preparation, coming off everything mentally, physically, spiritually that went into last weekend. I think, if anything, Michigan has shown that they’re a really good preparation team this year, but they haven’t been tested on a short turnaround like this yet.

DI: So you think it’s almost going to be difficult for Michigan to kind of refocus.

Dash: Yeah, I think it’s working against them. Of course, there are motivations for this game, the College Football Playoff berth, Big Ten championship but I think that just seeing everything that they manifested against Ohio State and spoke into existence over the last year, It’s hard to just brush that off and look towards the next opponent.

DI: Hassan Haskins, the running back, is a huge part of Michigan’s offense. What makes him so effective? What makes him so hard to bring down out of the backfield?

Dash: He’s physical, Haskins and Blake Corum, the sophomore running back, they have  a nickname for themselves. It’s thunder and lightning. And it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s who. Haskins is thunder. Whereas Corum tries to make guys miss in the open filled with jukes, spin moves, cutbacks, Haskins wants to run you over. And I think it’s pretty clear in the way he plays. Part of the game, I think really makes him stand out is his ability to always fall forward. He’s always getting the extra yardage. On the goal line he’s always trying to power through, his legs are always churning. And I think that that’s really what separates him from a lot of these flashier running backs. I think he’s more of an old school, old style traditional power sort of guy. I think the thunder nickname is pretty appropriate in that sense.

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

DI: I’m just looking at the box score from last week, looks like Haskins got 28 carries, I mean scored on like a fourth of them or whatever it was, and Corum got six. What do you think the breakdown will be carry wise for those two backs?

Dash: Last week was Corum’s first game in about a month. He missed the last two games before that, didn’t practice the week before that. He’s still working his way back from a high ankle sprain. We’ll see what he does in Indianapolis. I think that if he’s anything less than 100%, Michigan probably won’t push him given that they have Haskins, but I think if you look at the last five or six games for Haskins, you can see that he’s been over 20 carries in all of them.  I would expect the same against Iowa.

DI: And then moving over to quarterback, what’s been your kind of assessment of Cade McNamara? He doesn’t seem like he gets that much national attention because of the rushing attack and then obviously there’s J.J. McCarthy there who gets some snaps as well.

Dash: I think what makes Cade stand out is leadership. I think you could see it in his eyes. I think you could see it in videos of the postgame locker room. I think you could see it on the field during the game. Just his command of the offense is something a lot of young quarterbacks struggle with. I think he’s got a pretty good grip. He kind of reminds me of Alex Smith, in the sense that he’s so unbelievably consistent, but we’ll never wow you. I mean, he’s not going to throw the ball 70 yards downfield, like Patrick Mahomes. He’s not going to roll out and throw back across his body to a guy streaking down the other sideline. I mean, he’s a guy who’s always gonna make the right play, and I think that’s why Harbaugh loves him so much. I don’t know if I’d use the term game manager, but I think that he’s the kind of guy that you could rely on to move the ball down the field, he’s the guy you can rely on to always make the right decision on late downs whether it’s third down, fourth down, short yardage situation. I think he’s a guy who always understands the clock and the score and the situation. I think that’s what makes him so reliable. One thing on Cade, three best games have been Michigan’s three biggest road games, at Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. And I think that says a lot about him. I think that says a lot about his competitive edge. I think that says a lot about his drive and his willingness to really will this team to wins on the road.

DI: And I assume you think that leadership and that ability to perform well on the road or in neutral sites as will be the case in Indy, you think that that’ll help him on Saturday?

Dash: Yeah, I think so. And that’s not a knock on McCarthy. I think the fact that McCarthy is a true freshman is just such a limiting factor. He hasn’t had a full year of learning the playbook. He hasn’t had a full year in college strength and conditioning programs, Division I nutrition. I think his body is really lagging behind McNamara’s from a physical standpoint. But when he enters the game, and he will enter the game against Iowa — he’s played at all Michigan games this season besides one — you will see the talent pop. I mean, the ball just comes out of his hand differently. The zip, it just looks like a missile. And I think Michigan has done a pretty good job using that when they can but making sure that McNamara is able to settle into a rhythm and really guide the offense.

DI: What’s the feel on the campus there in Ann Arbor? What are the fans feeling like? I feel like they could be a little bit gassed after last Saturday, but what’s the feeling like as they get prepared to head to Indianapolis?

Dash: They’re excited. I know a lot of student organizations are working on setting up bus services. There was a really long line for student tickets on the waitlist. I think everyone’s pretty excited, and they realize the magnitude of the stakes. I mean, Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004.

DI: Now I’ll ask you for a prediction. I know Michigan opened up as 10.5-point favorites. How do you think it’ll go and do you think that line could be pretty accurate?

Dash: I would be really surprised if this were a blowout. I think that given both teams’ success on defense and not underwhelming offenses, but not a team that’s going to blow you away like an Ohio State offense would or like a vintage Penn State Trace McSorely offense would. I mean, I think I could see this game finishing like 27-24 or 27-21. I do think I’d give Michigan the edge just based on their physicality and the success of the offensive line. And the trust that they have in McNamara and his ability to really move the ball in big games. And I think that what they showed on defense against Ohio State shouldn’t really be written off either. I mean, they’re a team that prides itself on toughness and Josh Gattis [the Michigan offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach] said today on the Michigan Radio Show that Ohio State’s a finesse team and I think that Michigan has really found an identity in being the antithesis to that sort of finesse team. They’re not flashy, not flashy at all. They’re just a bunch of old-school football guys. And I think that’s really starting at the top with Harbaugh. And I think it’s the place where they found a lot of success. If you want an official prediction, give me, 27-21, Michigan. I could see both teams having a second half lead, that wouldn’t shock me at all. I don’t think that Michigan just walks into Indianapolis and rolls over Iowa, I think a defense that good that leads the conference in interceptions, I think a coach like Kirk Ferentz, who’s known for bringing some trickery and, you know, expectation shattering moves into these games, I don’t think you could write that off.

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