‘Where top-five teams go to die’: Iowa to collide with No. 4 Michigan Saturday at Kinnick Stadium

The Hawkeyes will have an opportunity to avenge their 42-3 Big Ten Championship Game loss to the Wolverines.

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Grace Smith

Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson carries the ball to the end zone for a touchdown during the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Wilson caught two passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3.


Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras paid for it the last time he took the same field as Michigan.

The Wolverines dealt blows in last season’s Big Ten championship game that severely bruised the now-senior’s abdomen. Petras said he also left the contest with internal muscle bleeding in addition to the abdomen injury.

Ahead of this week’s Iowa-Michigan matchup, Petras said he isn’t thinking about the punishment he took during the Hawkeyes’ 42-3 loss to the Wolverines.

“I was banged up because I was an idiot and didn’t slide and got roughed up pretty good,” Petras said. “I just gotta know to be smart when I’m running the football. An extra couple yards, depending on the situation, isn’t worth the blows to the body.”

Petras went 9-of-22 for 137 yards before his injuries forced him off the field during the third quarter of the title game. Junior Alex Padilla completed 10 of his 15 throws for 38 yards in relief of Petras.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras releases a pass during the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Michigan recorded one sack.The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3. (Jerod Ringwald)

But the wind was taken out of the Iowa offense’s sails long before Petras left the game.

The Hawkeyes drove the ball 54 yards in their first possession to the Michigan 17-yard line. On first-and-10, Petras tossed the ball toward the right hash to running back Gavin Williams, who proceeded to sling the football  toward Lucas Oil Stadium’s south end zone. Williams’ intended receiver was fullback Monte Pottebaum, who raced across the goal line to get underneath the overthrown pass.

Pottebaum stretched out to catch the ball, but ultimately ended up flat on his back in an end zone that had “IOWA” painted in gold lettering on top of black turf.

Soon after their failed trick play, the Hawkeyes brought out fifth-year senior kicker Caleb Shudak, for a 33-yard field goal attempt.

Initially, Shudak’s boot appeared to be trending toward the right upright. Then, the ball sliced.  The kick ultimately missed without grazing the goal posts.

After Shudak’s miss, 11 of the next 12 Hawkeye drives ended in a punt or turnover. The Wolverines scored on six of their final 12 possessions.

“I’m human, so I do ask myself that,” Pottebaum said of how a first-drive touchdown catch might’ve changed the game. “But that’s not going to help me any this week in this game. I just put that to the side.”

Iowa fullback Monte Pottebaum attempts to catch a pass in the end zone during the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. The Iowa offense completed 50% of passes.The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3. (Grace Smith)

The last time one of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s teams surrendered more than 42 points in a game was on Jan. 1, 2016, when the Hawkeyes lost to Stanford, 45-16, in the Rose Bowl.

The 39-point loss is the second-largest Ferentz has suffered during his tenure at Iowa, behind the 49-3 loss to Michigan State, on Oct. 2, 1999, Ferentz’s first season.

“Oh yeah, as a defense, what happened last year, you know, losing by 39 points and giving up 42 points as a defense, that’s not how we play football,” strong safety Kaevon Merriweather said. “That’s not something that [defensive coordinator Phil Parker] preaches or harps on.

“I think Coach Parker is doing a great job of pushing us in practice to make sure where we need to be every single play and every single down. So, I think this is, I wouldn’t say a revenge game, but we want to play way better than we did last year.”

Ferentz said he hasn’t been using the Hawkeyes’ loss in Indianapolis as fuel for this rematch. Since the final whistle was blown in Indiana, Ferentz has been trying to put the bout behind him.

“It obviously didn’t feel very good that day, that’s for sure,” Ferentz said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Our challenge at that point back in December was to move forward. Like we do any game, you look at and study and learn from it and move forward.”

Both teams went on to play bowl games in Florida. Michigan lost to Georgia, 34-11, in the Orange Bowl in Miami on Dec. 31, failing to advance to the national championship game in the process. Iowa played in the Citrus Bowl, losing to Kentucky, 20-17, on Jan. 1.

Michigan, at 4-0 this season, was ranked fourth in the AP preseason poll and has remained in that position since. The 3-1 Hawkeyes have yet to be ranked this year. Before this season, Iowa hadn’t opened a season unranked since 2018.

The Wolverines’ high ranking might, however, benefit the Hawkeyes this Saturday. Iowa is 5-1 its last six home games against top-five opponents. The unranked Hawkeyes beat the then-No. 2 Wolverines, 14-13, at Kinnick Stadium in 2016.

“As they say, [it’s] where top-five teams go to die,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said at a Monday press conference. “… It’s a great environment that they have at Kinnick Stadium. I think it’s more the team that’s on the field. They produce one that’s good every single year.”

Michigan will come to Iowa City with a relatively inexperienced starting quarterback.

Sophomore J.J. McCarthy has played 15 games, starting three times.

McCarthy won the Wolverines’ quarterback competition during Week 2 of the season, when he completed 11 of his 12 pass attempts for 229 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan’s 56-10 beatdown of Hawaii.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy stares down at Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather after stiff arming him on the play during the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. McCarthy passed for six yards on one completion. The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3. (Jerod Ringwald)

In his postgame press conference, Harbaugh named McCarthy his Week 3 starter. After a follow-up question from a reporter, Harbaugh insinuated McCarthy would be his No. 1 option at QB for the foreseeable future.

“Yeah, by merit, he’s earned that,” Harbaugh told USA Today Sports. “By performance, by merit.”

Harbaugh’s quarterback contest was unconventional. Before the season began, he announced he’d start a different quarterback in each of Michigan’s first two games.

Senior Cade McNamara, who was the Wolverines’ starter in 2021, played Michigan’s first game of the year, going 9-of-18 for 136 yards and a touchdown in the Wolverines’ 51-7 win over Colorado State..

Before his Week 1 start, McNamara called the QB battle Harbaugh set up “unusual.”

“It was kind of a thing that I wasn’t expecting by the end of camp,” McNamara told WXYZ Detroit’s Brad Galli.“I thought I had my best game, put myself in a good position. That was just a decision that coach went with.”

McCarthy has thrown for 663 yards and five touchdowns, without committing a turnover, to post an 82.9 quarterback rating.

The Hawkeyes’ defense will likely provide McCarthy with the stiffest test he’s faced as a starter. Maryland was the only team he played with a defense ranked inside the top 100 nationally — the Terrapins are currently 98th in the country in total defense.

The Hawkeyes rank sixth in the country in total defense, surrendering 236.2 yards per game. Iowa has yet to allow more than 10 points in a game.

Likewise, Michigan’s offense will be the best Iowa has seen this season. The Wolverines have averaged 489 yards and six touchdowns per game — good for 19th in the nation.

With McNamara as their starting quarterback in last season’s game against Iowa, the Wolverines gained 461 yards — 250 through the air and 211 on the ground. In limited action against the Hawkeyes, McCarthy went 1-of-3 for six yards and an interception. He also picked up 23 rushing yards.

Despite McCarthy’s lackluster performance at Lucas Oil Stadium, Ferentz believes Michigan’s offense may be more explosive now than it was last season.

“You might argue they’re better,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know. [McCarthy and McNamara are] both really good players. I don’t want to call it a dilemma. It’s been a discussion point, at least it sounds like, up in Ann Arbor and maybe points beyond that.

“From where I’m standing, it looks like it’s tough to go wrong either way, and maybe that’s the situation they’re facing.”

McNamara won’t be available for Saturday’s game, per The Detroit Free Press. He sustained a lower-body injury during the lone drive he played against UConn on Sept. 17.

Iowa will also need to slow halfback Blake Corum. Michigan’s rushing offense is ranked 11th in the country, and Corum is the Wolverines’ featured runner. In four games, he’s scored nine touchdowns and gained 478 yards on 64 carries — a 7.5 yards per run average.

Michigan running back Blake Corum makes a move during the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Corum rushed for 74 yards on five carries.The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3. (Jerod Ringwald)

In last year’s Big Ten Championship Game, Corum had 74 rushing yards, including a 67-yard touchdown run.

“He’s a great back,” Merriweather said. “I think he’s got a lot of balance. He can get in on his cuts and get downfield. He’s shifty. In the pass game, you need to watch him. If he gets in the flat and gets the ball in space, he can make something happen.”

Iowa ranks sixth in the FBS in rush defense, allowing just over 73 yards per game and 2.21 per carry.

Michigan is 35th in the country against the run this year. Iowa’s rushing offense is rated 115th in after 129-yard and 162-yard rushing performances against Rutgers and Nevada, respectively. The Scarlet Knights had the second-best run defense in the country before they lost 27-10 to the Hawkeyes at last Saturday’s game.

Iowa has scored five total touchdowns this season — four of which have come on the ground. The Hawkeyes are currently ranked last in the 131-team FBS in total offense Their passing attack is 124th with 524 total yards and one touchdown.

The Wolverines are rated eighth nationally in total defense. Rutgers’ defense is ranked ninth in the FBS.

“[Michigan] is going to be the most talented team we’ve played,” Petras said. “But it’s good. It’s another challenge for this team. We’ve got talented guys, too. You know, it’ll be fun. I think the biggest thing is, it’s even more critical that we have great focus, great execution, and just fall back on our fundamentals every play. This team will make us pay if we don’t.”

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