The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football falls to Michigan, 26-0, in Big Ten Championship game

Holding the Wolverines to 213 total yards, the Hawkeye defense allowed 12 first downs, but was paired with an offense that couldn’t reach the red zone once.
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Cody Blissett
Michigan players tackle Iowa running back Kaleb Johnson during a football game between No. 18 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. The Wolverines lead the Hawkeyes, 10-0, after the first half (Cody Blissett/The Daily Iowan)

INDIANAPOLIS – For the second time in three seasons, the Iowa football team lost to Michigan in the Big Ten title game, this time in a 26-0 shutout fashion. 

In a game littered with penalties, the Hawkeyes held the Wolverines to just 213 total yards but lost the turnover battle, 3-0, totaled seven first downs, and didn’t reach the red zone once. Over their past two title games against Michigan, Iowa was outscored, 68-3. 

“Coming in here, we knew we had to play a pretty-much flawless game,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in his postgame press conference. “Obviously, didn’t do a great job of protecting the football in a couple of situations, but [it was] disappointing tonight. But to me, it doesn’t overshadow the job that this group has done over the past 10-11 months.”

When asked for the main reasons behind the Hawkeyes’ offensive struggle, the head coach said the Wolverines’ defensive prowess played a larger role in keeping Iowa at bay rather than any self-inflicted errors.

“That’s not our strength right now, to match up with them,” Ferentz said of the Michigan defense. “That’s how it goes. We’ll go back to the drawing board.”

After a quick three-and-out from the Iowa offense, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and Co. took advantage of favorable field position, driving 52 yards from their own 32-yard line to open the scoring with a field goal. After a false start penalty on fourth-and-2, Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh kept his offense on the field, converting a fourth-and-7 on a 10-yard completion to WR Cornelius Johnson. 

Yet after the completion, the Wolverines couldn’t get across the sticks, as running back Blake Corum was stuffed on third down. Facing fourth-and-1, Michigan settled for a 35-yard field goal to open the scoring. 

On the following Iowa drive, the Hawkeye right tackle Nick DeJong, filling in for starter Gennings Dunker, was flagged for a false start, pushing the Black and Gold to  third-and-12 and leading to another punt. 

DeJong would be flagged for another false start later in the game and the Hawkeyes would receive seven penalties, costing them 46 yards compared to Michigan’s 25.

Hill admitted that both miscommunication and a loud crowd of 67,842 fans created these pre-snap miscues, but still affirmed his confidence in his teammate.

“Nick’s a great player, I trust him 100 percent,” the quarterback said. “One person goes down, the next in line steps up. [The offensive line] has done a great job all year.”

Against the Wolverines, Hill was sacked three times for a loss of 21 yards and finished 18-of-32 for 120 yards, good enough for an 87.8 passer rating. His Michigan counterpart McCarthy was sacked four times for a loss of 40 yards and completed 73 percent of his passes for 147 yards, registering a 114.3 passer rating.

Tory Taylor’s boot traveled 52 yards but was returned for 87 by Wolverine returner Semaj Morgan, who broke a tackle from Iowa’s Koen Entringer, split defenders, and dashed up the left sideline before being tackled by Entringer at the five-yard line. The play was the longest punt return in Big Ten Championship history. 

Entringer made the initial tackle attempt on Morgan, but his dive was off-target and allowed Morgan to take off. Even still, the six-foot, 210-pound defensive back got back on his feet and ran nearly the length of the field to make good on his second takedown try.

“That guy is always giving effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing him grow because I know he has a lot of talent and he’s just a good kid,” Iowa defensive back Sebastian Castro said of Entringer. “He’s one of the faster guys [on the team], especially with how big he is, but he didn’t look like he was running normally, looked like he was stumbling. I just hoped he didn’t fall.”

Two plays after the return, Michigan RB Blake Corum broke through the line of scrimmage for his 23rd touchdown of the season. 

After the score, the Iowa defense held Michigan in check for the rest of the half, forcing two three-and-outs, three sacks, and a total possession time of 8:19 for the Wolverines’ next five drives. Yet the Iowa offense couldn’t return the favor, registering just one first down over that span. 

“There’s little things you can do, [like] have tighter coverage,” Castro said of the Hawkeyes’ defensive effort. “There were opportunities where we could have gotten fumbles or something like that, but I mean, we played a good game in general. So, like, that’s like asking extra, you know, with fumbles and interceptions.”

“I know it’s super broad, but it’s execution, that’s pretty much it,” Hill said of Iowa’s offense. “I wish I could give you a better answer.”

Iowa’s best chance at scoring during the first half came on a 25-yard punt from Michigan that set the Hawkeyes up at the Wolverines’ 38-yard line. Two plays later on third-and-two, Hill hit a rollout pass to running back Jaziun Patterson, but Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil dislodged the ball for a turnover.

Hill took a rough hit on the play, being picked up and slammed to the ground by a defensive lineman, but no flag was thrown.

At halftime, both teams combined for ten punts, and each squad averaged less than 2.5 yards per rush, but with seven first downs to Iowa’s two, Michigan found itself up 10 at the break. 

On the Wolverines’ opening drive of the second half, McCarthy was nearly picked off by Iowa linebacker Nick Jackson, the ball smacking off the Virginia transfer’s hands and falling to the turf, snapping the Hawkeyes’ chance to flip the script. 

Even after the near turnover, Michigan stalled out and punted for the fifth time consecutive time, but it only took two plays for Iowa to give up the ball once again. On second down, Hill threw under pressure, and the ball was knocked loose during his throwing motion. Initially ruled an incomplete pass on the field and blown dead, the play was later overturned upon review and ruled a fumble recovered by Michigan. 

Ferentz said he’s still “really struggling” with understanding the nature and purpose of the replay system, adding he still “couldn’t accept” the invalid fair catch call in Iowa’s loss to Minnesota in October. For the head coach, replay review has been “taken to a whole different level” than what he said was its original intended purpose of fixing incorrect calls or “blown calls.”

“Tonight, I was told [Hill’s] arm was going forward, but [his] hand wasn’t, which I’m not sure that’s possible mechanically,” he said. “We have a system that needs to be readdressed and rediscussed. There’s got to be a better way to do it.”

The Wolverines advanced the ball six yards after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. 

One play later, Corum crashed into the end zone for his second score of the day, making it a three-score contest. 

The Hawkeyes crossed midfield for the second time of the evening, but a fourth-and-1 sneak from Hill was stuffed for no gain. Michigan took advantage of the turnover, driving 28 yards on nine plays, highlighted by a four-yard dash for McCarthy on third down, to set up a 46-yard field goal. Wolverine kicker James Turner nailed the attempt to make the game a 20-point affair. 

The Hawkeyes’ third turnover of the evening occurred when Hill was strip-sacked by Wolverine defender Braiden McGregor. When asked if his turnovers were a matter of timing, the quarterback attributed his mistakes to simple execution. 

“I was throwing and the ball just came out. I’m not looking at the [pass] rush, so wherever [defenders] are going to be, they’re going to be. I was trying to get the ball out, and obviously, that didn’t happen.”

With the ball in the red zone, Michigan totaled negative three yards on four plays but knocked home a 36-yarder to extend the lead. 

Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins said the Hawkeye defensive coordinator Phil Parker and linebackers coach Seth Wallace prepared the unit well for the Wolverines’ offense, which was held for its fewest total yards and first downs all season.

“I just felt like my teammates went out there and they competed,” Higgins said. “That’s all I can ask for. I mean, passion, making plays, we got to show up in the big moments. I’m really proud of my defense.”

After Iowa failed to convert on its second fourth down of the day, Michigan responded in kind with a 50-yard field goal following a 21-yard drive. That kicking distance set another Big Ten Championship game record. 

While Saturday’s point differential wasn’t as wide as 2021’s game, the final score of the contest was only a surface-level statistic to Castro and doesn’t necessarily reflect players’ effort.

“You can say whatever you want, we don’t really care,” Castro said of the scoreboard. “We played our best and we played for each other … Knowing that we gave our best, it’s harder to not respect that.”

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
he/him/his
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.