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Michigan Wolverines at Iowa Hawkeyes: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications

When: Sat. Nov. 12, 2016; 8 pm ET
Where: Iowa City, IA;  Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 41-14-4
Last Meeting: Iowa 24-21 win, in 2013
Line: Michigan (-21.5)

The Big Ten has dominated the primetime ABC time slot for the past month, but the focus has been on Ohio State and the other leading Big Ten contenders (Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska). Michigan has actually not had any night games other than the 78-0 Rutgers beatdown, and only two road games so far on the schedule. Thus, the Wolverines will be entering somewhat unfamiliar territory in multiple ways in this road game at night in Kinnick Stadium.

The pressure is beginning to mount as Michigan approaches an undefeated regular season, a feat which Iowa accomplished just a season ago. It will be interesting to see if Iowa can do what nobody could do to the Hawkeyes last year, and that is knock an undefeated season off track. That will be easier said and written than done, if Michigan’s dominant level of play so far is a true indicator of team strength.

Although Michigan has a game in hand on the East Division and could actually afford a loss, the Hawkeyes need to win out and receive significant help to get back in the West Division race. A loss here likely eliminates them from conference title aspirations, and it would leave work left on the table to get to 6 wins and bowl eligibility. That’s a long drop from nearly making the College Football Playoff a season ago, so expect a spirited effort from Iowa in what may be the biggest spotlight game for that program in 2016.

1 Burning Question: How will Michigan perform in the spotlight and an actual tough road environment?

There have been only two games where Michigan has really been challenged so far this season: the 45-28 win over Colorado (in the first half) and the 14-7 slugfest against Wisconsin. However, both of those games have come at the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium in front of 100,000 friendly faces. Those circumstances can help a defense full of young talent step up and play their best, regardless of the competition or the level of adversity.

With the only two road games thus far being at Rutgers and Michigan State, two teams that enter the weekend a combined 0-12 in conference play, the Wolverines have not faced even a decent team on the road. Although everybody is looking ahead to the road test in Columbus in a couple weeks, Kinnick Stadium is a long trip and just as tough an environment, thanks in large part to the fans being nearly literally right on top of the players along the sidelines. With young players like Michigan features, sometimes these road environments are a huge trap.

Instead of having fan support throughout the game, the Michigan defense will need to keep intensity up by themselves against the Hawkeyes. Plus, Michigan knows the national eyes will be all on them in a weekend full of largely lackluster games in the Top 25. So, whether Michigan steps up to prove their worth once again or not, the Wolverines will certainly be more battle-tested having faced this road environment on Saturday night.

2 Key Stats:

— +251.7, and -66.6.  That’s the net total yardage differential average (offense minus defense) for Michigan and Iowa, respectively.  The big statistics all favor Michigan in most games because the Wolverines have combined a salty defense with an offense just good enough to roll over most of the competition faced to date. However, as shocking as gaining over 250 yards more than opponents is, the bigger surprise here is how Iowa has regressed to a team being out-gained by a significant margin some weeks. If the statistics trump the circumstances of a hostile night game crowd at Kinnick and undefeated season/national title pressures, this game will be a bigger blowout than even the Vegas line would indicate.

— 19.0%. That’s the third down conversion rate surrendered by Michigan (1st in B1G).  The Hawkeyes rank 11th in the Big Ten conference at picking up third down conversions, with the problems stemming from too many third-and-long situations and predictable play calling. Michigan’s defense gives up fewer than 1-in-5 third downs, and if Iowa wants to stay close in this game, it needs to find a way to break this stat and extend long drives. Third down is where this contest will be won, in all likelihood.

3 Key Players:

Desmond King, Iowa CB/KR: The Wolverines have had a balanced offense so far this season, relying on various running threats as well as the passing game led by QB Wilton Speight. Outside of the Wisconsin game, Speight has not faced serious threats in the opposing defensive backfield like what King will bring to this game. King has not grabbed as many interceptions as last year, but he is still a lock-down defensive force who punishes mistakes when quarterbacks telegraph their intentions. Add to that King’s big-play potential in the return game, and Jabrill Peppers will not be the only multi-purpose star to watch for a big game Saturday night.

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan LB/DB/KR/etc.: The Heisman hopes of Peppers took a hit against Maryland with only two carries on offense leading to 19 yards, and not many huge standout plays on defense. With the national spotlight, look for Jim Harbaugh and his staff look to give their best star a chance to break out with a great performance. Peppers is averaging 17.1 yards per punt return and 26 yards per kick return, so Iowa will be challenged to cover Peppers on these extra “touches.” You can also expect a much larger role on offense, as Michigan will challenge Iowa’s defense to prove it can stop a dynamic playmaker of this caliber.

Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels, Iowa RBs: As set forth above, Iowa will need to win third down to slow down Michigan and get this game in a close state in the fourth quarter at home. Wadley and Daniels are both averaging over 70 yards per game, and both will need to find running room to keep Michigan from rushing the Iowa QB C.J. Beathard too much. The gains need to come on first and second down to open up options and the playbook when needing to convert those third downs. If one or both of these backs are ineffective or add many negative plays, Iowa will not hang on to the ball long enough to remain competitive.

 4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Michigan 28-10
Dave: Michigan 28-10
Phil H.: Michigan 37-13
Philip R.: Michigan 24-20
Zach: Michigan

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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