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Michigan football looks for first signature win against undefeated Iowa

No. 19 Michigan hosts No. 14 Iowa in Ann Arbor

Ambry Thomas #1 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a third quarter fourth down stop with Josh Metellus #14 while playing the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It's one of the most tiresome, overstated narratives in all of college football, but it exists all the same: Michigan football has never won a big game under Jim Harbaugh.

It's not remotely true. Michigan beat a top 10 Wisconsin team in 2016 and back-to-back-to-back ranked teams in Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State by a combined 74 points last year.

People seem to forget those signature Michigan wins. This weekend, Michigan's hoping to make people forget once again.

No. 14 Iowa will invade the Big House on Saturday as a slight road underdog against No. 19 Michigan. A betting line that once favored the Wolverines by a touchdown has been sliced in half as money pours in for the Hawkeyes.

Shea Patterson #2 of the Michigan Wolverines scores a first quarter touchdown while playing the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There's very little belief in Michigan right now, and the only way to change that is to pick up a signature win.

Iowa was dominant in wins over Miami (Ohio), Rutgers and Middle Tennessee and is also road tested after a victory against rival Iowa State.

Quarterback Nate Stanley is the star of the show, completing 64.4% of his passes for an average of 8.2 yards per attempt, eight touchdowns and no interceptions this season.

He's racked up 965 passing yards through the first four games, spreading the love primarily among four wide receivers and a pair of running backs.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette is Iowa's big-play threat, making 15 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns. Brandon Smith also has 15 catches and three scores, though he's gained just 170 yards.

Donovan Peoples-Jones #9 of the Michigan Wolverines makes a first quarter catch next to Damon Hayes #22 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tyrone Trace Jr. and Nico Ragaini have a combined 19 catches for 312 yards to round out the balanced passing attack. Stanley has also connected with running backs Mekhi Sargent and Tyler Goodson nine times apiece through the air, though the yardage has been modest.

The true danger for Michigan will be the three-headed rushing attack of Sargent, Goodson and Toren Young. Here's a look at their running numbers through four games:

  • Sargent: 54 runs for 299 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
  • Young: 33 runs for 251 yards (7.6) and one touchdown.
  • Goodson: 34 runs for 202 yards (5.9).

Michigan transfer Oliver Martin, who left Ann Arbor to join the hometown Hawkeyes this offseason, has five catches for 28 yards and a touchdown so far this season.

These pieces come together to form the No. 29 overall offense in the country, averaging 465 yards per game.

Defensively, Iowa is even stronger. The Hawkeyes are allowing just 251 yards per game, fifth-best in the nation. While they only have five sacks on the season, they rank in the top 20 in pass defense and top 10 in rushing defense.

Saturday will be a challenge for a Michigan offense that has struggled to get anything going on the ground.

Zach Charbonnet #24 of the Michigan Wolverines battles for yards during a first quarter run against Drew Singleton #11 and Elorm Lumor #7 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

True freshman Zach Charbonnet leads the charge in the ground game, but he only averages 4.5 yards per carry. His workload has greatly diminished since the coaches leaned on him for 33 carries against Army.

In the two games since, Charbonnet has just seven carries for 28 yards. Michigan will need more from him if it wants to beat Iowa.

Michigan's revamped passing game hasn't been as advertised, either. The Wolverines are averaging 261.5 yards per game through the air.

Starting quarterback Shea Patterson showed some positive signs against Rutgers, though. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for three more scores.

Ronnie Bell, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black all had multiple catches, and the Josh Gattis offense finally started to look like what he advertised all offseason.

But it was against Rutgers, so it's hard to judge how much progress was actually made.

If Michigan can have similar offensive success against a very good defensive team in Iowa, the season can start trending back in the right direction.

Saturday is another opportunity for a signature win, and the trajectory of Michigan’s 2019 season will swing dramatically in one direction, depending on the outcome.


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