Football coaches have a love-hate relationship with dwelling on the past.
On one hand, they use the past to teach, motivate and improve their players.
There’s value in film study and analyzing your opponent’s previous games to search for clues as to how to beat them. Motivation is easy. At schools where tradition is deep and winning is associated with the football program, coaches will look back into the past for the motivation of history.
A good coach loathes staying in the past for too long, though, because win, lose or draw, there’s always another game on the horizon. If a coach focused on the last game too much, his team is likely to suffer in the next one.
So it makes sense that not even a day after Iowa (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) got walloped by Penn State, losing 41-14, head coach Kirk Ferentz was already looking ahead to the Hawkeyes’ next opponent.
Unfortunately for both Ferentz and his team, the view up ahead is not much prettier than the one in the rear-view mirror. In fact, it’s substantially worse.
“We have played a challenging schedule; Wisconsin was excellent before the bye week, Penn State is playing well and will move up in the rankings, and Michigan now is playing as well as anybody in the country,” Ferentz said in a Sunday conversation with HawkeyeSports.com.
“It will be a great environment in Kinnick. We can’t dwell on last week too long; we looked at the tape and will make corrections, but it will take our absolute best to be ready for Michigan. That’s what it’s all about, I know our guys are eager to get back on the field and get this week started.”
The Jim Harbaugh road show will make its way to Iowa City this weekend for a game that very well could get ugly. Michigan (9-0, 6-0 B1G) is the No. 2-ranked team in the country, trailing only Alabama.
Harbaugh’s Wolverines have notched a few very impressive wins as of late, including a 59-3 drubbing of Maryland this past weekend, a 32-23 win over arch-rival Michigan State, a 41-8 win over Illinois, a 78-0 win over Rutgers and a 14-7 slugfest win over then-No. 8 Wisconsin.
Michigan is entering this game as one of the best teams in the nation. In fact, if the Wolverines were to square off with the Crimson Tide right now, the game would probably be a toss up — Harbaugh’s group is that good.
Iowa, on the other-hand, is on a two-game losing streak (both losses coming against ranked Big Ten opponents) and the Hawkeyes lost to FCS North Dakota State earlier this season.
These two teams couldn’t be heading in a more different direction.
To further illustrate the point, consider this: A Rutgers team that Iowa barely squeaked by in a 14-7 win was absolutely destroyed by Michigan in one of the biggest blowouts of the 2016 season. The Penn State team that just beat Iowa and held the Hawkeyes to 14 points was decimated by the Wolverines, losing 49-10. Sure, the game was at the Big House, but home field advantage does not account for a 39-point swing.
Simply put, Iowa is going to be outmatched in this contest, and the fact that the game is going to be played at Kinnick Stadium couldn’t mean any less. This is an Iowa fan base that’s already frustrated with the program, but fan support may drop to the lowest of lows if Michigan starts running away with a win on the Hawkeyes — especially if Iowa doesn’t come out of the gate strong and prove that it at least belongs on the same field as the Wolverines.
As a Big Ten program and a team that was a few plays away from the College Football Playoffs last season, Iowa may belong on the same field as Michigan, but the numbers would suggest otherwise.
Michigan has the No. 2 overall offense in the Big Ten. The Wolverines put up 497.4 yards per game and a healthy 6.74 yards per play. Michigan’s defense, on the other hand, is the best in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing only 246.3 yards per game. To make matters worse for the Hawkeyes, Michigan’s rushing defense is second-best in the Big Ten, giving up only 107.44 yards per game on the ground. That same Wolverines rushing defense is ranked No. 10 nationally.
The run game is Iowa’s strength on offense and perhaps the greatest strength of the team right now, but even that statement diminishes relative to the rest of the conference. Iowa’s running game is ranked 12th in the Big Ten, putting up 152.56 rush yards per game. To put that in context, Ohio State’s top-ranked Big Ten rushing offense puts up 268.56 yards per contest. Michigan is No. 2 with 251.67 yards per game on the ground.
So no, it may not end up being pretty for the Hawkeyes, which is unfortunate.
If Ferentz looks into the past for too long he’ll be depressed with Iowa’s mediocre season so far in 2016. If he looks ahead, though, he’ll be staring directly at the No. 2 team in the country.
The view isn’t better.