Michigan’s game against Iowa seemed to line up perfectly for the hottest of takes. A strong performance would be evidence that Michigan was back as a Big Ten contender. A loss meant another failed season and maybe the beginning of the end for Jim Harbaugh.

And yet, who knows what to make of the Wolverines now? Yes, No. 19 Michigan restored some credibility with its 10-3 win over No. 14 Iowa. The cliche goes “A win is a win,” and that’s certainly true — and most important if you’re Michigan. But it’s hard to imagine anyone felt great outside of the final result.

While Michigan’s defense was outstanding, its offense was once against borderline unwatchable, tying for its fewest points since getting shut out against Notre Dame in 2014 — a span of 67 games. During one first-half sequence, the Wolverines fumbled on back-to-back plays, recovering both, before Shea Patterson proceeded to throw an interception on the next play. It was the defense, with its eight sacks and refusal to allow Iowa to do anything that won this game.

There was an argument — perhaps a strong one — to be made that Michigan was overrated at No. 19 in the AP Poll. Because what had Michigan done to this point? Looked pretty good in beating up on Middle Tennessee State and Rutgers? It looked beatable against Army and downright awful at Wisconsin.

But this victory over Iowa will go down as a quality win and build up a resume that has a chance to get a whole lot better — if Michigan can get better. The Wolverines have games left against Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State (gasp!). There isn’t a Clemson-like pressure to trounce every team because Michigan’s schedule is so strong (it has the third-toughest schedule the rest of the season, according to ESPN). Michigan can afford to win ugly throughout this season as it builds toward the Ohio State game.

The credit goes to defensive coordinator Don Brown and the Michigan defense for adjusting after getting steamrolled by Wisconsin. Brown dialed up blitzes over and over, and Nate Stanley was like a Jeep stuck in a pile of mud; he couldn’t escape, nor did he ever seem close. Against an Iowa offensive line that Pro Football Focus graded as one of the best in the country, Michigan dominated up front in a sharp reversal from two weeks ago at Wisconsin. Iowa couldn’t run (one yard on 30 attempts, including sack yardage) or pass (three interceptions plus just 6.2 yards per pass attempt, a full two yards below Stanley’s average).

For this season to go anywhere, though, Michigan needs to take a long look at its offense. Patterson isn’t in a place where he can pick a defense apart and lead a sustained drive down the field. And when you compound that with Michigan not having a back that can break a big play, you get an offense that is 81st in the country in yards per play (5.2) and 93rd in total offense (367 yards per game).

The play below illustrates that. Michigan did an excellent job scheming Zach Charbonnet into space and all he had to do was make one man miss, with a ton of green in front of him and teammates holding their blocks. He couldn’t do it.

Urban Meyer pointed out on FOX’s postgame show that Michigan has just one run play of 20 yards or more. That is 128th in the country out of 130 FBS teams, ahead of only Purdue and Akron. Considering Michigan routinely ranks among the top recruiting classes in the country and should have a talent edge at almost every position in every game aside from Ohio State, that is incomprehensible.

Most puzzling is the regression of Shea Patterson (14 of 26 for 147 yards and an interception), who is 91st in the country in completion percentage at 58.3 percent after being at 63.8 percent as a sophomore and 64.6 percent as a junior. Michigan has arguably the top wideout corps in the Big Ten, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis needs to adjust and find some way to get the ball in their hands. Nico Collins, Jonathan Peoples Jones, Tarik Black and Ronnie Bell are all capable of big games, but they can’t throw passes to themselves. It is Gattis’ first year calling plays, but this is why Harbaugh brought him to Ann Arbor; it’s time to show what he can do.

So while Michigan’s defense opened some eyes, the Wolverines can’t be considered a contender until it gets something resembling an offense. The bad news? Michigan still has four teams ranked in the top 15 of ESPN’s Defensive Efficiency: Wisconsin (No. 1), Ohio State (No. 3), Notre Dame (No. 6) and Penn State (No. 15). The pressure is on to find an offense to complement an improving defense. That sounds like a common trait for Big Ten teams in Michigan.


A look around the Big Ten.

Setting offense back a decade

Both Iowa and Michigan were offensively awful on offense. In fact, per College Football Reference, it’s the fewest points in a Big Ten game since Iowa beat Minnesota 12-0 on Nov. 21, 2009.

But the Hawkeyes were particularly aggravating. For having such a great offensive line, how can they not pick up a blitz? For having such an experienced quarterback, how can he not understand when to get rid of the ball?

Iowa’s limitations are understandable. Its identity is an old-school, I-formation type of team that wants to control the clock and rely on its defense to win the game. Offensively, It wants to beat you up front, like Wisconsin, and it doesn’t try to hide that. But mixing it up every once in a while wouldn’t hurt, right? How about a play-action pass every once in a while on first down?

Iowa ran on first down 13 times on Saturday, and if you take away a 15-yard run, it accumulated just 34 yards on 12 attempts. And as the Hawkeyes shifted to the passing game late, Stanley was just 7 of 15 for 101 yards on first down. Iowa needs to find a way to be much more productive on first down to stay ahead of the chains and not be so predictable. The result was Michigan’s defense just teeing off on Stanley.


It had to be an incredibly frustrating game for Iowa fans, who were probably sitting on their couch screaming for some quicker-developing routes. If Stanley can’t extend plays against the blitz and Michigan’s secondary is tracking his deep balls, there has to be a solution, right? Maybe it’s a few more crossing routes, which seemed to work well. Or finding Tyler Goodson (5 catches, 62 yards) out of the backfield; the true freshman looks like a modern running back in that he is very comfortable catching passes, so maybe that’s something to incorporate moving forward.

Penn State visits Iowa City this week, so Iowa will go up against another strong defense. And by the way, the Nittany Lions are fifth in the country with 25 sacks this season. The Hawkeyes need to solve those pass protections quickly. I’m certainly not suggesting Iowa abandon its identity (it did have 194 rushing yards or more in three of its first four games) but tweaking a few things to help Stanley would probably lead to a few more points.

Ohio State makes its case

With Alabama and Clemson on bye, Ohio State had the day to show the college football world why it deserves that top spot. The Buckeyes, though clearly not at their best, didn’t disappoint in cruising to a 34-10 win for their sixth victory by 24 or more points. They were held in check for a quarter with just 16 yards, but they exploded for 296 in the second quarter.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports quoted an NFL scout at the game who said, “Ohio State would definitely beat Clemson.” We’ll see if that scout still believes that in late December when it really matters, but it certainly feels accurate now. The Buckeyes moved up one spot to No. 3 in the AP poll, tied with Georgia but still behind Alabama and Clemson.

Ohio State looks like a complete team, with two backs plus Justin Fields capable of gashing defenses. The Buckeyes piled up 323 rushing yards on a very good defense.

Most notably, perhaps, J.K. Dobbins put together another terrific performance with 172 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. It was his fourth game this season with more than 140 rushing yards, and in three Big Ten games, Dobbins has been unstoppable in averaging 180.7 yards per game. After a sub-standard sophomore season of 1,053 yards (an average of 81 per game), Dobbins is on pace for 1,789. With the way Dobbins is running, Ohio State will be tough to beat.

Stat-padding SZN

With a MAC team in town, Jonathan Taylor took full advantage in racking up 186 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 48-0 win over Kent State. And why shouldn’t he? Running backs are already at a severe disadvantage to quarterbacks for the Heisman, with Derrick Henry as the only non-quarterback to win the award in the last 10 years. And besides there are no shortage of excellent QB candidates this year (Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Justin Fields, to name a few), so every touchdown is going to matter.

Taylor’s case right now is strong, provided the Badgers keep winning. Taylor is second in the country at 149 rushing yards per game (Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard is at 182.3 per game but also averages seven more carries per game than Taylor), and Taylor leads the nation with 16 total touchdowns (12 rushing, four receiving). Taylor also passed Melvin Gordon for third on Wisconsin’s career rushing list.

My favorite wide receivers to watch

The Big Ten is loaded with great defenses (more on that below), but it also has several wide receivers that can make you pay when you’re out of position. Each week, it’s fun to check in on two wide receiver groups in particular: Penn State and Minnesota. They are always creating some viral play to marvel at:

Sean Clifford and Tanner Morgan are both having very good seasons, and some of the credit should go to their wideouts. Look at how open Chris Autman-Bell gets for Morgan here.

And check the way Tyler Johnson reels this one in:

That’s to say nothing of Rashod Bateman, who has emerged as a big-play threat for the Golden Gophers. He trails only Michigan State’s Darrell Stewart Jr. in receiving yards with 537 to go along with four touchdowns.

For Penn State, KJ Hamler is the star of the wide receiver room, and he delivered again Saturday. He is fourth in the conference in receiving yards and is averaging 20.7 yards per catch. But check out teammate Jahan Dotson. Good luck to opposing secondaries if Clifford can keep finding these guys.

Three Up, Three Down


1. A great moment for Nebraska

Yeah, Nebraska wishes it played better against Northwestern. But thanks to being tied late, we got the chance for a cool moment. Lane McCallum, a walk-on transfer who previously played safety and is now the team’s third-string kicker, converted a 24-yard field goal attempt as time expired to give the Cornhuskers a 13-10 victory. And Noah Vedral, the backup quarterback who came into the game for an injured Adrian Martinez, put Nebraska in position to win.

In a season that hasn’t quite gone as smoothly expected, it was a memorable moment delivered by two kids who grew up in Nebraska.

2. Quick hitters

Maryland, after two sluggish offensive performances in a row, decided to be as efficient as possible in Saturday’s win over Rutgers. At least when it was scoring.

Check out how many plays Maryland needed to score on each of its seven touchdown drives: 1 play for 80 yards, 3 for 52, 3 for 74, 1 for 42, 1 for 2, 0 for 0, 1 for 80 and finally, 13 for 90.

I guess that’s what happens when you play Rutgers?

3. Defense

After six weeks, six of the top 26 defenses are in the Big Ten, according to ESPN’s Defensive Efficiency metric: Wisconsin (No. 1), Ohio State (No. 3), Iowa (No. 12), Penn State (No. 15), Michigan (No. 25) and Michigan State (No. 26). Is it weird outside of Ohio State, I have the most faith in Michigan State’s defense? At least it has been tested so far. And it showed what it can do in temporarily holding down Ohio State while its offense fumbled the ball away. The teams with higher-rated defenses have looked great so far, but who have they really played? That, of course, changes soon with Iowa drawing Penn State and Wisconsin getting Ohio State in a few weeks.


1. Minnesota still isn’t ranked

I’ve been very critical of the way Minnesota has played this season, even calling them my most underwhelming team through three games. But the Golden Gophers (5-0) are one of two undefeated FBS squads that are still unranked (Appalachian State is the other). Minnesota sits just outside the Top 25 as the team with the most receiving votes. If it keeps winning, and the schedule indicates it should, eventually AP voters will have to take notice.

To be fair, the Golden Gophers have beaten two of the worst teams in the Big Ten in Purdue and Illinois and easily could have lost their three non-conference games to non-Power Five teams, but an undefeated Big Ten team does deserve some props. ESPN’s computers clearly aren’t buying Minnesota either, putting it at No. 49 in its efficiency ratings – behind No. 47 Indiana.

2. Touchdown celebrations

How is this even a thing? I love pretty much every celebration, but this is where I draw the line.

3. Missed call

Such a tough way for Northwestern to lose as a blatant pass interference penalty was not called, leading to this interception and Nebraska winning the game on a field goal. On the bright side for this officiating crew, the NFL apparently can’t decide what pass interference is either.

Looking ahead

Once again, there are several tasty match ups on the horizon in Week 7 as three of the Big Ten’s four undefeated teams have big tests. Wisconsin hosts Michigan State, Penn State visits Iowa and Minnesota hosts Nebraska. Already bowl-eligible, Ohio State gets a well-deserved bye week.