The Iowa Hawkeyes have become a consistent defensive force and one of the worst offensive teams in college football. The Michigan Wolverines have become a well-oiled machine no matter who is or isn’t on the sidelines.
Iowa’s trend is nothing new, as Iowa has been a top-20 defensive team every year since 2015 and has only cracked the top 50 in scoring eight times in 25 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
The 2023 season has been much of the same for the Hawkeyes. They average 18 points per game, which ranks 123rd of 133 teams in the FBS. Only Navy, Air Force and Army have fewer total yards in the nation. Yet, the 10-2 Hawkeyes will play for a Big Ten Championship this Saturday when they play the unbeaten Michigan Wolverines.
How did they get to the championship? It’s all on the defense. Iowa averages just 12.2 points against per game, which is fourth-best in the nation.
The late Bear Bryant said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” The six-time national champion coach with Alabama will have his theory put to the fire on Saturday.
Iowa’s defense will be matched up against Michigan’s high-scoring offense. Iowa’s abysmal offense will be up against Michigan’s top-performing defense, which gave up just 10.2 points per game this season.
Michigan is united in playing for their coach, Jim Harbaugh, who will return to the sidelines following his suspension amid an investigation that the Wolverines sent a scout to steal signs of future opponents. Harbaugh was suspended for both of Michigan’s wins over ranked opponents. They beat No. 9 Penn State 24-15 and No. 2 Ohio State 30-24.
The Wolverines’ defense has shown some frailties recently, giving up over 20 points in the last two games and double-digit points in the previous four games.
Still, Michigan enters as the overwhelming favorite. Neither team has played a strong schedule, but Iowa’s only ranked opponent was Penn State, who shut the Hawkeyes out in a 31-0 contest back in September.
Both Michigan and Iowa ended the year with narrow wins. Michigan beat Maryland 31-24 before their six-point win over Ohio State. The Wolverines won with longer time of possession in both games despite having fewer passing yards than their opponents.
Iowa also had a longer time of possession and fewer passing yards in their final two games, yet still they beat Illinois 15-13 and Nebraska 13-10. The Hawkeyes also outrushed their opponents in both games.
Fans can expect a low output from Iowa’s offense as they haven’t scored more than 22 points since a 26-16 win over Michigan State, who finished the year with a 4-8 record. Considering Iowa was shutout against the only ranked opponent they’ve played all season, they will enter the Big Ten Championship as the heavy underdog.
The sky is the limit for Michigan. If they crack Iowa’s defense early, it could be a long night for the Hawkeyes. It seems to be a matter of when, not if, for Michigan to claim its third consecutive Big Ten championship.