Michigan heads to Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday undefeated and ranked No. 4. Yet, in a way, the Wolverines feel like an underdog against unranked Iowa.
The Hawkeyes (3-1, 1-0) have a history of knocking off highly-ranked opponents that pay a visit.
This will be the ninth time in the Kirk Ferentz era that Iowa has hosted a top five team. Iowa is a remarkable 5-3 in those games, including victories in five of the past six. One of those victories, a 14-13 squeaker, came against No. 2 Michigan in 2016.
“As they say, where top-five teams go to die,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
The Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are leaving the comfort zone of home for the first time this season. They defeated Maryland in their Big Ten opener on Saturday 34-27.
Running back Blake Corum has already racked up nine touchdowns while averaging 7.5 yards a carry.
In Michigan’s final nonconference game, he tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns against UConn, and then turned into a workhouse last week against the Terrapins, rushing for a career high 243 yards on 30 carries and reaching the end zone twice.
“Blake can get so close to a defender, would-be tackler, within inches. And then make the slight move where somebody that close doesn’t even touch him,” Harbaugh said. “Some backs will make the cut a yard away, or two yards away. Blake Corum gets to the point where he can smell their breath. And then make the slight six-inch cut, miss by the narrowest of margins. It’s incredible.”
Corum and the Wolverines offense will face by far their stiffest test to date. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 23 points this season, the fewest points given up in their first four games over the past 66 years.
Their Iowa defense scored more touchdowns than the offense in their conference opener last weekend.
Iowa led 17-3 at halftime against Rutgers, thanks to a 45-yard interception return by Cooper DeJean and a 30-yard fumble return by Kaevon Merriweather. The Hawkeyes were outgained 361-277 but made it hold up for the 27-10 victory.
Harbaugh said ball security and smart decision-making will be crucial.
“The challenges that it presents are if you are inaccurate where the throw (goes), overthrow, underthrow, tip ball — it’s highly likely that it’s going to result into a turnover,” he said. “If you’re not as sound as you can possibly be, then you’re in for a rough one.”
Ferentz knows his team could be in for a rough one if the Hawkeyes don’t generate a more consistent attack … and they’ll have to try to contain Corum and Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.
“It’s going to take our best effort to have a chance in this ballgame,” he said. Last year in the Big Ten Championship Game, No. 2 Michigan drilled No. 15 Iowa, 42-3.
Playing the game at home will aid the cause but only to a certain extent against a highly ranked opponent, Ferentz said.
“The important thing for our team to understand is that fans can only do so much,” Ferentz said. “Each and every play is like an NFL playoff game. They’re a big, strong, athletic team. If you’re not at your best each and every play, big things can happen against you.”
Iowa’s offense has been ordinary thus far, ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense with 17.0 points and 232.5 yards a game. Quarterback Spencer Petras has completed just 51.1 percent of his throws with one touchdown. The rushing game hasn’t been much better, averaging 3.0 yards a carry.