Michigan heads into its first Big Ten championship game with a national playoff berth on the line when the Wolverines face Iowa — a matchup that seemed improbable just a week ago.
The Wolverines (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) earned the trip to Saturday’s conference championship game in Indianapolis by gaining a share of the Big Ten East title with a 42-27 victory at home over longtime nemesis Ohio State. They snapped an eight-game losing streak against the arch-rival Buckeyes.
The Wolverines jumped to No. 2 from fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, while the Buckeyes plummeted from second to seventh and out of the playoff picture.
Iowa (10-2, 7-2), 13th in the playoff rankings, won the Big Ten West when Wisconsin was upset at Minnesota, denying the Badgers a title game berth.
Michigan pounded the Buckeyes behind Hassan Haskins, who rushed for 169 yards on 28 carries and tied a school record with five touchdowns.
Quarterback Cade McNamara completed 13 of 19 passes for 159 yards, but he attempted just three passes in the second half as Michigan ground out touchdowns on its four full possessions after the break.
“Michigan’s got a real identity — offensively, defensively, special teams,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You can tell their players fully believe in what they’re doing. They do it well and they do it with a lot of energy and really play at a high level.”
Haskins has rushed for 1,232 yards and 18 touchdowns. Blake Corum has run for 865 yards and 10 scores. McNamara has completed 183 of 284 passes (64.4 percent) for 2,301 yards, with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, has a conference-leading 13 sacks, including three against Ohio State. Linebacker David Ojabo is second in the Big Ten with 11 sacks.
The Wolverines’ only loss was to Michigan State, 37-33, in late October, after Michigan led by 16 in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes won their first six games to climb to No. 2 in the AP poll before suffering consecutive losses to Purdue and Wisconsin. Iowa then won its final four games by a total of 27 points.
Iowa lost to Michigan State 16-13 in 2015 in its only other appearance in the Big Ten Championship game. Iowa has won five of the last seven meetings against Michigan, with the Wolverines winning 10-3 at home in the last meeting, in 2019.
Iowa is ranked 13th nationally in total defense, allowing 315.7 yards per game, one spot ahead of the Wolverines (319.2 ypg). Michigan is eighth in scoring defense (17.17 ppg), while the Hawkeyes are ninth (17.25 ppg).
The Wolverines average 451.2 yards of offense, while Iowa averages 299.1.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked what makes Iowa’s run defense so daunting, and he said the challenge was more than that.
“Iowa in all regards — run defense, pass defense, the way they tackle,” Harbaugh said. “Offensively, their execution, the way they block, the way they run. The tremendous attention to detail on special teams, and as hard as the play. Across the board, it’s all really, really good. This is a sound, tough, fundamentally good football team in every single regard.”
The Hawkeyes lead the nation with 22 interceptions and have scored 82 points off turnovers.
Spencer Petras is expected to start at quarterback against Michigan. Sophomore Alex Padilla started the last three games after Petras suffered a shoulder injury. Petras relieved Padilla at the start of the second half against Nebraska and led the Hawkeyes to a 28-21 comeback victory.
“It was a gut feeling Saturday. We just kind of went with it and we’ll continue to do that moving forward,” Ferentz said. “We’ll start the game with Spencer. I thought he did a good job. He’s done a lot of good things here over two years.”
Petras has completed 137 of 236 passes for 1,532 yards, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions, four of which came against Purdue. Padilla is 45 of 97 for 598 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
Tyler Goodson is the leading rusher with 1,101 yards on 238 attempts. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 122.0 yards per game in his last four games.
–Field Level Media