Big Ten contenders are winning with defense

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) breaks free from pressure by Michigan linebacker Khaleke Hudson (7) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Before the now 17th-rated Iowa football team begins thinking about Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game against Penn State, five things to contemplate following the Hawkeyes’ 10-3 loss at Michigan.

1. The good

Iowa defenders shouldered some of the blame for what transpired at Michigan Stadium, pointing the 10-0 lead the Wolverines built in the first seven minutes of play.

“We have to be ready to go from the start,’’ defensive tackle Chauncey Golston said. “Those 10 points, they turned out to be big.’’

But in reality, on a day when the Hawkeye offense sputtered and wheezed from the start, the Iowa defense held its own.

It limited the Wolverines to a field goal after the Hawkeyes fumbled the ball away on their 18-yard line on the first snap of the game.

It also surrendered just one explosive play, a 51-yarder that opened Michigan’s only scoring drive of the game.

By the time Zach Charbonnet scored on a two-yard run with 8 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Wolverines had collected 81 of the season-low 267 yards it gained on the day and snapped the ball in Iowa territory on just one more drive the rest of the game.

That’s reflective of the quietly strong defensive effort by Iowa, led by a career-high eight tackles from Golston that was matched by Kristian Welch.

“We’re 59 minutes into the game, we have a chance to tie it or take the lead. That’s because of the defense,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said.

2. The bad

Iowa wasn’t the only team which showed up with a defense on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

The Hawkeye offense was Exhibit A, limited to minus-one yard rushing and held without a touchdown for the first time in 19 games.

Michigan earns some credit, benefiting from an aggressive blitz-filled approach that prevented Iowa from gaining much traction on the ground.

The Hawkeyes were limited to 66 yards on 22 handoffs by quarterback Nate Stanley, unable to find any sort of hot hand among the three running backs who carried the ball.

Toren Young led Iowa in rushing for the second straight game, gaining 40 yards and averaging five yards per carry. None of the Hawkeyes’ other backs averaged half that or gained more than 15 yards.

When Iowa isn’t Iowa, when it isn’t running the ball effectively, the Hawkeyes are going to have problems.

3. The ugly

Stanley took some of responsibility for getting sacked eight times, saying he should have thrown the ball away sooner or more often when Michigan had Iowa receivers covered.

Instead, the Hawkeyes’ senior quarterback took the hit. And then he took another one. And another.

“It’s going to be hard to get the sour taste from this one out of our mouths,’’ Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “We take pride in not letting people hit him.’’

Michigan attacked the Hawkeyes’ front inside and out, discovering a dizzying number of holes in Iowa’s front five to collect its eight sacks.

Stanley was sacked most times an Iowa quarterback had been wrestled to the ground since Jake Christensen was dropped nine times for losses totaling 38 yards in a 38-20 loss to Indiana in 2007.

It was a struggle-filled day for Iowa’s offense, which not only was unable to protect its quarterback but struggled with critical penalties that bogged down the Hawkeye offense late.

For example, when Stanley hit Tyler Goodson with a 31-yard pass with around five minutes remaining in the game to move the ball to Michigan 25-yard line, back-to-back holding calls on Nate Wieting and Alaric Jackson backed Iowa up to the 45.

A false start on Wirfs followed by a 12-yard sack left the Hawkeyes with a fourth-and-36 from their own 49 and with little option other than to punt the ball away with 2:52 left in the game.

That’s how ugly things got.

4. The miscalculation

After missing four games with a knee sprain, Jackson saw his first action since the season opener and struggled a bit with mobility and mistakes in his return to competition.

Ferentz took responsibility for perhaps using Jackson too much in his return after having a successful rotation on Iowa’s front five in previous games.

“That’s on me,’’ Ferentz said. “You play a guy who hadn’t played in four games and he’s going to be a little rusty. He’s not going to be as sharp. You anticipate that.’’

So did Michigan.

5. The aftermath

While Iowa demonstrated it has plenty of work to do if it wants to contend in the Big Ten West — still controlling its own fate in the division — the Hawkeyes are on the clock.

Unbeaten Penn State visits Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night after limiting Purdue to 93 total yards including minus-30 yards rushing, a number impacted by the 10 sacks Nittany Lions defenders celebrated on Saturday. Much like how Michigan spun its match-up with Iowa as a chance to make amends for getting manhandled by a Wisconsin team that approaches the game in a similar style, the Hawkeyes now find themselves with a second chance of their own.

“There’s a lot of football left in front of us,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s what we have to focus on. It can be good to feel a sting, too. That kind of motivates you to move forward a little faster.’’

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