Brady Hoke's Wolverines are an impressive 7-1 on the year in his first season at the helm. The team won its first six games in 2011, before suffering a 28-14 loss at rival Michigan State on October 15th. Michigan got back in the win column this past weekend with a 36-14 victory over Purdue. With the win, the Wolverines kept pace with Nebraska and Michigan State atop the Legends Division at 3-1.
Winning in November is a must, but Hoke believes that staying true to the plan is what matters most.
"I don't know if our blueprint is ever going to be different. We want to run the football. We want to be able to possess the football. We want to take care of the football. Defensively we want to stop the run and get bodies to the ball, create opportunities for our offense, and be sound in our special teams and try and gain some field position because of special teams. I can't tell you that's any different, but it's how you have to improve on a daily basis so that you can play your best football through the month."
Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes are still in search of bowl eligibility. The team failed in its first bid at a sixth win, falling on the road at Minnesota last weekend, 22-21. The loss halted a two-game win streak and evened Iowa's Big Ten record at 2-2, good for fourth place in the Legends Division.
This marks the 57th meeting in series history. Michigan has dominated for the most part, holding a 40-12-4 advantage, including a 16-5-1 mark at Iowa. The Hawkeyes however, have won the last two meetings.
The Wolverines are a dangerous offensive team thanks to the dynamic play of quarterback Denard Robinson. Michigan is averaging 34.8 ppg, on 441.2 yards of total offense. A good portion of that comes via the run (245.4 ypg), headlined by Robinson's 103.1 yards per game. The versatile QB has amassed 825 yards rushing thus far and is responsible for 10 of the team's 22 rushing TDs to date.
He isn't quite as polished as a passer though, completing just 54.8 percent of his throws, for 1,423 yards, with 11 TDs and the same number of interceptions.
Tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint has come on strong and is certainly capable of making big plays as well. He is a perfect backfield complement to Robinson, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and 71.9 yards per game.
Defensively, Michigan has played well for the most part, limiting foes to just 14.6 ppg. The team has been particularly stingy when it comes to opposing passing games, holding foes to just 194.6 yards per game. In addition, Michigan has recorded 20 takeaways on the year, including 14 fumble recoveries. Middle linebacker Kenny Demens paces the team with 55 total tackles. Free safety Thomas Gordon (52 tackles) is a playmaker in the secondary, responsible for one INT, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Iowa will counter with a balanced offensive attack, with the team averaging an impressive 32.6 ppg on 402.6 yards of total offense. The ground game is responsible for 159.1 yards per game, while the passing attack accounts for 243.5 yards per outing.
Tailback Marcus Coker is the top rusher in the Big Ten, averaging 121.1 yards per game. He is just under 1,000 yards on the season (969) and has scored 10 of the team's 13 rushing TDs to date.
James Vandenberg has certainly performed well under center. He has completed over 60 percent of his passes, for 1,918 yards, with 17 TDs against just four INTs. He has been aided by the play of wideout Marvin McNutt, who leads the team with 48 receptions, for 858 yards and nine TDs.
While the Iowa offense has had plenty of success this season, the defense has struggled. The Hawkeyes are giving up over 400 yards of offense on average and big plays have been scarce, with only 12 sacks and 12 forced turnovers overall.
Linebackers Christian Kirksey and James Morris lead the way with a team-high 76 tackles each. Mike Daniels (39 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) and Broderick Binns (36 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) spearhead the attack along the defensive line.
Ferentz is aware that his team needs to be more consistent on defense, but understands the problems that Michigan presents.
"Every week we try to improve. True in all phases, I guess. I think I've said a couple times I think still the number one focus will be on stopping the run. The bad news there is that Michigan is running for about 250 a game. They probably could go 400 if they chose to. They're a very good running football team with a lot of good players touching the football. It's going to be a big challenge."