IOWA CITY — Simply planning to follow the Badger blueprint won’t be enough for the Iowa football team when it visits Michigan on Saturday.
“This has to be about how we prepare this week and how we perform on Saturday,’’ Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley said. “That’s really the only thing that matters.’’
Stanley’s point is that while Iowa and the Wisconsin team that overwhelmed the Wolverines 35-14 two weeks ago are built on the same fundamental foundation, the 14th-ranked Hawkeyes must find their own way to deal with their 19th-ranked opponent in the 11 a.m. game.
The Badgers bullied Michigan at the line of scrimmage, piling up 359 yards on the ground and 487 yards of total offense on their way to a 35-0 lead in the third quarter of the Sept. 21 game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has been quick to point out the similarities between the Hawkeyes and Badgers, mentioning the power-based approach and strong running attacks favored by both teams.
“Very similar DNA,’’ Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly news conference in Ann Arbor.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz discounted the similarities, saying that Jonathan Taylor’s 203 rushing yards combined with the Wisconsin offensive line in determining the outcome.
“Sometimes games like that happen to good teams,’’ Ferentz said. “We’ve seen that before and we’ve been victimized by that ourselves. It was one of those days. Wisconsin played a tremendous football game and it just wasn’t Michigan’s day, but I’ve got to say, that back is pretty special, too.’’
Harbaugh also spent time Monday referencing the struggles Michigan had gaining any offensive traction when it last faced Iowa in 2016, held to 98 yards on the ground and 201 total yards in the Hawkeyes’ 14-13 win over a second-ranked Wolverines’ team.
“They’re consistently good, have been for many years,’’ Harbaugh said. “Probably the thing that strikes you the most about them is they’re consistently good in all three phases.’’
Harbaugh called Saturday’s match-up a good measuring stick to see what kind of progress his team is making.
He’s not alone.
“This is a big game, the type of game you want to be a part of and the type of situation we’ve worked hard to put ourselves in,’’ Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia said. “It’s a good chance to see where we’re at.’’
The Hawkeyes have noted the nuances of the Badgers’ success in slowing down the Wolverines, who rushed for just 40 of their 299 yards of offense at Wisconsin.
“They didn’t give up any big plays and against a team with the talent that Michigan has, that’s something you have to do,’’ Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “Wisconsin’s defense kept the play in front of them and that’s something we always want to do, too.’’
Colbert said that begins with remaining true to fundamentals that have helped Iowa build a defense which currently ranks third in the country, allowing 8.5 points per game.
“We have a lot of respect for the talent they have on offense. They have a lot of good skill guys who we need to be aware of, but mostly we have to be prepared to get to the point of attack and make plays,’’ Colbert said.
Ojemudia joined Colbert in seeing value to watching the way Wisconsin performed against Michigan, but echoed Stanley in saying that two weeks can be an eternity in the growth of a college football team.
“It was only a couple of games ago, and they got down early but I’m sure they’ve learned from it,’’ Ojemudia said. “It’s just like how we try to learn from every game that we play. Teams evolve. We’re a different team than we were a couple of weeks ago. So are they.’’
To that point, running back Mekhi Sargent said the Hawkeyes will take added confidence on the road following last week’s 351-yard rushing performance in Iowa’s 48-3 rout of Middle Tennessee, a team Michigan beat 40-21 in its opening game.
“Last week gave us all a good lift on offense, but there is room for improvement. There will be in every game,’’ Sargent said.
“I don’t think any of us are satisfied. This week, it’s about us getting better and trying to take another step forward. That’s what matters.’’
And that is what Stanley wants the players in his huddle to understand.
“What we do on the practice field all week, the attention to detail, that’s where this game will be decided,’’ he said. “This team has a good deal of experience and seems to understand that. Then, we need to carry that over to the game.’’