Three key matchups: Michigan at Iowa

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The Michigan Wolverines outlasted Maryland last week, defeating the Terrapins 34-27 at the Big House in the team’s conference opener.

This weekend, Michigan travels to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes (Saturday, noon) in what will be the Wolverines’ first road game of the season.

While Maryland presented several challenges on the offensive side of the ball for Michigan’s defense to worry about, Iowa presents many different challenges that mostly revolve around an elite defense.

Here are three key matchups to watch ahead of Saturday’s game.

Michigan’s passing attack vs. Iowa’s stout passing defense

The Wolverines’ passing attack against Iowa’s passing defense will be interesting for a couple of reasons. Iowa is allowing just 163.2 yards per game through the air this season on 8.37 yards per completion. Their talented front seven also works well with their secondary to help negate big plays and keep the ball in front of them, and will test Michigan’s offense in all phases.

Whether the Michigan passing game can get going on a consistent basis might be up to how patient sophomore quarterback JJ McCarthy is. The Hawkeyes secondary is opportunistic and will force McCarthy to throw the ball underneath more than he probably wants to, but taking what the defense gives Michigan’s offense will be vital to the Wolverines being able to move the ball.

Sophomore defensive back Cooper DeJean has had a monster season for the Hawkeyes so far, having recorded three of the team’s five interceptions while having the third-most tackles.

He is someone McCarthy will have to watch out for, but McCarthy has done a pretty good job at keeping the ball out of harm’s way so far this season through the air.

For Michigan’s 60th-ranked passing offense to have success against Iowa, guys like Roman Wilson and AJ Henning might have to get involved in the screen game early on to open up some plays down the field. The Wolverines being able to establish a run game against the Hawkeyes’ front would help open up the passing game, but neither will be easy.

Michigan’s rushing attack vs. Iowa’s run defense

This is a classic “strength on strength matchup” as Michigan boasts the 11th-best rushing attack in the nation, while Iowa ranks as the 6th-best against the run this season in the country.

Michigan running back Blake Corum had a monster game on the ground last weekend against Maryland with 243 yards and two scores, but this Iowa front will pose a much stiffer challenge for Corum and the Michigan offensive line.

The linebacking duo of Seth Benson and Jack Campbell are among the best in the country at their position. Jestin Jacobs was in that mix as well, but it was announced that he will have surgery after getting injured in Iowa’s win against Rutgers last weekend and will miss the rest of the season.

Even with Jacobs going down, the Hawkeyes have a plethora of players up front who play with physicality and make it difficult for offenses to get a push on them.

They rotate quite a few players along the defensive line and get production across the board, with defensive tackle Logan Lee and defensive end Joe Evans just being a couple of guys who have put up impressive numbers this year as they’ve combined for 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Michigan’s offensive line has been a bit banged up this season and has yet to fully establish itself, but showed plenty of encouraging signs against Maryland last week. If they can create any type of push at all against Iowa’s front and allow Corum to find some daylight, he has the ability to make even the best of defenders whiff with his cutting ability.

Getting Donovan Edwards back in the backfield wouldn’t hurt Michigan either to take some pressure off of Corum, but his status for Saturday is still very much up in the air.

Iowa’s offense vs. Michigan’s defense

This matchup is the opposite of “strength on strength” but is an important one because the Wolverines must dominate in every way, shape and form on the defensive side of the ball this weekend.

By the numbers, they will have no excuse not to as Iowa is the worst offensive team in college football in terms of total offense (131 out of 131) and only average 232.5 yards per game.

The Hawkeyes haven’t been able to move the ball on anybody this season and Michigan’s 8th-ranked defense can’t allow that to change this weekend, especially considering the offense will have times of struggle against Iowa’s stout defense and it’ll be up to Michigan’s defense to answer the bell while the offense tries to figure things out in this one.

Quarterback Spencer Petras has thrown for just over 500 yards and one touchdown with a completion rate of 51.1 percent, so expect Iowa to try to establish some type of ground game to try to control the clock and attempt to move the ball.

Michigan showed some vulnerabilities on its defensive front last weekend against Maryland against the run in the first half, but shored up those issues pretty well as the game went on.

Mazi Smith, Mason Graham and company must do a good job of consistently shutting down running plays up the middle so they can get the ball to the Michigan offense as often as possible.

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