Homecoming game about more than school pride

BY AMIE KIEHN | OCTOBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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As ESPN commentator Dick Vitale might say, “It’s all in the numbers, baby.”

The No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes have been all about the numbers this season. Bolstered by a proficient defense, Iowa has managed a 5-0 record, the best start under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

The Hawkeyes’ rank fourth nationally in pass-efficiency defense (91.17), 10th in scoring defense (13.4), and ninth in penalties per game (4.2) so far this season.

But for now, Michigan (4-1) is zoning in on one number come Saturday — 33.

For 33 quarters, the Iowa defense has prevented opposing tailbacks from penetrating the end zone.

Facing Iowa’s front four — Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, Adrian Clayborn, and Broderick Binns — will be a significant challenge for Wolverine running backs Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor.

“The D-line has been a lot of the energy up front,” Ballard said prior to Iowa’s game against Arkansas State last weekend. “If we do well, the team does well, and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”

Michigan is equipped with senior tailbacks Brown and Minor, who are strong contenders to break Iowa’s defensive record Saturday evening.

The astounding 33-quarter streak stretches back to the Hawkeyes’ 2008 matchup against No. 3 Penn State, in which Daniel Murray’s game-winning kick sealed the 24-23 victory on Nov. 8.

Like last season’s night game against the Nitanny Lions, the Wolverines roster offers premier offensive talent. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is able to use his offensive playmakers for the televised game Saturday.

Brown sustained an undisclosed injury in practice this week but was not included on the Wolverines’ injury report issued on Thursday. Cornerback Zac Johnson and center David Molk will be out, however.

Brown has filled the void left by Minor, who has nursed a nagging foot injury since September. In his teammate’s absence, Brown has posted three touchdowns and rushed for 336 yards.

He trails Iowa’s leading rusher in redshirt freshman tailback Adam Robinson, who has tallied 359 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

The other offensive leader for the Wolverines is true freshman Tate Forcier. While Forcier’s end-zone interception in the resulted in Michigan State’s 26-20 overtime victory on Oct. 3, Ferentz is still wildly impressed with the Wolverine QB.

“He can improvise, which is a sign of good quarterback,” Ferentz said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “He can get out of trouble with his feet and certainly can hurt you with his throwing and has done that.

“I think the most impressive thing is just his demeanor out there. Seems like he’s totally under control ... I’m not sure you can teach that, but he certainly has done a good job.”

Meanwhile, the first Iowa Homecoming game under the lights at Kinnick Stadium has players enthusiastic about the home crowd against a top-tier Michigan squad.

“Anytime you play a night game against a great opponent, that’s why we play football,” senior linebacker Pat Angerer said. “That’s why we came here — for a good game.”

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