- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan has struggled, especially on the road. But the Wolverines are coming off a win at Northwestern, and they hope to keep up the road momentum as they travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes.
Here are five things to watch as the Wolverines look to pick up another win:
1. The veteran or the youth? This will be extremely interesting to watch. Fitzgerald Toussaint sat out against Northwestern after suffering a concussion and missing practice the week before. And what did Michigan get? Two freshmen who managed to get solid yardage in the run game. Derrick Green was the featured back, but De'Veon Smith wasn’t too shabby, either. Brady Hoke has been extremely loyal to his upperclassmen. However, the numbers don’t lie. The production Hoke got out of Green and Smith haven’t been seen from Toussaint in quite a while. If the Wolverines look to split carries this weekend, watch for Toussaint to be the back in on passing downs and Green to be the guy picking up the downhill runs.
2. Devin Gardner having a bit more time in the pocket. The Hawkeyes are who they are, and they aren’t a team that blitzes the quarterback a whole lot. They have the ability so it’s not completely off the table -- it’s just not going to be an MSU- or Nebraska-like sackfest, presumably. However, their front seven could stop the run (whether it be Toussaint, Green or Smith) and force Gardner into tough decisions.
3. The interior offensive line -- growth or gimmick? The three young interior O-linemen looked solid and opened holes against Northwestern. Hoke and left tackle Taylor Lewan praised the three earlier this week, but Saturday will prove whether that performance was actually the line making strides or if it was just a flash in the pan. And to go along with that good news, let’s throw in one thing to make you anxious/nervous/excited: Against Iowa -- even with the O-line’s production last weekend -- don’t completely rule out a personnel change. If redshirt freshman right guard Kyle Kalis isn’t seen in the starting group, don’t be too surprised to see him getting quality snaps.
4. Defense continuing to take steps forward. Last weekend, the Michigan defense looked about as complete as it has all season. The secondary was making plays, the D-line was getting some pus and the linebackers, well, they played like they have all season. But communication has been a problem on the road for this defense at times and while Iowa isn’t the flashiest of teams, the Hawkeyes are skilled enough to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.
5. Controlling the emotions. This is a must-win game for the Wolverines. But one thing they’ll need to do this weekend in Iowa City is make sure they keep it between the whistles. On the field, it’s going to be a hard-hitting, physical game. The Wolverines got outmuscled against Michigan State and they definitely don’t want that to happen again. And then, when the Wolverines are on the sidelines, with how Kinnick Stadium is built, the fans will be very close to the players, basically able to converse (if you want to call it that). The Hawkeyes fans will try to get in players' heads so they have to make sure they don’t let their emotions get the better of them (cough, Lewan, cough) and have them picking up silly penalties.