ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Something no top-five team in college football wants to do is travel to Iowa City to face off against Iowa in Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes are impressive on their home turf, going 5-1 in their last six games against top-five opponents. Michigan was one of them, coming into Kinnick in 2016 ranked No. 3 overall, and surely would have been No. 1 with a win against unranked Iowa given what No. 1 and 2 had done earlier in the day. But alas, the Wolverines lost 14-13, and while their season wasn’t upended with the loss, it all but assured that the maize and blue had no room for error left.
That’s not a position this team wants to be in, especially this early in the season.
Iowa has the dead-last-ranked offense in the country, but one of the top-rated defenses. It thrives on turnovers and general chaos. And once the Kinnick crowd gets going, it’s easy to lose focus and let the fans in the stands play their part in beating you.
“I don’t know how many people they seat but it’s gonna be a whole bunch of people versus us,” junior safety R.J. Moten said. “We’ve gotta go with the mentality like it’s gonna be a hostile environment, probably be like everybody says, close to Nebraska last year. And we’ve just gotta go in there and just lock arms and focus for 60 minutes and I think we’ll come out with the win.”
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“Yeah, obviously, depends on the environment, right?” graduate tight end Joel Honigford said. “But with Iowa, you really have to focus on listening and making sure you’re taking all the information. And because not only are you trying to figure out what formation what play, what’s the snap count, but you got tens of thousands of people screaming in your ear, that are trying to disrupt you. So, it’s just taking that next step of focus and really honing in on it, and not letting the crowd get to you. And just being disciplined on what you’ve been taught and executing.”
But what makes Kinnick so daunting?
None of these current players know for sure. The last time the Wolverines traveled to Iowa City was that 2016 disaster. But they’ve heard stories. They know what’s coming.
“I mean, obviously, they’ve got their little psychological things that they do, right?” Honigford said. “The pink locker room. And I mean, it’s going to be loud, they’re going to be juiced up. And we have to focus on us and staying even keel, not letting the crowd get to us and just playing our brand of football.
“They’re gonna have their big plays, right? They are a good football team, no doubt about it. But it’s the trust in our game plan and the guys on the field, and just not getting too emotionally invested. Either way, kind of standing right there in the middle and just playing football.”
For some Wolverines, they’re channeling a similar scenario that they faced a year ago.
In Week 5 last season, coming off of an unimpressive win over an overmatched opponent (Rutgers), the maize and blue traveled to Wisconsin to take on the Badgers in Madison. The Wolverines hadn’t won a game there in 20-some years, and while the streak in Iowa City isn’t quite as long (the last win there was in 2005), the plan is to treat the game as the same as what they faced last year.
“It definitely will be — Big Ten West opponent, first away game,” senior cornerback DJ Turner said. “It’ll definitely be the same, and like I said, we want to do what we did in Wisconsin this Saturday.”
Iowa and Michigan kick off at noon EDT with the game broadcast nationally on Fox.