Michigan vs. Indiana
3:30pm BTN | Ann Arbor, MI
Enemy Blog: The Crimson Quarry
(This week's preview will be a bit brief due to time constraints and real life)
When Michigan has the ball
The worry surrounding Michigan's offense is crystal clear these days. Michigan can't run the ball reliably with anyone other than Devin Gardner, which sets the offense up for long third-down attempts and causes the offense to lack consistency. Couple that with a turnover epidemic that fortunately seems to be heavily skewed to the first half and you have the perfect storm wherein Michigan ends up having to claw out games at the last minute because it gave away two scores in the first half and spent most of the day going three-and-out.
Still, this offense is capable of moving the ball quickly and scoring in bunches. After a stop and go first half, Michigan scored three straight times in the third and fourth quarter to take a commanding lead against Penn State. Devin Gardner bounced back from a rough first half to end the day with 240 yards passing and three touchdowns with another 121 yards on the ground. Jeremy Gallon continues to be a great all-around receiver on the outside, and Michigan's shift of Devin Funchess to a wide receiver role has paid huge dividends with the talented sophomore going over 100 yards for the second consecutive game.
Inside it is nothing but problems. The young offensive line utterly fell apart against PSU after a solid outing vs. Minnesota. Space Coyote has spent the week breaking down Michigan's offensive performance (specifically the play calling) and it doesn't reflect well on the blocking up front.
Indiana is still Indiana on defense, allowing nearly 33 points per game, 4.6 yards/carry, and 456 yards/game. Only Bowling Green has scored less than 21 points against Indiana this year. Michigan should be able to move the ball.
I know the common "definition of insanity" joke, but it really feels like that colloquial saying should be changed to "...expecting Michigan's offense to get its act together against yet another suspect defense".
Michigan is going to move in fits and starts, give Indiana short fields on turnovers, and stare down a vast majority of its third-down attempts eight or nine yards from the sticks. It will also go 70+ yards in less than five plays at least once, score four or five touchdowns, and do the majority of its work in the third and fourth quarter.
I have no idea whether this will be enough.
When Indiana has the ball
Often overlooked in Michigan's high scoring, closely contested string of disappointments this year is that the defense has been, if not dominant, than at least coolly effective for large chunks of game time. Against Penn State, Michigan's offense was responsible for setting up as many short touchdown drives (two) as the defense gave up long touchdown drives. The defense also forced four turnovers, four three-and-outs, held Penn State to three long field goal attempts, and added in one fourth-down stop.
Indiana's offense presents an interesting challenge. While there isn't an Allen Robinson on which the Hoosiers will rely, the offense is an effective spread passing attack run by Kevin Wilson — Oklahoma's former OC. Indiana will look to make the most noise passing the ball, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld has proven to be effective in that role thus far, completing 61% of his passes for 1600 yards, 13 TDs and just 6 INTs. All of Indiana's top four receivers have over 200 yards on the season and at least three touchdown receptions, so Indiana will spread the ball around. Thus far, only Michigan State has held Indiana under 300 yards passing.
Indiana has also shown an ability to run the ball, and sophomore Tevin Coleman already has 557 yards and eight touchdowns on the season at over six yards/carry. Stephen Houston is also over the six yard/carry mark with his 230 yards. Indiana also has the luxury of rolling out Tre Roberson, the starting quarterback from two seasons ago. He has four touchdowns on the ground this year.
This won't be the first passing spread that Michigan has seen, but it is more talented than those of UConn and Akron. Thankfully, Michigan's safety play this year has been strong and the secondary has shown a very good ability to keep plays in front of it and force teams to execute long drives to score.
A big factor in this one will be how Michigan's linebackers handle zone drops and pass coverage after showing some weakness there early in the season. Furthermore, Michigan needs its pass rush to continue to improve after a four sack effort last week. Indiana hasn't been very vulnerable (just 1.5 sacks allowed per game), and the quick passing nature of the offense will depress those numbers, but Michigan needs to get pressure and make Sudfeld's job harder.
When someone is kicking the ball
It is still early to panic in regards to Brendan Gibbons' effectiveness. College kickers sometimes have off days, and his first miss was from 52 yards with another kick getting blocked.
Indiana has kicked just three field goals this year, and kicker Mitch Ewald has hit all three. He is a senior and has made better than 75% of his kicks in the past three years with his low attempts being 16 for the season. He can kick and make it.
Keys to the Game:
- Hey, stop that. Those horrific turnovers that set opposing offenses up for easy scores. That isn't cool, guys.
- And that too. Chicks dig the long ball, not the long third-down conversion. Why don't you try to get some of those yards on first and second down, eh?
- No long plays. Michigan has been good thus far, but every game presents another chance fora horrible coverage bust. Making teams put together long drives is key to the defense's effectiveness.
Alternate Programming: The noon slot doesn't feature much of interest. So Carolina takes on Tennessee and Florida looks to bounce back against Missouri. Opposite the Michigan game you can watch UCLA-Stanford. At 6pm Washington takes on Arizona State which should get you into the night games where Florida State-Clemson is the obvious choice, unless you want to pretend this is the 70s, then you can watch Notre Dame-USC.
Inanimate Object Threat Level - 6: True story: last weekend I was at a wedding in Minneapolis with a group of college friends, and the TV at the reception hall didn't have ESPN. We were forced to stream the game on someone's phone and the feed kept cutting out. The friend whose phone we used is a little wrapped up in the games (the kind that yells a lot and chants "defense" like he is there). At one point in the first or second overtime, the stream cuts out causing him to immediately wind up and throw his phone against the opposite wall of the room. I'm talking a full-on, overhand throw. Don't think I'm kidding when I list the IOTL every week.
Final Thoughts: Michigan has spent all season trying desperately to beat itself, only succeeding last week. On Twitter last night, Bryan of MGoBlog (NTB) was talking with Space Coyote about the playcalling and blocking and Michigan's bad luck came up. I chimed in saying that Michigan has played in three Murphy's Law games this year. Bryan's response:
The loss itself was just a confluence of 'shit happens.' It's the other red flags that concern me. So it goes.
That has been Michigan's season in a nutshell. A talented team that has hit patch after patch of bad luck, but also done little to maximize its good luck — from coaching issues to youth to execution.
This season isn't going to get any less frustrating, but that doesn't mean it will end in disaster. Michigan still has as much or more talent than every team left on the schedule save one or maybe two. When the offense is on it can score quickly or grind out long drives. The defense has been remarkably good at keeping games close despite having to deal with all levels of bad luck and field position thanks to offensive and special teams miscues. Michigan has generally played terrible for long stretches of half its games this year and is one field goal in three opportunities from being undefeated with a massively disadvantageous turnover margin and an average third-down conversion of approximately one mile.
I just don't even know, man. This team should win against Indiana. Whether that win comes by one point late in the game or by four touchdowns has a lot more to do with how much the Wolverine beat themselves on Saturday than anything Indiana does.