Attempting to analyze or put any sort of logical super-structure on a game like this is not unlike counting the grains of sand on a beach. At a certain point, you lose track and forget why you started in the first place, and are then either lost in the absurdity or the immensity of it all.
The Michigan defense forced an Indiana three-and-out on its first drive, a seemingly major victory for a defense that has always had trouble getting stops on opponents' opening drives.
Indiana went three-and-out one more time in the game (early in the second quarter). In retrospect, that opening stop was truly a stroke of cruelty.
The game was not unlike getting the largest bag of candy available at your local bulk foods retailer and eating it in one sitting. Sweetness becomes nausea.
Writing this is even harder than writing about last week's game because at least you could point to certain decisions and outcomes in the Penn State game and argue for or against something. Writing about a loss is never fun, but can often, strangely, be much easier a thing to do than writing about a win, especially a win like this one.
The final offensive tally reads as such: 63 Michigan points, 751 total yards, 35 first downs, 7-for-11 on third down, Fitzgerald Toussaint's second 100+ yard game of the season and Devin Gardner's breaking Denard Robinson's record for most yards in a single game (it's hard to believe that that record fell so quickly).
Indiana or not, that is impressive and worth lauding. For the most part, Al Borges' offense took what Indiana's pliable defense gave it, which was typically very much. The Wolverines ran well out of the shotgun and spread Indiana out on the perimeter; Gardner's 13-yard touchdown run on an inverted veer, Michigan's first score of the game, was a thing of beauty.
The Hoosiers had absolutely no answer for Jeremy Gallon. As such, Michigan did exactly what should always be the case in this situation: they kept throwing to him.
Despite at least one uncharacteristic drop (there was another, if I remember correctly) from Gallon, he finished with a mind-meltingly insane 369 yards on 14 receptions and two touchdowns. If this were NBA Jam, the ball would've gone up in flames every time Gardner targeted Gallon, who invariably had acres of space between him and the nearest Hoosier defender.
I thought Devin Funchess would be the one making the Hoosiers look foolish, not Gallon, what with Funchess's auspicious start the last couple of weeks as a wide receiver who sometimes plays tight end and not the other way around. To be fair, Funchess had 84 receiving yards, but when you adjust for inflation that's probably about 30 in a normal game.
On a serious note, it's kind of amusing that everyone is up in arms about the offensive decision-making of this team, and yet the Wolverines are averaging 42.4 points per game. This ties them for 11th in the nation in points per game with, of course, Indiana.
Michigan's schedule hasn't exactly been difficult, to say the least. The offense has struggled mightily, and the situation on the offensive line could be deemed nothing more flattering than "dire" after the Penn State game.
Through Saturday's game, only seven teams have turned it over more times than Michigan.
In spite of all this, the Wolverines have managed to score quite a bit. For a very rough comparison, look at the 2000 and 2003 Michigan offenses. Through seven games, the 2003 offense averaged 36.6 points per game. The 2000 offense, led by a freshman John Navarre for the first few games before Drew Henson returned from injury, averaged 33.9 points per game. Even if you adjust for strength of schedule--the first seven games of both 2000 and 2003 were much tougher than this year's slate--the 2013 offense will look good in the history books, even if it doesn't always look good in action.
In the end, it's about results, and the offense has gotten them this season. For all of the error Gardner has made, the offense would be a smoking crater of nothing without him. He did cough up that center exchange at the Indiana 2 in the fourth quarter with Michigan up just two and an IU score seemingly a certainty. Additionally, he won't get credit for the Toussaint fumble on that pitch play to start the third quarter, but he should probably get a little blame for making Toussaint's life difficult there. Toussaint should have caught it, but it wasn't an easy play to make, especially since pitch plays aren't part of Michigan's regular rotation of plays.
Other than those miscues, Gardner was flawless. I was fortunate enough to watch Tate Forcier beat Indiana in 2009, back before things went downhill for him (and for Michigan that season). I also had the chance to watch Denard Robinson run past everybody in Bloomington the next season; there's no substitute for watching something like that live, the anticipation that lingers in the air before each snap, that something was going to happen. Imminency was the default state.
I was not at the game on Saturday, but I have to think it was something like that. I've made it this far without throwing in the requisite nod to Indiana's defensive ineptitude, mostly because you can choose to cling to relativism. Michigan put up more points on Indiana than any other opponent, including the now No. 5 Missouri Tigers. The Wolverines also scored 21 more points than the Spartans did, but gave up 19 more as well.
What does all of this mean? This is college football, so, really, it means nothing. In fact, this game was a perfect microcosm of that fact.
Everyone remembers that Ohio State went 12-0 last season. How many people remember that the Hoosiers gave the Buckeyes a similar sort of scare last season?
If you look at Indiana's performance to date, you'll see that they've moved the ball and scored points on everyone they've faced, including 28 points and 475 yards against Mizzou, 44 points against Penn State (without needing four overtimes) and 28 points against Michigan State, which is downright heroic.
Will Michigan score 28 points against the Spartans? I really don't think so. This is all a roundabout way of saying that, until some other program hires Kevin Wilson away, this will continue to be what Indiana does. The ultimate ideal on the horizon for Wilson's program is to become the Baylor of the Big Ten. With that said, for all of the completely warranted fawning over Baylor's juggernaut of an offense, the Bears are giving up just 16.2 points per game.
Indiana, meanwhile, is giving up 37.1 points per. Until the Hoosiers get even a modicum of defensive talent and execution, they'll continue to score a lot and concede even more.
Nonetheless, giving up points to this squad is not the most embarrassing thing in the world. In fact, the first half was actually not too bad. After Raymon Taylor got badly beaten by Cody Latimer for a 59-yard score, Michigan gave up just one more first half touchdown and a late field goal, which, it seemed like, Michigan basically conceded. All things considered, that was an okay first half. Other than Indiana's two scoring drives, which lasted just 1:03 and 1:21, Michigan acquitted itself all right in the first half.
Of course, the wheels fell off in the second half. Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson combined for 43 attempts; Michigan recorded two sacks (Desmond Morgan and Frank Clark) and three QB hurries. In the back seven, tackling was a mere suggestion, and Taylor et al were beaten in coverage over and over again. It also doesn't help that poor Channing Stribling, who has been in position to make multiple interceptions this season, just hasn't been able to make the play just yet.
It's not worth dissecting the defensive performance past that. On the bright side, Michigan made the plays late when it needed to, most importantly after the Gardner fumble, when it seemed like Indiana was going to drive down the field and take the lead. Truly horrid defenses don't make those plays. Maybe that is faint praise, but I don't think this game against an explosive Indiana offense should force Michigan fans to discard the universally agreed upon descriptor of the Michigan defense, i.e. "good but not great."
Michigan won't see an offense like that for the rest of the season. Ohio State has better talent, but they won't pick up the pace like Indiana did. Northwestern's offense, sans Kain Colter and Venric Mark, is a mess, as their games against Wisconsin and Minnesota demonstrated. When healthy, obviously it's a different story, and Michigan doesn't play the Wildcats until Nov. 16. Nebraska is a bit of a strange case, as it feels like Taylor Martinez hasn't played in forever, but the Huskers have chugged along since the UCLA loss.
In any case, I think it is safest and perhaps wisest to toss this into the "forget about it" bin and move on. Saturday brought back bad memories of the 2010 Illinois game, another classic "yeah, we won, but..." game. Even as Gardner et al racked up the yards, that type of football is not fun to watch, and a game like that is not really a transferable entity if you're looking to contextualize it within the framework of an entire season. I get the feeling that that is what Indiana games are going to be like for the next several years.
Michigan will now have its second open week to figure things out on defense and get ready for a far different challenge in Michigan State. The uptick in defensive quality will be significant, to say the least, and Michigan will have to be prepared to truly earn each score, which might be difficult after being spoiled by IU's defensive magnanimity.
Michigan's start has been about as clunky as a 6-1 start could be. Nonetheless, as feeble an accomplishment as it may seem, the Wolverines are still in contention for the division in spite of the loss in Happy Valley.
The Wolverines' status as a divisional contender will change, for better or worse, on Nov. 2 in East Lansing.