Well, last week was certainly fun. In fact, I would say that last week was about the most fun you can have watching a game that included a heart-stopping moment of sheer terror as Denard Robinson writhed on the ground after taking a seemingly innocuous fall out of bounds. Denard: don't do that. That is all.
Hey - who's ready for Big Ten play to start? If you're raising your hand enthusiastically, perhaps I can remind you that Rich Rodriguez led Michigan teams currently own a 2-14 record in conference [ED: oops. Forgot Minnesota. 3-14], with victories coming over (improbably) Wisconsin in 2008, and Indiana in 2009 AND MINNESOTA! THE JUG IS OURS BITCHES! Both victories were tenuous at best, and downright lucky at worst. EXCEPT FOR MINNESOTA WHEN NICK SHERIDAN TOTALLY BECAME COLT MCCOY FOR LIKE, 3 HOURS! So yeah, even with the Denardening, perhaps a little caution heading into the Big Ten schedule is merited.
Luckily(?) we start out on the road against the Indiana Hoosiers, to whom Michigan has not lost in ONE BILLION years*. The line has settled down at Michigan -10; Vegas likes us at 10 point favorites on the road. So we've got that going for us. Which is nice.
As a native of the Hoosier state, I feel compelled to first elaborate a little on the odd nomenclature that surrounds both the University and Indiana's people. In other words, what the hell is a Hoosier? Sure enough, when you type "what the hell is a Hoosier" into google, you get a nice research paper from the University. The money shot:
Like barnacles, a thick crust of speculation has gathered over the word "Hoosier" to explain the origin of Indiana's nickname. Popular theories, diligently and often sincerely advanced, form a rich, often amusing body of folklore. Those theories include: "Who's here?" as a question to unknown visitors or to the inhabitants of the country cabin; Hussar, from the fiery European mounted troops; "Huzzah!" proclaimed after victory in a fight; Husher, a brawny man, capable of stilling opponents; Hoosa, an Indiana word for cor; Hoose, an English term for a disease of cattle which gies the animals a wild sort of look; and the evergreen "Who's ear?" aked while toeing a torn-off ear lying on the bar room floor the morning after a brawl.
The best evidence, however, suggests that "Hoosier" was a term of contempt and opprobrium common in the upland South and used to denote a rustic, a bumpkin, a countryman, a roughneck, a hick, or an awkward, uncouth fellow. Although the word's derogatory meaning has faded, it can still be heard in its original sense, albeit less frequently than its cousins "Cracker" and "Redneck."
Thus ends the only academic paper to utilize a metaphor relating to barnacles and "cracker" in the same section. So basically, we're playing a bunch of rednecks from Indiana this weekend. Sounds right to me (says the kid who grew up in Fort Wayne...).
As for football, Indiana has fielded a team since 1887, achieving a modicum of success in the 40's and again in the late 60's, but fading to irrelevancy for their remaining years. Not to kick a team while they're down, but the Wikipedia page lists the 5 times they've appeared in the AP poll since 1887 as an accomplishment. In 1967 they were co-champions of the Big Ten, and in fine Big Ten tradition got stomped by USC in the Rose Bowl. Some things never change.
Their current coach and world record gum toss distance champion Bill Lynch has been there for 3 seasons, taking over from Terry Hoeppner who genuinely seemed to have something going for that team before tragically passing away from a brain tumor. Coach Hep was well liked on campus and respected throughout the country; coach Lynch was able to take Terry's team to the Insight bowl in 2007 - their first bowl appearance since 1993. Lynch, for his part, came from Ball State via DePauw University, a Division III team in Greencastle, IN. As a DePauw alum, if you ever get the chance to visit Greencastle, IN, go ahead and pass on that.
The Gum Throw:
Indiana does play one of the coolest rivalries that generally doesn't mean a damn thing in the national picture against Purdue for the "Old Oaken Bucket." It may sound silly to fans used to rooting against Ohio State for an annual spot in the Rose Bowl, but if you get a bunch of 67 year old Indiana farmers in the same room and get them talking about Indiana vs. Purdue the vitriol is amongst the best in the nation.
At Indiana, things stop and start with quarterback Ben Chappell who has thrown for 890 yards, 9 TD's, and 0 INT's on the season. If those stats seem a bit inflated to you, it's probably because Indiana has played exactly nobody on the season. I mean, when Towson is your best victory...well...your QB had better look that good. Despite the lackluster opponents he's faced, Chappell will likely be one of the better QB's Michigan faces this season. Even if his stats will likely regress as he moves through the Big Ten season, his Junior campaign saw him throw for 17 TD's, 2941 yards, and complete 62% of his passes. He coupled that with 15 INT's (Indiana fans will tell you it should have been 14), but still Chappell is a good, senior quarterback with full command of his offense.
Yeah - that's a dude who looks mobile in the pocket, comfortable, and accurate. If that's not a blueprint mold for a QB that this Michigan defense will struggle against, I don't know what is.
If your argument is going to be "yeah, but who's he going to throw to?" I've got more bad news. The leading receiver in the Big Ten right now, averaging 95 yards per game, is Indiana's DaMarlo Belcher, a 6'5" 210 lbs outside threat in the mold of former Indiana great James Hardy. In fact, the two went to rival highschools in Fort Wayne - Northside for Belcher and Elmhurst for Hardy. Complimenting Belcher is another 6'5" outside threat Tandon Doss, who led the Hoosiers with 967 receiving yards last year. Terrance Turner rounds out the IU receiving corp, coming in for 121 yards receiving last week.
Most of the attention that the Hoosier offense has garnered has been from their passing attack. Michigan corner J.T. Floyd had this to say about Indiana's receiving corp:
Indiana does their damage out of the increasingly popular "pistol" formation, a change that coach Bill Lynch put in place to accomodate his player's skill sets after the departure of spread-n-shread QB Kellin Lewis:
"It was a couple years ago," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said of his change in offenses. "We had been a spread team, and we were making a change at quarterback, and our new quarterback was going to be Ben Chappell. ... We didn't see him as traditional spread guy."
The change seems to be paying off, with the Indiana offense currently ranked 10th in the nation at just over 41 points per game. The Pistol-Spread formation that Indiana usually runs looks like this:
This allows Indiana to have passing options out of the spread, but still have a "3 yard/cloud of dust" option from the tailback. The Quarterback will link up halfway between the tailback and the center, and basically run the an ace-high set from the shotgun. The tailback, who would be aligned next to the QB in traditional shotgun formations, can get a downhill start on handoffs, etc.
Another look that Indiana will bring is this:
Here you see a more power-I type of line up with the QB again half way between his tailback (or fullback) and center. The responsibility for punishing defenses in the run game falls to Darious Willis. The one article I could find on the Hoosier running game was behind a paywall, but its headline is"Indiana Running Game Stuck in Neutral." The run game...it isn't good. However, Michigan is going to have to sell out to stop the pass this game, and that could open some holes for Willis. Here's the BTN breaking down the Pistol:
Defensively, Michigan is going to have their hands full. As stated before, Chappell is one of the most accurate passers in the nation right now, and he has a bunch of lanky targets to throw to. Michigan will likely roll down into that four man front they showed against BGSU often in an attempt to get enough pressure to throw Chappell off his game. Additionally, I believe that dime (6 DB) look that debuted last week was a game test for Indiana. The Hoosier rushing attack scares nobody; Michigan is going to have to rely on speed to the ball and sure tackling to hopefully hold Indiana to some long 3rd down conversions and field goals. Martin will do his typical MARTIN THUNDER SMASH thing, and hopefully Roh or Van Bergan can spring free to the QB with consistency. If we allow Chappell time, he is going to pick us apart.
At this point in the season, it's not like Denard Robinson is sneaking up on anyone. However, because Robinson does so many things both uniquely and blindingly fast, he's still difficult to prepare for:
Some IU veteran players likened it to practicing against former teammate Kellen Lewis a couple years ago, but Ricumstrict wasn’t so sure of that.
"We didn’t really run Kellen like they run that kid," he told the Star. "Most of Kellen’s plays came on mostly broken plays or passing plays.
"They have designed runs for Denard. He’s a different animal. He’s different than anything we’ve seen or I think anyone in the Big Ten has seen."
Much like Michigan with Brandon Graham, a large part of the IU defensive woes (ranked 52nd nationally in total defense, and 92nd in rushing defense) stem from having to replace Jammie Kirlew who could be relied upon to at least get in the backfield every now and again. That task now falls to Darius Johnson, Larry Black, and brothers Adam and Tyler Replogle. The results have not been encouraging. Indiana is yielding an average of 177 yards per game on the ground, and allowed Towson QB Chrish Hart to rush for 123 yards on 16 attempts. Just thrown on the field, Denard Robinson's jock strap would go for 150 on 9 carries, so its hard to imagine the Indiana defense shutting down a Michigan offense ranked #1 nationally in total yards, and #2 in rushing offense.