Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week's edition of Behind Enemy Lines. As you all know, each and every week I interview a writer who covers Michigan's opponent for that game. This week I sat down with Andrew Robbins of The Crimson Quarry, (the Indiana SB Nation affiliate). We talked about Indiana's strength's, weaknesses and how he sees the game unfolding this Saturday. Turn that screen brightness up and enjoy!
Josh LaFond: Despite their current record, how is Tom Allen doing in his first season as head coach?
Alex Robbins: Well, I wouldn’t say we have to evaluate how his first season is going with the qualifying statement “despite their current record.” I can’t think of a single season in the last 20 years where, going into the season, Indiana fans wouldn’t have taken a 3-2 start and fast forwarded to Week 6. The Hoosiers went 3-0 in the non-conference, which included a road win over now 4-1 Virginia, and that win continues to look better every week as Virginia is now a top-40 team in S&P+. The two losses are to Ohio State and Penn State, and while the way each of those games unfolded was frustrating no one is sitting around questioning Allen’s chops due to those losses.
But I digress. Tom Allen is doing just fine. He’s been a refreshing change for fans and players alike, bringing passion for football in the state of Indiana, care for his players, and an infectious energy — none of which Kevin Wilson provided. There have been some moments, especially in game management, where he has made some rookie mistakes. But he has also made some good, veteran-like decisions, such as benching Richard Lagow for Peyton Ramsey, that some new coaches might not be willing to make. All in all, he’s off to a pretty good start at Indiana.
Josh: That's good to hear. Hopefully Coach Allen can keep Indiana in bowl game contention every year like Kevin Wilson was able to do.
What’s the Hoosiers biggest strength and weakness?
Alex: The biggest strength, unquestionably, is the defense. Now, the defense has not been as good as we expected coming into the season, and that’s most due to the fact that they haven’t produced nearly the number of turnovers per game they did last season, nor have they been able to get stops in the red zone. Still, though, Indiana fans would much rather have the defense on the field needing to make a play in winning time than the offense.
As for the biggest weakness, it’s the offensive line. The losses of Greg Frey (the Hoosiers former offensive line coach) to Michigan and All-American Dan Feeney to the NFL have caused real problems for Indiana offensively. The running game was non-existent the first couple weeks of the season, and honestly the reason Richard Lagow has been benched for Peyton Ramsey has far more to do with his inability to move and make a defender miss in the pocket than with his arm or decision-making.
Josh: Top level defenses going up against weak offensive lines? This'll be a long day.
What’s going on with Indiana’s quarterback situation?
Alex: Well, as I said, Peyton Ramsey has been named the starter in favor of Richard Lagow. Lagow was a turnover machine last year, but he had a great showing against Ohio State to start the year. But by halftime of game two (at Virginia), it was clear that Ramsey had to be the guy, at least occasionally, to keep defenses honest. With Indiana unable to run the ball, and Lagow unable to use his feet, the offense because one-dimensional: fades to Simmie Cobbs. Ramsey provided a big spark to lead the Hoosiers over Virginia and looked better than Lagow over the next two games as well. Ramsey will be the guy going forward, but in certain situations, Lagow will get his shots still this season.
Josh: The Hoosiers definitely can't afford to turn the ball over against this Michigan defense, so having a guy behind center who isn't a liability should help their chances.
Who are three guys that Michigan fans need to keep their eyes on come Saturday?
Alex: Simmie Cobbs is first. Cobbs is a huge wide receiver, a certainty to be drafted in 2018, and is the biggest problem opponents have in trying to shutdown the Indiana offense. He’s got 33 catches for 370 yards and 3 TD so far, and against Ohio State he had 11 catches for 149 and 1 TD. Now, Cobbs will not have the same kind of production with Ramsey starting, as he doesn’t quite have the arm of Lagow to make some fades that Lagow and Cobbs connected on, but he’ll still get plenty of targets, especially if he gets some one-on-one coverage.
You should also keep an eye on Tegray Scales and Rashard Fant. These two guys are also going to play on Sundays soon and could probably start for any defense in the country. Tegray is an All-American linebacker who holds down the middle of that defense and will be all over the field, and Fant is the closest thing you’ll find to a shutdown corner in college football. He has been stellar in one-on-one coverage this season.
Josh: Simmie Cobbs matched up against Lavert Hill (the Wolverine star cornerback) will be a sight to watch.
For the Hoosiers to win what needs to happen?
Alex: They have to force some turnovers. Florida was able to hang with Michigan because they forced some turnovers. Michigan State beat Michigan because of turnovers. Indiana is not going to score very many points on Saturday, and they certainly aren’t going to march down the field more than once or twice - if they can even manage to do so that many times. Without forcing at least two turnovers, I don’t see how Indiana can win this game.
Josh: Yeah you don't have to say that twice, man.
Who is Indiana’s biggest rival?
Alex: It depends on the sport, really. If we’re talking football, it’s Purdue. As bad as the programs have been at various times in their history, the Old Oaken Bucket Game is a great tradition and it matters in this state. If we’re talking basketball, though, it is Kentucky, without a doubt. And yes, I know they don’t play annually anymore (although, I think that’s going to change in the near future), but to understand why Indiana fans feel the way they do about the Kentucky rivalry, you have to understand Southern Indiana as a place. Our EIC, Kyle Robbins, did a great piece on the rivalry a couple seasons ago and hits on some of those things you have to know to understand (click here to view story). And if you really want to boil it down to something simple, it’s a whole lot easier to care about a rivalry with a program that has won 8 national championships than a program that celebrates a mythical one.
Josh: When I interviewed our sister site, Hammer & Rails , Travis Miller seemed to echo your thoughts as far as football goes.
Let's get out of here with one last question. Indiana always seems to play Michigan close, so what’s your score and game prediction?
Alex: I think both teams suck offensively. I don’t think it should surprise Michigan fans to hear someone say your offense sucks. But I have much more confidence in the Michigan offense to get things right — especially with them being pissed after last week’s loss — than I have in the Indiana offense. I expect a defensive struggle for at least a half, and maybe for three quarters. But ultimately, I expect the Michigan offense to make one big play or for the Indiana offense to have one disastrous one down the stretch. It’ll be a homecoming heart-breaker for the Hoosiers. Michigan wins 20-13.
I would like to extend my thanks to not only Alex Robbins for taking the time and allowing me to interview him, but for all the guys at The Crimson Quarry for making this happen. With the game fast approaching and with the scares the Hoosiers have given to Michigan over the past couple of seasons, head on over to www.crimsonquarry.com to find out more information regarding this matchup.