After one of the toughest losses in the Harbaugh era, the #17 Michigan Wolverines (4-1) now go on the road to Bloomington to play an Indiana Hoosiers (3-2) team that is likely fielding its best defense in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for a Michigan offense coming off one of the worst all around performances under Harbaugh. However, Indiana is in the middle of figuring out some offensive problems of its own. In a game where the first team to 10 points might win, individual players are key to swinging the tide to their team. The following are 10 players who will likely impact the game the most, for better or worse:
#1 John O’Korn, QB, Michigan (35 of 62, 505 Pass Yards, 1 Pass TD, 4 INTs) Coming in for the injured starter Wilton Speight (three cracked vertebrae) in Week 4, O’Korn acquitted himself well against Purdue. Last week in a horrific loss to arch-rival Michigan State, in some of the worst weather in Michigan Stadium history, O’Korn had his worst game as a Wolverine, tossing three picks, no touchdowns and just looked all around hopeless the entire second half.
He must have a better game this week against one of the worst secondaries in the country or Harbaugh may have to dig into his illusive depth chart yet again.
#2 Peyton Ramsey, QB, Indiana (61 of 89, 637 Pass Yards, 6 Pass TDs, 171 Rush Yards, 2 Rush TDs) Indiana’s quarterback narrative is similar to Michigan’s, starting their own backup QB last week in a 27-0 win against Charleston Southern. Though last week was his first start, Ramsey has seen action in all five of Indiana’s games. He is an undersized, dual-threat QB with a decent short passing game.
No matter what he has done in the past, he is the kind of QB Michigan’s defense typically eats for lunch. Passing yards will be hard to come by for the Hoosiers, but expect them to air it out a lot with a poor running game that ranks 78th in the country (148 Rushing Yards/Game).
#3 Simmie Cobbs, Jr, WR, Indiana (33 Catches, 370 Rec Yards, 4 Rec TDs) Tall, fast and strong, Cobbs is the most dynamic player on the Hoosiers team. He had a monster game against Ohio State, torching their secondary with 11 receptions, 149 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. His numbers have dipped since then with problems at the quarterback position, but he is a major matchup problem for any secondary.
#4 Devin Bush, Jr, MLB, Michigan (40 Total Tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4.5 Sacks, 4 PBUs) Named to the Bednarik Watch List, Devin Bush has been un-blockable, especially in passing situations. Look for him to have another dynamic game in the opponent’s backfield, feasting regularly on QB Ramsey and RB Ellison.
#5 Tegray Scales, MLB, Indiana (42 Total Tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 Sacks, 5 PBUs) Whatever the Michigan offensive game plan has been, it never includes blocking linebackers, especially not good ones. And Scales is a good one. He led the nation in tackles for loss last year and led the conference in tackles with 126. He leads an Indiana defense that is not the unit it has been in the past. They are tied for 24th nationally in sacks with 14. That does not bode well for a struggling Michigan offensive line.
#6 Grant Perry, WR, Michigan (16 Catches, 254 Rec Yards, 3 Rec TDs) The most experienced starting widedout, Perry is the most sure handed of Michigan’s receiving core, especially since lead receiver Tarik Black is out (broken foot). He is consistently targeted on third downs, especially in short to medium range crossing routs. With a quarterback vulnerable to mistakes, it is imperative that Perry gets open early in his routes and makes a handful of third down grabs. Expect TE Sean McKeon to get the majority of the other targets.
#7 Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan (30 Total Tackles, 7 TFL, 5 Sacks, 1 FF) Another player on the Bednarik Watch List, Winovich has benefited nicely from Rashan Gary getting doubled almost every play. It doesn’t matter who you choose to block on the Michigan defensive line, it still has to be a choice. Neither Winovich, Maurice Hurst or Gary can be blocked man to man. Look for Winovich to have another big day.
#8 Ty Isaac (61 Rushes, 378 Rush Yards, 5.8 Yards/Carry, 1 Rush TD) With the Chris Evans, Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon running trifecta, it hasn’t been a matter of who’s best. It has been more about who is the least terrible. Isaac started the season with a bang, with back to back 100-yard rushing performances. He got banged up in the Air Force game, which greatly decreased his carries in the Purdue game, then he fumbled against MSU. In a game where rushing yards from running backs will be hard to come by, Michigan is desperate for a good game from one of its backs, so Isaac needs to go back to early-season form.
#9 Ian Thomas, TE, Indiana (16 Catches, 254 Rec Yards, 3 Rec TD) Ian Thomas had a breakout game against Ohio State with two touchdown catches from just five receptions. A big target at 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, Thomas is a big red zone threat and as good a tight end as there is in the country. He is a big play guy and doesn’t need to be targeted often to have a huge impact.
#10 Nolan Ulizio, RT, Michigan It is no secret that starting junior Nolan Ulizio has been something of a disaster for the Michigan backfield. He’s definitely not the only problem on an offensive line that gives up an average of 7.6 tackles for loss per game (116th in the country), but he anchors a vital point of the Michigan pass protection and toss sweep plays. If he can at least hold his own, the Wolverines will have a much greater chance at establishing a decent running game and for O’Korn to be able to pass from the pocket. That is, if he even gets the starting nod.