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Roundtable: Will Michigan bounce back against the Hoosiers?

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NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Hey, guys. Last week was a tough one, but let’s keep our eyes looking forward. What are you hoping to see from Michigan in this bounce-back game?

Eric: Less predictability on offense. Chris Evans up the middle is not going to do it. He had a woeful 27 yards on 12 carries (and 20 of those yards were on the first drive). When my 15-year-old daughter is yelling to not run the same specific play, Harbaugh needs to be a little less stubborn. Also, the offensive formations aren’t spreading the defense out at all and making it too easy to defend Michigan.

Jared: A pulse on offense would be nice. Eric nailed it with the play-calling though. This staff is INSISTENT on running a pro style set with 40+ formations in a half of football, despite the fact they are starting a bunch of 18-year-olds on that side of the ball. I want to see a collective deep breath from the staff, and a simplification of the playbook. And if Karan Higdon is averaging 5.5 ypc, just keep feeding him. Michigan can win every game on the schedule with their defense and that kind of rushing output.

Von: Hmm, well I would love to see players put in a position to succeed, for starters. Having Eddie McDoom be the go-to guy on third-and-seven for a wide receiver fade in the end zone was one of the worst offensive decisions I’ve seen in Harbaugh’s tenure. I can’t explain that one. If the receiver was Tarik Black or Nico Collins, I wouldn’t have as big of a problem with it. But at the same time, a guy like John O’Korn is not capable of throwing passes like that in the first place. Adapt to the players you have, do not make the players adapt to you. They were put in a position to fail by the coaches last Saturday, hence why they lost.

I also want to see a game with zero turnovers on offense. Michigan is lucky to have the defense it has because it only gave up one touchdown after a Michigan offensive turnover. All three running backs now own one fumble to their name, and that’s not ideal when Harbaugh and company want to use all three of them on a consistent basis. These guys have to step up and hang onto the ball. O’Korn, meanwhile, has to make quick and good decisions through the air. Throwing across the middle in a rainstorm to a receiver that is nearly triple covered was a horrid decision. He needs to be smarter, especially considering all of his receivers, minus Grant Perry, are having issues with route running and creating separation.

This all sounds much easier said than done, but with Penn State looming this offense has to drastically improve within the next couple weeks to even have a remote chance of upsetting the Nittany Lions on the road.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dan: I’m deathly worried about a slump game so I want to see them win comfortably. Some of my confidence in this team is truly shaken after last week because I have concerns it goes deeper than just a poor game plan in a monsoon. This team has not comfortably won a game from start to finish yet this year and folded the one time they couldn’t just wear a team down. What happens when Penn State jumps up 14-0? Beating the crap out of Indiana will at least show me this team has a 6th gear that they’re going to need to win the big games left this year. That gear lacked against Michigan State, and so far we haven’t seen even a glimpse of it in either O’Korn start these two years.

Which brings me to another thing: CHANGE THE FRIGGIN OFFENSE. I’ve been firmly pro-Speight since last year for a couple reasons that I don’t think people truly appreciate when it comes to this system.

  1. He can actually drop back and read a defense — You hear this all the time from NFL pundits regarding spread-style QB’s and I honestly don’t think people realize how good Speight is at this for someone with his experience. Dropping back from under center is a wildly difficult skill and despite his maddening tendencies, he does it at a level unmatched by 99% of college signal callers
  2. He progresses through reads — This aligns with the first point considering how “pro-style” this offense is even in comparison to other “pro-style” college systems if they even exist. He doesn’t always make the right read, definitely misses some, but this kid’s head moved across the field even while dropping back in a manner that’s hard to replicate.

O’Korn doesn’t have Speight’s skillset and pulls his eyes off the receivers onto the rush until he feels he’s escaped. This leads to rushed decisions and bad turnovers. I want to see more bootlegs, read-options, and even some type of wildcat packages utilizing a guy like DPJ or Evans.

David: Michigan has 21-consecutive wins against Indiana. The teams are the top two in three-and-outs, so we may see a lot punts. If that happens, or it comes down to field goals, I like Michigan's special teams to get the job done.

I want to see them avoid turnovers and run the ball more. Indiana is allowing 148 total yards rushing so far and 259 passing. This can allow the Wolverines to make some long drives on the ground and move the ball. I know this offensive line is a big concern, but you cannot blame the loss all on them. I would like to see them shake up how at position and where everyone is on the O-line. Cesar Ruiz is an option to put in and move someone from the left.

If they can score 17-21 points with this defense, they will have a great chance to win. A confidence boost on offense is what Michigan needs before the next game, so let's see what they can do and how they respond after last weekend.

Colman: I think we have seen enough from the defense to say with confidence they are prettaaaaaay good. I’d like to see that continue, because it’s the only reason Michigan has won, or been in games this year.

All the points the guys have made on the offense are valid. I have to echo some of that and say I want to see turnover free offense. There is nothing more frustrating than ending a promising drive by fumbling or throwing the ball away. Questioning the play-calling is rightfully rampant in the world of Michigan football so I’ll join in. I’d like to see a lot less 5-wide sets (like none, unless it’s a Hail Mary) and more FB/TE tight sets with power running and dump offs.

O’Korn needs easy passes, screens, slants, TE drag/mesh stuff. Not fades to 5’11 guys. Speaking of that, despite McKeon’s untimely fumble, I’d like to see him and Gentry get the ball more, same with Hill, please, feed the Panda. I would also like to see someone, anyone, step up at right tackle.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: We’ve seen in multiple games this year that Indiana can have a potent offense, and passing attack in particular, when everything is clicking. That certainly seems to happen more often than not when teams like Michigan and Ohio State come to Bloomington. What matchup will you be watching when the IU offense lines up against this stout Michigan defense?

Eric: Michigan’s pass coverage has been much better than I’d thought this early in the season. In good position most of the time, lots of passes broken up, (would be nice to get a few picks too :->). Would love to see them shut down Cobbs, who had his way with the Buckeyes in their opener.

Jared: Simmie Cobbs is a legit NFL wide receiver (must be nice) and he will be a problem for whomever is assigned to him. I am not really worried at all about the Michigan defense to be honest. Indiana will probably put up 10-17 points, which is a good enough defensive effort to win any game. If the Wolverine offense looks more like a college football offense and less like a slew of goats being herded into a trailer, than they should win.

Von: Yeah, it’s no question Indiana’s receivers vs. Michigan’s secondary. Lavert Hill has been really good this year, and David Long isn’t far behind him.

But it all starts with Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey. He had 2 touchdowns and 1 interception to go along with 321 passing yards against Charleston Southern in the Hoosier’s previous game. I know it was against an FCS school, but that’s a pretty good stat line for a freshman quarterback.

Like Jared said, Simmie Cobbs is no guy to take lightly. He leads the team in receptions (33), receiving yards (370) and is tied for the most touchdowns (3). Add on the fact that he is 6-foot-4 and you indeed have an NFL-caliber receiver. I’m assuming Hill will be assigned to Cobbs, so we should see a real good battle between those two on Saturday.

Covering Indiana’s top tight end, senior Ian Thomas, will also be a difficult assignment. At 6-foot-5, Thomas also has three touchdowns to go along with 254 receiving yards. These two will be Ramsey’s go-to guys, so the secondary will have a pretty good challenge ahead of them.

Dan: While I’m not worried overall about Indiana’s offense, the front seven lost contain of Lewerke enough times last week to legitimately cost them the game, and Ramsey can do some similar things. Broken plays beat better teams and this kid has the physical and mental talent to improvise a bit. Keeping him contained when plays break down will go a long ways. I’m done doubting the secondary, that unit has truly been improving every week. A little more big picture, the defense didn’t force a turnover or sack Lewerke once last week. For a team that relies on splash plays because of its impotent offense, that can’t happen again.

David: I agree with what was said above about Cobbs, but I think with Ramsey at quarterback, he is mobile and can run. Michigan has got to shut down the run if he cannot connect with his receivers.

Colman: It’s been noted a hundred times that this defense is elite, and maybe the best in the country. I’m not really worried about Indiana putting up a ton of points. However, if the Michigan offense can’t sustain drives and the defense spends the day on the field, then I’ll start to worry about mistakes. It will be a huge challenge for Hill and the other DBs to handle Simmie Cobbs, he’s one of the best WR in the conference.

The lack of sacks vs. MSU was startling but I don’t think that happens in this game. The defensive line will get home a little more and throw off this passing attack. The key matchups, like usual will be up front. If they can slow Hurst, Gary, and Winovich they’ll be in good shape, but I don’t see that happening.

Ed: The Michigan defense has proven through five games that it is the real deal. The offense is another story. They have serious work to do. Give me one guy on this Michigan offense you expect to have a big game tomorrow.

Eric: Per above, would be great to see Higdon get some more touches, as he seems better at finding holes and making cuts than Evans.

Jared: Whichever back the staff decided (arbitrarily?) is the best back this week should have a big game, if the play-calling is improved even slightly that is. O’Korn is a good enough quarterback to win you some games, but he needs help. The right side of the offensive line is BY FAR the biggest weakness on this team, so they need to try and be less porous than a sponge if they want to keep O’Korn upright. A strong running game will help take some of the pressure of the pass protection and make life a lot easier on the quarterback.

Von: Honestly, I have no expectations for anyone on offense to have a big game. Until that happens I am going to just sit back and let the offense try to find its rhythm. But just because I don’t have expectations doesn’t mean I can’t make a prediction for fun, so I will predict that Higdon will be the first running back on the field Saturday and lead the team in the running department. Whether he has a big game or not is all dependent on if the coaches decide to actually run the ball or not.

Dan: I’m going to echo both Jared and Von. The running back rotation is incredibly frustrating and seems completely arbitrary. I’ve also lost a lot of hope in having a breakout star. McKeon appears to be the closest thing to a consistent impact player, but he’s young and relying on a mediocre quarterback. Because no one else has inspired me, and it’d make a cool story, let’s ride with Drake Harris in his return to the offensive side of the ball.

David: I want to see one running back step up and have over 100 yards. If the line blocks well and gets someone to break away for big plays, this offense will do well. Michigan can also find success in the air with Indiana’s defense. The play calling that works is what I want to see. If Michigan connects in the air to tight ends, continue that like they did at Purdue.

Colman: This is a tough question. After five games of mediocre-to-very-bad offense, deciding on ONE guy to show out is daunting—it could be anyone! It could be no one! (sad face emoji).

I can’t pick just one because there hasn’t been a single player on the offense that has been consistent game in, game out. If I’m narrowing down, I guess I’m with the rest of the crew...RB’s and TE’s have the biggest chance to have a good game. I’ll throw Grant Perry in the conversation too. You’d have better luck locating Sasquatch than you would an impact player on offense right now.

Ed: Given the last couple games against Indiana (double overtime thriller in 2015 and the sluggish 2016 matchup in the snow) and Michigan’s recent performance this season, is there any reason to believe this will be a solid Wolverine victory? How do you see this one playing out?

Eric: Hoping the MSU game is a wake-up call rather than the canary in the coal mine. Michigan 24-10 (with one TD on defense or special teams).

Jared: I have made optimistic picks every week and every week I am let down by the performance on the field. There is no reason to think Michigan solves all of its offensive woes in one week, but they have to beat Indiana, right? I’ll go with 21-13 Michigan in another difficult game to watch.

Von: Michigan should be able to get the W here, but they should’ve been able to beat MSU last weekend. Anything can happen, especially with how bad the offense was. I am kind of being hypocritical here because I chose the “over” in my Big 10 Betting Lines post earlier this week, but I am going to predict a low score like my colleagues. 27-17 Michigan.

Dan: I cautiously hedged my bets on O’Korn last week and that blew up in my face. If last week didn’t happen, I’d probably continue on my train of 31-14 style picks with Michigan running away late, but I have seen absolutely nothing from O’Korn’s two starts to give me confidence. This is mostly an emotional pick hoping for a reverse jinx, but I have Indiana 16-13.

David: This is homecoming for Indiana, but this will be one game Michigan steps up and gets the job done. Weather will not be a factor, they have won 21-consecutive games against Indiana, and I could see this defense hold them to under 10 points. I am going with a final score prediction of Michigan winning, 21-13.

Colman: I’m sorry to say that there isn’t a reason to believe that any of Michigan’s remaining games will be solid victories. The offense has been too much of a mess and there are several glaring problems that would be absolute miracles if they got fixed at this point. Frustrations seem like they will inevitably mount. That said, Michigan should win this game once again on the strength of the defense. 20-13 Blue.

No turnovers, please.