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Report Card: Michigan’s defense comes up big in overtime, but there’s room for improvement on both sides

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Michigan’s defense shined and a running back emerged, but everyone can improve.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

History has shown us that when Michigan and Indiana play, it's likely to be a close one until the end. While another gut wrenching overtime situation happened after being up 13-0, Michigan got the job done.

Let's get to it and hand out position grades from this thrilling and nail biting overtime win.

Quarterback: B-

John O’Korn didn't throw much and didn't have to in a game that was mostly dominated on the ground. He completed 10-of-20 passes for only 57 yards, but where he improved the most is with zero interceptions. I liked how O’Korn was able to escape Indiana’s pass rush and connected once with Donovan Peoples-Jones for a big play in the second quarter. The timing of the plays and accuracy wasn't there, overall. He had a few plays where he could have added 50-70 more passing yards on the day with open targets. He projected a sense of confidence when talking to the media earlier this week and owns what he's got to improve.

He's developing though, and any improvement from week to week is promising. Jim Harbaugh commented on that earlier this week as well, so don't write him off or his ability to be effective down the stretch this season.

Running backs: A

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Karan Higdon’s dominating performance was just what this young offense needed against Indiana. His 200 rushing-yard day was also something that a Wolverine hasn't done since Mike Hart, who's now a part of the Indiana coaching staff. His ability to make long runs with 25 carries and three touchdowns kept Michigan in this game. While he was lower on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, he's really stepped up with 265 yards in the last two games and averaging 7.16 yards per carry. It will be one position group to watch against Penn State to see how they will attack their No. 44 ranked run defense. Drew Hallett talked more about this in his latest edition of “Inside the Numbers.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Because this game came down to a heavy run game approach, only a few players contributed with yards in the air. Donovan Peoples-Jones led the group with 34 yards on four catches. He had a play in the first quarter down field where he laid out and extended, but it was just overthrown by O’Korn. If throws are there and they start to connect, this offense may just get the fuel and fire for a late season run. I want to see more plays connect with the big tight ends like they did against Purdue. There are several tall targets that can create problems in mismatch situations. While I feel it will be a heavy run style game plan, like against Indiana, airing it out a few times and catching Penn Stage off guard may turn into huge plays.

Offensive line: C+

There were some positive things that happened with this unit. First, they didn't allow one sack, which is the first time this happened all year. The more this group can review plays and avoid mistakes, they can build off that each game and get prepared for the next opponent. It's a talented group that every fan wants to see give great protection for O’Korn and create holes for the backs to power through.

Several plays looked like they were dead at the line, but they allowed Higdon to gain yards after contact, and that's a great sign.

Defensive line: B

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This unit came to play on the road, but struggled a bit in the second half to allow Indiana back in the game when down 13-0. Rashan Gary had one of his best games as a Wolverine with seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and assisted on two sacks. Maurice Hurst Jr. also came up big with six tackles and 1.5 TFL. His biggest play of the game came when he blocked a punt in the first quarter.

It's a great sign when several guys are contributing and turning into a well-balanced group that creates havoc for their opponents in their heavy blitz mentality. They all performed well in overtime when Indiana had the ball first-and-goal on the goal line.

Linebackers: B

Devin Bush Jr. has turned into one of the best linebackers in not only the Big Ten but also the country. He added eight more tackles against Indiana with now 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks in six games.

Mike McCray had a solid game as well getting four tackles now with 36 total and 2.5 sacks through six games.

Secondary: B-

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The group had their hands full with one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, Simmie Cobbs. He had only four catches for 39 yards, but a few others put up yards to keep them in the game. Sophomore cornerback Lavert Hill was all over and showed great signs of developing into a solid player. He had two tackles, one for a loss, an interception and ran back the blocked field goal for 35 yards. David Long also performed well with a great sack on this play. (Insert tweet)

This group is becoming one of the surprising units that are quickly turning from good and inexperienced to great.

Special teams: A-

Another solid game for Brad Robbins and he got plenty of playing time with nine punts averaging 40.8 yards. A huge blocked punt by Maurice Hurst Jr. in the first quarter created a solid return, which resulted in a huge game changing play as it turns out.

Quinn Nordin added two field goals adding to his season total now at 14-for-16. I am confident if this upcoming game comes down to field goals and special teams, Michigan has the advantage.

Coaching/Conclusion: B-

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The coaching and play calling are two easy things fans complain about when a team is struggling. Let's put a few things in perspective about the last two games since the game plan was not the issue. Michigan has 27 penalties for 225 yards and five turnovers in the last two games. If they can avoid penalties and costly turnovers, keeping teams under or around 20 points, this team has a chance in every game left on their schedule. The 16 penalties on Saturday was a program record, but this is what happens with growing pains of an inexperienced and young team.

They have a lot to work on and continue to develop leading up to huge showdown against No. 2 ranked Penn State. History shows Michigan has beat a top 10 Penn State team six times since the series started in 1993. A big momentum swing can happen against Penn State if Michigan finds the end zone and backs it up with a huge defensive stop. They can easily quiet the “white-out” crowd with a quick score, putting Penn State in uncharted territory and forcing pressure to score. Having solid drives, avoiding turnovers and containing their one elite player Saquon Barkley could keep this upcoming game very close in a game that may come down to a field goal.