Since Lloyd Carr’s retirement, the Michigan-Indiana game has been a series of frustration for both sides.
For the Wolverines, it’s almost always an annoyingly close contest perfectly pointing out their flaws. For the Hoosiers, it’s an annual exercise in hopes rising, only to be dashed late.
Granted, Michigan has taken 22 in a row. It’s just an uncomfortable 22 in a row.
The last decade has seen:
- 2009: Michigan’s defense confirmed as awful under Greg Robinson (487 total yards allowed). Tate Forcier leads a comeback to win 36-33.
- 2010: Some guy named Ben Chappell bombs another Robinson defense for 480 yards through the air. Over-reliance on Denard Robinson allows a 42-35 road escape.
- 2013: Former Hoosier head coach Kevin Wilson finds the perfect recipe (aka mobile quarterback in spread) to scorch Greg Mattison’s defense (key in OSU loss). Meanwhile, Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon set school records in 63-47 victory.
- 2015: Wilson again gives blueprint to torch defense, exposing lack of defensive tackle depth with up-tempo run game (key in OSU loss). Jake Rudock finds stride just in time for an overtime triumph.
- 2016: Indiana almost takes advantage of John O’Korn’s ineptitude. Offense a shell of itself without healthy Wilton Speight (key in OSU loss). Defense saves the day in 20-10 win in snowstorm.
- 2017: Same as 2016, but team is saddled with O’Korn afterwards (key in OSU loss). 27-20 decision in overtime.
Just because the No. 4 S&P+ team hosts the No. 81 one this Saturday, don’t be surprised if your sphincter is tight until the evening.
MOTO (Master of the Obvious)
Indiana (5-5, 2-5) at No. 4 Michigan (9-1, 7-0), 4 p.m.
Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network (TuneIn)
Line: Michigan by 28
Series history: Recent results explained above. Wolverines lead 57-9 all-time, and haven’t dropped one at home since 1967.
Highlights from last year.
Accuweather. 38 degrees with potential for snow flurries. Basically, a repeat of 2016.
Michigan offense vs Indiana defense
THE PASS GAME
Head coach Tom Allen has done things to Indiana’s defense unseen since the Bill Mallory era. Last year, the unit ranked No. 26 overall per S&P+, and No. 21 against the pass.
With senior safety Tom Crawford, nickel Marcelino Ball and three cornerbacks returning, you’d expect either similar or improved performance. That hasn’t been the case.
The Hoosiers are now the No. 107 efficiency pass defense in the country. Quarterbacks of varying quality have thrived. On one hand, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins amassed 455 yards. That’s understandable.
What’s less so is 320 yards (9.26 per throw) to Iowa’s Nate Stanley, or 302 to Minnesota backup Tanner Morgan (11.76 per throw).
It’s not entirely on the secondary. Crawford and fellow safety Bryant Fitzgerald have combined for four of the seven picks from just the defensive backs. Ball, in particular, has recovered from a season-ending injury to rack up 36 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks.
The real problem is a pass rush that reaches the quarterback on less than three percent of drop backs. The defensive line has only produced eight sacks, with two each from Jerome Johnson, Allen Stallings, Nile Sykes and Kayton Samuels.
This means Allen has sent blitzes to speed up quarterback progressions to ill effect. The nine other sacks come from linebackers, safeties and corners.
With Shea Patterson finding a groove recently and a line only allowing 1.5 sacks a game, there will be lots of time to go through reads and pick the Hoosiers apart.
THE RUN GAME
Behind Anthony McFarland’s 210 yards, Maryland just ripped Allen’s front seven for 353 yards (six yards a pop).
Against power-heavy Iowa, it allowed 164 yards on over five a carry. Against a hybrid look in P.J. Fleck’s Minnesota, it let Shannon Brooks return from injury to stampede to 154 yards on 22 totes.
Against many different approaches, Indiana falters up front, ranking No. 74 in efficiency run defense. With Jim Harbaugh, Pep Hamilton and Ed Warinner implementing read-option and pistol looks this fall, there’s no shortage of wrinkles for Michigan to throw at this front.
Johnson and Mike Barwick provide beef in the middle, but there’s been little production from the rest of the rotation. Senior Jacob Robinson has been a non-factor, while seniors Samuels and Ja’marez Bowen have combined for just 15 tackles.
Senior linebacker Dameon Willis is the second-leading stopper with 41 on the year. Raekwon Jones and TD Roof both have 30.
Remember how blitzes were hurting the secondary? This team has a blitz success rate near the bottom nationally (35 percent). That means Allen loses two-thirds of the time when he ratchets up pressure.
Expect some busted runs for Karan Higdon, who’s looking to rebound from a disappointing outing versus Rutgers.
Michigan defense vs Indiana offense
THE PASSING GAME
Indiana’s offensive brain trust includes a handful of Michigan alumni — Mike Hart (running backs), Nick Sheridan (quarterbacks) and Mike DeBord (offensive coordinator). We’ll get to Hart in the next section.
Sheridan has molded Peyton Ramsey into a competent Big Ten quarterback. The sophomore has connected on 67 percent of his throws for 2,335 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That completion rate and yardage total are second and third in the league, respectively.
He just lacks explosiveness. His 6.5 yards an attempt rank No. 10 in the Big Ten, and the passing attack is the No. 124 in the nation in plays over 20 yards or more. To emphasize the point, Pro Football Focus grade ranked him last in the following:
Basically, this is Northwestern’s passing game with better receivers. The first is 6-foot-3 Nick Westbrook on the outside. He’s targeted the most, and has 30 catches for 381 yards and three scores.
He can go up and grab it, even against a Don Brown secondary.
The other tall drink of water outside is 6-foot-4 Donavan Hale, who leads in yardage and touchdowns with 425 and six.
David Long and Brandon Watson have proved their physicality all season, so they should cope. That leaves Lavert Hill, Josh Metellus — both hopefully healthy — and the safeties to cover some solid slots.
While the Hoosiers lost Whop Pilyor — 13 catches for 148 yards versus Michigan State — Luke Timian and J-Shun Harris are alternatives. Wolverine fans may remember Timian from last year in Bloomington.
He snared seven balls for 95 yards last year, and has 35 receptions for 323 yards in 2018. He’s more in the Grant Perry mold of possession receiver over big-play threat, gaining less than 10 yards a catch.
Harris is more of an athlete — we’ll talk about him as a punt returner — but he’s only used it on shorter routes for 34 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
If the secondary stays tight with their assignments, the pass rush should feast. An experienced line cedes 2.3 sacks a game, good for just No. 75 nationally. In particular, left tackle Coy Cronk could be a turnstile for Chase Winovich and Josh Uche.
THE RUN GAME
Here’s where Hart enters the discussion. Despite losing original starter Morgan Ellison, he’s mentored freshman Stevie Scott to 894 yards on five a tote.
In September, he gashed a solid defense in Virginia to the tune of 204 yards. A month later versus Penn State, he totaled 138 yards on 26 attempts.
Side note: Hart and Scott are not only linked through Indiana football. Both hail from Syracuse, N.Y.
Like much of Debord’s offense, it’s not explosive but picks up chunks of yardage a little at a time.
Scott’s emergence is made more impressive by the fact the offensive line — all starters returned this fall with some starting experience — is middling at getting push. They rank No. 64 nationally in line yards on standard downs.
Both Iowa and Michigan State held him under 30 yards, and Michigan presents a more versatile challenge defensively. This should be tough-sledding, especially if the passing game can't operate in the snow.
ISN’T THAT SPECIAL
Junior kicker Logan Justus is a solid 13-of-15 on the year. Quinn Nordin hasn’t connected on a field goal since Wisconsin on Oct. 13.
Junior punter Haydon Whitehead barely clears 40 yards a boot, whereas Will Hart recently got snubbed for the Ray Guy Award semifinalist list.
@will_hart_4 Robbed of the Semi-Final @RayGuyAward— Quinn Nordin (@QuinnNordin) November 15, 2018
48.3 Yds Per Punt #4 Nationally and #1 in the B1G by 4 Yds
52% of Punts over 50 Yds
Long Punt of 65 Yds
Avg Opponent Field Position After Punt- 18 YDL
The ONLY Pro-Style Punt Team with over a 40YD net
Want the best for my guy
Harris recorded a punt return touchdown in mid-September against Ball State, and averages over 10 yards a return, otherwise.
Another look at J-Shun Harris’ 86-yard punt return for a touchdown. Harris has had to overcome three ACL injuries in the last three years and still manages to do this. #iufb pic.twitter.com/xLky7yCRsp— Stu Jackson (@StuJTH) September 15, 2018
Jim Harbaugh’s team holds every advantage and possesses something that held them back the last two years: a genuine quarterback.
John O’Korn couldn’t surpass 60 passing yards in either 2016 or 2017. Patterson is tied for first in the Big Ten in yards per attempt (8.5), nearly has 2,000 yards and holds a 17-3 TD-INT ratio.
This means the only thing to potentially bog down the offense is the inclement weather.
On defense, there’s a chance the constant dinking and dunking from Ramsey will stress anyone in slot coverage. However, Don Brown trots out the No. 1 pass defense in:
- S&P+ efficiency
- Completion percentage
- Sack Rate
- Total yardage
Add in the snow, and it’s not a recipe for success for the Hoosiers.
This is the year where Michigan finally puts away Indiana early.
Michigan 35, Indiana 6