The Michigan Wolverines were a much better football team than the Michigan State Spartans in every area. That is what makes the loss so much more unbearable. Nevertheless, they must focus on their next game and hopefully fuel themselves with the inexplicable loss to their in-state rival.
The all-time record in this series is preposterous. Dating back to 1900, Michigan has won 59 of 68 meetings, including seven-straight seasons since the divisions were created in the Big Ten conference. In four of the last five years, however, the Hoosiers have lost by 10 points or less and are seemingly closing the gap. With wins over Penn State and Rutgers on the season, Indiana is actually a three-point underdog over the Wolverines and has jumped up to the No. 13 team in the country after the first two weeks of the season.
Could the Hoosiers finally snap the streak? Let’s take a deeper look:
Michigan Offense vs Indiana Defense
The Passing Game
Last week we touched on Joe Milton and the Michigan offenses’ lack of success down the field. Now we have two games, and an entire fourth-quarter drive against the Spartans to show for it. Josh Gattis and Jim Harbaugh did not unleash Milton and his arm strength costing four and a half minutes of gameplay with just over five minutes remaining in the the Wolverines final possession of the game.
The Wolverines scored a touchdown with under 40 seconds left, and even if they had stopped Michigan State, they would have had just seconds to try and score again. Milton was only 1-for-6 on passes over 20+ yards. In passes of 20-yards or less, though, Milton was much more efficient connecting on 31-of-43 attempts. A more consistent deep ball both from Milton and his coaching staff could cause fits for opposing defenses.
A big issue for both the wide receivers and the tight ends were drops. Ronnie Bell, Erick All, and Mike Sainristil each accounted for two drops on the day. The three of them were in the bottom four of receivers graded by PFF in the loss.
The good news is that true freshman Roman Wilson and sophomore Cornelius Johnson look primed to breakout. Both caught all five of their respective targets and Wilson led the team with 71 receiving yards. The young speedster is averaging 15 yards per reception on the season and has seven catches for 105 yards in the first two weeks.
More good news is the offensive line continues to keep Milton upright. The Michigan State pass rush had two sacks that could both be accounted for by Milton’s decision to tuck the ball and run instead of throwing it away.
- Milton now has the second-most passing yards in a game against Michigan State with 300. Only Shea Patterson’s 384 yards last season has been better.
- The longest completion of the season this season for Milton was 35 yards.
- Michigan’s 262.5 yards per game in the air are the fifth-most in the Big Ten.
- They have scored just one passing touchdown, tied the second-fewest in the Big Ten with Iowa and Northwestern.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s secondary is what has kept them in games so far this season. They have forced five interceptions, and have allowed just 182 yards per game through the air, the third-fewest in the conference.
Redshirt junior Bryant Fitzgerald may be the best of the bunch. He led the team with three interceptions as a redshirt freshman in 2018. He’s been targeted only three times on the season and has only allowed two receptions. Junior Jaylin Williams is another name to look out for with two interceptions in the first two games of the year.
A consistent pass rush has helped cause discomfort in opponent’s passing game all season. Junior linebacker Micah McFadden is a name to watch out for. He was named Indiana’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 and was an honorable-mention All-Big Ten performer. He’s off to a strong start this season with seven quarterback pressures and a sack in the first two games. Indiana also sends pressure from their secondary often as corner Taiwan Mullen leads the team with three sacks. Expect consistent pressure from all phases of the defense come Saturday.
- Indiana’s five picks trail only Northwestern for the most in the Big Ten
- The Hoosiers have five sacks on the season, tied for the third-most in the Big Ten with Michigan. Ohio State has the most with eight.
- Held Rutgers’ quarterback Noah Vedral to just 130 yards and three interceptions, finishing with a 9.7 QBR a week ago.
The Running Game
Michigan’s running game has been the most impressive part of the team thus far. The tandem of Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins, Chris Evans, and Blake Corum have been a real threat to opponents in 2020. Joe Milton has also provided an impressive rushing game from the quarterback spot with 50+ yards in both games this season.
The Wolverines rumbled and tumbled for 256 yards on the ground against Minnesota and another 152 facing the Spartans. But, the Spartans did a much better job of containing. The Wolverines did not break off a run of more than 20 yards against Michigan State while doing so four times against Minnesota.
- Hassan Haskins is averaging 9.9 yards per carry on 14 touches this season.
- Michigan’s eight rushing touchdowns lead the Big Ten with a one-score advantage over Minnesota and Northwestern.
- The Wolverines have the third-most rushing yards in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State and Northwestern.
The running game will be a spot where the Wolverines have an advantage. The Hoosiers allowed 250 yards on the ground to Penn State and another 121 against Rutgers a week ago. Grad student Jovan Swann and Redshirt senior Jerome Johnson provide a veteran interior defensive line but are listed with below-average grades by PFF through the first two weeks.
Linebacker Cam Jones and safety Jamar Johnson have been two of the better run defenders in the Big Ten to this point. The two account for 11 stops on the season and have a total of 19 tackles. But, this efficiency is coming at the second and third levels.
One area that Indiana has struggled with is containing the quarterback. Penn State’s Sean Clifford ran for 119 yards on 17 carries in the loss to Indiana. Look for Michigan’s offense to try and exploit similar features in their usage of Milton.
- The Hoosiers 371 rushing yards allowed is fourth-worst in the Big Ten ahead of Purdue, Minnesota, and Maryland.
- Clifford’s 119 yards on the ground in week one shattered his previous career-high of 57 against Idaho in 2019.
- Indiana’ allowed 4.4 yards per carry, the sixth-worst in the Big Ten.
Indiana’s Offense vs Michigan’s Defense
The Passing Game
Michigan’s inexperienced secondary was exposed on Saturday. Rocky Lombardi threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns while picking on Vincent Gray and Jalen Perry for most of the game.
Gray was targeted three times and all three resulted in receptions that accumulated 143 yards. After Don Brown made the switch to sophomore Jalen Perry, things did not get any better. Perry was targeted four times, all four times for receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Gemon Green, Gray and Perry accounted for four penalties: two holding and two pass interference calls in the loss.
The Wolverines coaching staff showed a lack of adjustment as they continuously put their starting corners in single coverage and Mel Tucker and the Spartans repeatedly took advantage.
Michigan’s pass rush was nearly non-existent as Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson were both held in check against the Spartans. After five sacks against Minnesota, the Wolverines had none against Michigan State. Paye led the team with six quarterback pressures. A more effective pass rush will be needed if they have hopes to slow the Hoosiers this weekend.
- Allowed 260 yards per game through the air, sixth-most in the Big Ten.
- Michigan State averaged 19 yards per reception last week and had two plays of 50+ yards through the air.
- Michigan has allowed just a 55.6 completions percentage, the third-fewest in the Big Ten.
Michael Penix Jr. comes in at quarterback for Indiana. He’s coming off a 238 yards and three-touchdown performance in the 37-21 win over Rutgers and made this spectacular play to beat Penn State in overtime in Week 1:
MICHAEL PENIX JR CALLS GAME— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 24, 2020
INDIANA GOES FOR 2 IN OT
Outside of this play, Penix Jr. was not spectacular against Penn State. He threw for only 170 yards and a pick while rushing for -18 yards. On top of that, Penn State had 277 more yards of offense but lost the game to Indiana in overtime. The Hoosiers’ offense was very opportunistic scoring 10 points off of three Penn State turnovers.
Senior Whop Philyor is their best receiver with 10 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown on the season with 137 of those yards coming against Rutgers last week. Expect Indiana to target the speedy wideout often as the Spartans set up the blueprint of how to beat this Michigan secondary in 2020.
- The Hoosiers’ 279 passing yards per game are the second-fewest in the conference.
- Penix Jr. has completed only 58.1 percent of his passes, the third-worst percentage among quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
The Running Game
Michigan’s run defense was an area of concern after allowing 140 yards on the ground to Mohamad Ibrahim to open the season. Although people were more concerned with the woes in the secondary, the run defense’s issues were still not solved against their in-state foes. The Spartans ran the ball for 126 yards total, just three fewer yards than what they had allowed to the Golden Gophers a week prior.
Now with two starters dinged up (Michael Barrett and Cam McGrone), Michigan needs to find an answer against Indiana. Adam Shibley did an admiral job of filling in at middle linebacker once McGrone went down. In just 34 snaps, Shibley had 6 tackles and 6 stops and was PFF’s highest-graded Michigan defender against Michigan State.
After struggling with the run in Week 1, Aidan Hutchinson took a strong step forward with four tackles and three stops. He was the highest graded run defender on the team according to PFF and was second in overall defense behind Shibley.
- Michigan’s 127.5 rushing yards allowed per game is sixth-best in the Big Ten.
- The Wolverines have allowed 3.2 yards per carry on the season which is fifth in the conference.
- Containment has been key for the Wolverines run defense. Their longest run allowed was just 28 yards to Ibrahim in Week 1.
Junior Stevie Scott is the workhorse for the Indiana Hoosiers. The name may sound familiar because he had a huge day against the Wolverines back in 2018. Scott had 139 yards and a touchdown as the No. 4 Wolverines escaped with a 31-20 win (it was 22-17 at half).
This is the third year that Scott has been the starter in Bloomington. He has yet to have a performance of over 100 yards on the season, but he does have two touchdowns and had 81 yards against Rutgers last week.
- Scott has a career 2,120 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career at Indiana.
- He is not much of a threat in the passing game out of the backfield with four receptions for six yards on the season.
- Indiana is currently in last place in the Big Ten in rushing yard per game with 75.
For the second week in a row, Michigan should have the advantage in talent on the football field. The question remains if the coaching staff can utilize that talent and invoke success on the field.
This is not your ordinary Hoosier football team. Indiana will win this game if Penix Jr. attacks the Michigan secondary like Lombardi did last week. If Don Brown refuses to change his single-coverage ways, expect several deep shots and lots of penalties again.
Michigan wins the game if they continue to not turn the ball over, and establish success on early downs. A win for Michigan would likely mean a big day on the ground and in the air from Milton including big plays that propel drives.