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Key Matchups: Michigan vs. Indiana

Michigan should be able to withstand the Hoosiers this year.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines are back home this week after losing a close one to MSU. Despite the loss, the Wolverines remain within the College Football Playoff top 10, taking the No. 7 spot. While the Wolverines are no longer undefeated they do remain perfect at home, and this weekend should be no different with a struggling Indiana team coming to town.

The Hoosiers currently have no conference wins, and only two wins altogether this season. This game has been a notorious trap game for the Wolverines in the past, last year being the first time Indiana has beaten a Michigan team in more than 30 years. Despite this, the Wolverines should take care of business at home as 20-point favorites. Let’s look at why.

Regardless of last week’s outcome, Michigan’s quarterback play showed incredible promise. Cade McNamara cemented himself as the go-to guy and he will be called upon again this week. MSU had a stellar rush defense, which necessitated an emphasis on Michigan’s passing game. McNamara threw for 383 yards, his first game over 300 passing yards this season, on 28-of-44 throwing for two touchdowns and one interception. Against conference opponents, McNamara has improved to a 62.7 completion rate with 1,127 passing yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. In total, he has thrown for 1,498 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

Indiana’s leader at quarterback is Michael Penix Jr., but he won’t be playing this weekend due to injury. In his place is true freshman Donaven McCulley, who started last weekend against Maryland and went 14-of-25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Given Michigan’s greater pass defense, this will be a real test for the young quarterback.

Given the disparity in these teams’ passing threats, Michigan’s secondary should have no issue taking advantage of Indiana. The Wolverines did well last week against MSU, holding a team that averaged 251.3 passing yards per game to 196 passing yards and two interceptions. The Wolverines fared similarly in eliminating Northwestern’s passing effort, holding the Wildcats to 133 passing yards and one interception.

In the last two games, neither team has thrown a touchdown against Michigan, and Saturday has the makings for a third. Michigan, on the season, has only allowed opponents 184.2 passing yards a game. Despite the Hoosiers’ season average of 202.1 passing yards a game, their low number of passing touchdowns in-conference and high volume of interceptions make them vulnerable to Michigan’s secondary.

The Hoosiers don’t appear to fare as well in eliminating the passing threat of their opponents. On the season, they allow 253.4 passing yards a game. In their past two games, their secondary has been unable to come away with any interceptions. Last week against Maryland, the Terrapins were able to score two touchdowns on the Hoosiers behind their 419 passing yards. Indiana didn’t fare any better in its game against OSU, allowing the Buckeyes to throw for 352 yards and four touchdowns. Indiana will likely struggle containing Michigan’s passing threat.

Despite shortcomings in containing the passing game, Indiana has the capabilities of making Michigan’s rush-heavy offense work for it. The Hoosiers currently allow their opponents to rush for 126.1 per game. This will be crucial for them because of the tough competition they face in Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins.

Indiana, in their last two contests, worked hard to keep its opponents rush attempts to short yardage gains. Even with this focus, it struggled to keep opposing running backs out of the end zone and allowed both Maryland and OSU to have three rushing touchdowns. Regardless, the Hoosiers have done well from keeping their last two opponents from running rampant all over them.

Michigan does just as well in taking out the opponent’s ground game, allowing 126.9 rushing yards a game. Last week aside, Michigan has done well in keeping running backs from scoring. The case being Northwestern, two weeks prior, where their single score of the game came from a rushing touchdown.

Another discrepancy lies between the running back talent between these two teams. Part of what has made Michigan successful this year has been their backfield. Against conference opponents, Corum has rushed for 367 yards and three touchdowns on 81 attempts. Haskins works in tandem by taking on the shorter yardage plays and muscling through defensive lines. He has rushed for 380 yards and six touchdowns on 89 attempts. Together, they’ve accounted for the Wolverines’ average of 239.9 rushing yards per game.

As the season has progressed, the offense has started to become more balanced, but the ground game is what often gives Michigan the edge. Corum has 774 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 129 attempts on the season, while Haskins has 661 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 138 attempts.

On the opposite side is Indiana running back Stephen Carr. He has the highest workload of any Hoosier running back as he 152 attempts on the season. However, his efficiency is much lower than that of the Wolverines as he only has 588 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Against AP top 25 opponents, Carr has 225 rushing yards and one touchdown on 84 attempts. In-conference, he has 309 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 84 attempts. Their rushing offense doesn’t balance their passing game, as they only average 124.6 rushing yards a game to their passing efforts 202.1 passing yards per game. Carr’s attempts should reflect a higher yardage if Indiana’s ground attack was more efficient, but they appear to still be looking for answers in this aspect of play.

It’s likely Indiana has to rely on quarterback play, given as previously mentioned, they average 202.1 passing yards per game. The answer’s also don’t appear in their ground game, which is what likely reflects their season’s record, since they average 124.6 rushing yards per game.

After losing four straight, the Hoosiers will try to play the Wolverines tough by silencing their stellar rush attack. This won’t be their first game against a star-studded backfield, as they too had their chance with Kenneth Walker III. In this game, Walker III was held to less than 100 yards and had no touchdowns. The Hoosiers will try to ensure the same for Haskins and Corum on Saturday. However, this leaves them exposed to Michigan’s passing threat in McNamara.

Luckily for the Wolverines, another game is going to emphasize their offense’s passing game. After being called upon against MSU, McNamara had his best game of the season. The Maize and Blue’s secondary worked in tandem to shut down a pass-heavy offense. The Spartans had no receiving touchdowns in the game and Michigan’s defense was able to pick off their quarterback twice. Indiana looks to also rely on the passing game, which bodes well for Michigan.

Indiana will be looking to gain its first conference win of the season, but given the disparity between the two team’s offenses, this attempt will likely come up short. Their only solace will come in trying to take away Michigan’s ground game, which just gives Michigan the opportunity of honing its passing offense.

Indiana hopes to hand Michigan another loss, as they were able to break their decades-long losing streak against Michigan last year. But they are playing a very different Michigan team this time around. That, in combination with playing at the Big House, will make this a tough go for the Hoosiers.

Michigan should have no have no issues handling Indiana on Saturday. After last week’s disappointing outcome, the Wolverines will likely come out firing on all cylinders. While this game has been one of Michigan’s trap games the past few seasons, this doesn’t appear to be the case this season. The Wolverines will be looking to finish out their year undefeated, and it starts with taking down the Hoosiers.