Perhaps there’s something to this “trap game” phenomenon after all. The Michigan Wolverines sulked their way into a 10-10 game at the half, but their talent advantage was too much for the Indiana Hoosiers to keep pace with.
If I’m being honest, a so-so effort against Indiana isn’t the worst thing in the world. However, the Hoosiers highlighted plenty of areas needing improvement in the lead-up to next week’s major test.
Let’s hand out some grades.
J.J. McCarthy finally broke the 300-yard mark through the air — the worst pass defense in the Big Ten. Frankly, he should haven’t have passed that milestone the way he played. McCarthy had three passes that should have been picked off, one of which was and kept Indiana in the game longer than it had any business doing so. Speaking of that pick, McCarthy’s tunnel vision on that play prevented him from noticing a wide-open man underneath that would have garnered Michigan a much-needed first down on that play.
That being said, I’m hesitant to drop his grade lower. McCarthy commanded the pocket well and utilized his legs to make plays. Furthermore, Michigan’s offensive game plan did not place him in a position to exploit Indiana’s atrocious pass defense. He will have to play smarter if the Wolverines are to beat Penn State.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B-
The 121 yards for Ronnie Bell and two touchdown receptions for Cornelius Johnson highlight the production for this group. These are hardly stats to scoff at, let alone label average. However, as was the case for the grade I gave McCarthy, these numbers were put up against a pitiful pass defense. The Wolverines’ receivers never garnered much space downfield, nor did they establish leverage blocking on the outside running game.
Running Backs: B
Apart from an electric 50-yard rush from Blake Corum on Michigan’s opening drive, the ground game never gained traction. However, the Lord only knows how much Mike Hart’s medical emergency impacted the Michigan sideline, especially Corum and Donovan Edwards. Therefore, without knowing the state of mind of this dynamic duo after that scary moment, I admit I cannot grade this group using a typical scale. Additionally, it was apparent Indiana’s game plan was to sell out against the run. Seldom was there a play where the Hoosiers didn’t overload the box.
Offensive Line: B
McCarthy was never sacked and the Hoosier defense never registered a quarterback hurry. Despite this, however, the defending Joe Moore Award winners couldn’t outmuscle the Indiana front to get the running game going and surrendered five tackles for loss. Overall, a serviceable performance for the men up front.
Front 7: A
Seven sacks by seven different Wolverines and 10 tackles for loss — Michigan’s defensive front pretty much won the game for the Maize and Blue. Including sacks, the Michigan defense held Indiana to a measly 19 yards on the ground, averaging less than a yard per tote. Their best performance of the season.
During Indiana’s second drive of the game, this group looked eerily similar to its 2020 iteration. Hoosiers were either wide open, or a defender was caught with pass interference. And for a large segment of the first half, Michigan couldn’t stop Indiana’s wide receiver screens. However, after the half, the staff adjusted the scheme to practically shut down the air attack. Against a tougher foe, adjustments will not be so easy, but the secondary settled in and got the job done.
Special Teams: B
This was an average outing for the special teams. A blocked field goal and a muffed punt that could have swung the game in the second half are notable blemishes. But A.J. Henning’s nine-yard punt return average and Brad Robbin’s 58-yard bomb of a punt gave the Wolverines enough of an advantage to prevent Indiana from making the second half closer.
Well, there wasn’t much to like about how the team carried themselves or how the coaches strategized for this tilt. Michigan looked out-coached for a substantial part of this game.
On offense, the Wolverines kept trying to break Corum out to the perimeter even when Indiana made it abundantly clear it was focusing on stopping the run. What was the rationale? As I’ve mentioned several times in this article, Indiana has the worst passing defense in the conference, and McCarthy needs all the experience he can get. Defensively, we saw that Jesse Minter can adjust his schemes but not before generating plenty of film to get the Buckeyes’ bevy of wide receivers salivating.
I get next week’s game is massive, but what the team showed on Saturday belies Jim Harbaugh’s message to take things week-by-week.
Now’s your chance to grader the grader! Are these grades fair? Let us know down below.