The Michigan Wolverines (5-0) secured a win over Iowa last weekend in what was their first road contest of the season. This week, Michigan hits the road again, this time to take on Big Ten East foe Indiana (3-2) this Saturday (noon, FOX).
Here are the three key matchups to watch for this Saturday’s contest.
Michigan’s pass offense vs. Indiana’s pass defense
One of the pressing questions Michigan fans have had over the past few weeks is when the coaching staff will let J.J. McCarthy cook. Last week, the Wolverines did just enough against a stout Hawkeye defense to come away with a 27-14 win, but were limited through the air (155 yards, one touchdown).
That could be primed to change against the Hoosiers, however, as Indiana comes in as one of the worst passing defenses in the nation, ranking 118th in the country at 277.8 yards per game allowed through the air in fives games this season.
If there were ever a game for McCarthy to push the ball down the field and put his arm talent on full display to Michigan’s talented wide receiving core, this would be one of the game’s for that to happen.
However, Michigan’s big play capability combined with Indiana’s struggling secondary could cause the Hoosiers to play a bit more conservatively in preventing the big play. If that is the case, we know by know Michigan’s offense will not try to force things and will take what the defense is giving them by utilizing Blake Corum in the run game and a variety of receivers in the short passing game.
Even though Indiana has struggled as a unit in the back end, cornerback Tiawan Mullen is a very good player who has a shot to get selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. The senior has 24 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception this year already, so the Wolverines will have to be on high alert when he is on the field.
Indiana’s pass offense vs. Michigan’s pass defense
One of the strengths of this Indiana offense and the overall team is its ability to pick up yardage through the air. But while the passing offense ranks 33rd in the nation as far as yards per game goes (278.8), Indiana’s offense ranks 122nd in the nation in passing efficiency as a team. A big reason for the lack of efficiency in the overall passing game has been their inability to consistently run the ball, forcing transfer quarterback Connor Bazelak to attempt nearly 50 passes per game.
On the flip side, the Wolverines are the 10th-best team in the nation in passing yards per game allowed, but know they have room for improvement after allowing Iowa’s lowly offense to move the ball through the air late in the game last week.
Cam Camper and D.J. Matthews Jr. are Indiana’s top two receivers this season, but both missed the game against the Huskers last weekend. Camper has 33 receptions for 418 yards and a touchdown while Matthews has 17 catches for 198 yards and two scores.
The Hoosiers need both playmakers available to help their chances to stay in this game. If they are able to play, DJ Turner, Gemon Green and the rest of the Michigan secondary must be on alert.
Michigan’s pass rush vs. Indiana’s pass protection
For as much as Indiana throws the ball, it would be expected for the offense to give up a fair amount of sacks. That’s exactly what has happened this season, as the Hoosiers have allowed 12 in five games.
Michigan’s pass rush has been ascending recently, as the Wolverines are up to 15 sacks as a team, tied for 18th in the nation, after recording four sacks against Iowa last week. Defensive end Mike Morris had two of those sacks and is up to four on the season.
Of course, it helps the front four when any team gets out to a big lead and forces the opposition to play from behind and be put in obvious passing situations, something Michigan has done often this season. But in this particular game, especially with Indiana’s lack of a dominant rushing attack, this could be another opportunity for the Wolverines’ defensive front to get some pressure on the opposing quarterback and force the Indiana’s offense to make some mistakes.