Two up, two down for the Michigan Wolverines to start off Big Ten play. There are a couple more dates to circle on the schedule, but after the convincing win over Iowa last weekend, it is not unfair to dream about how this season might end up. There are still some challenges yet, but this upcoming game is not one of them.
After a couple season’s as the Big Ten East darlings, the shine has worn off of the Indiana Hoosiers. SP+ has them as the second-worst team in the conference behind Northwestern (putting them below Rutgers...), so while Bloomington has been a tricky place in years past, this season is a little less daunting.
It would be tempting to look ahead to Penn State, but now is not the time to slip up. Given how the Wolverines have fared against a legitimate offense and the nation’s top defense, a couple subpar units on both side of the ball should not be too daunting. This is a classic Big Ten road trip: arrive in town, take care of business, leave with the win regardless of style points.
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 2-0) at Indiana Hoosiers (3-2, 1-1)
Date & Time: Saturday, Oct. 8, noon ET
Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana
Keeping it simple
The play has turned from flashy to efficient for J.J. McCarthy, and that is ok. Michigan has enough talent to simply outplay nearly any defense (as seen in Iowa City), so utilizing the run game and keeping the ball out of harm’s way has worked so far for the sophomore quarterback, who has been extremely accurate and shown the ability to nearly always make the right decision.
However, this game plan sounds awfully familiar, and the whole point of moving to McCarthy was to get the ball in the hands of his weapons more often. Conservative play against the Hawkeyes was strategic, but the Indiana defense is nowhere near that threat (73rd per SP+). This would be a great chance to finally see him connect on multiple deep balls downfield and show off some of that big-play ability.
Of course, the offense has not needed to hit home runs in the passing game with the dominance of Blake Corum. Last year’s “lightning” has looked more than capable of bringing the thunder as well, and Corum has been powering the offense thus far. The Hoosiers have been stout recently, allowing 1.3 YPC against Cincinnati and 2.3 YPC against Nebraska, but it feels like this will probably not be the case for either Corum or a healthy Donovan Edwards.
While the defensive front has been solid for the home team, the secondary is a whole different conversation. Receiving yards and touchdowns have been readily available, so look out for Roman Wilson and company to do some damage. Luke Schoonmaker has been McCarthy’s favorite target the last couple weeks, but it would be nice to see Cornelius Johnson use his physicality to bully some defensive backs on Saturday.
A new type of one-dimensional
While Maryland was all offense and Iowa was all defense, Indiana is not much of either. There still is a huge imbalance on this team, though, and that comes in the form of a ridiculously pass-heavy offense. Some of this is due to game script, but there is a clear preference for this team.
Transfer Connor Bazelak has taken over quarterback duties, and he is currently sixth in the nation in pass attempts in conference games. This has not translated to great production, with just 5.8 Y/A and equal touchdowns (2) to interceptions (2), but Indiana’s strategy is to put the ball in the air and that should not change in a game that will likely see the Hoosiers trailing again.
Part of this struggle might be the fact that none of the pass catchers have been very productive. Just one receiver has more than a single touchdown, and much of the focus goes to Cam Camper, who is never too far from the line of scrimmage. The one player to fear is deep threat D.J. Matthews, but his health is in question over the last couple weeks. Given how Michigan’s secondary has looked this season, it should not be too hard to shut down the Hoosiers’ passing game pretty convincingly.
If that indeed turns out to be the case, it could get ugly. Indiana ranks in the bottom 10 in carries and rushing yards (49.5 per game) in conference play, and the Wolverines are going to win the battle up front. This seems like a chance to really dominate the line and get after the quarterback, as Indiana falls near the bottom of the country in TFLs surrendered (34).
Cleaning up the odds and ends
Indiana is not good.
Trayce Jackson-Davis is overrated In case anyone has forgotten, the Hoosiers have beaten Michigan a total of one time since 1988, a win in a 2020 season that has been proven to be basically meaningless at this point. The overtime contests on the road in 2015 and 2017 always stand out, but this game should not be anything close to that.
At this point in the season it is time to see the few weaknesses tidied up a bit. McCarthy’s deep ball is clearly one area that could use some improvement, as is Trente Jones’ inconsistencies at right tackle. Aside from those two, the offense is humming smoothly, and concerns about the conservative play calling are not yet warranted given the types of games so far.
On defense, the line rotation is still coming into focus. Eyabi Okie is making a strong case for himself, but Jaylen Harrell and Taylor Upshaw are not quite their predecessors. The biggest spot to watch will be the linebackers again, as Junior Colson still has plenty of rough snaps and Nikhai Hill-Green remains MIA. It will not be an issue against Indiana, but this is a position group that needs to get figured out soon. Hopefully the Wolverines can use this game to lean into these areas, as this matchup should allow for a little more leeway than the previous two weeks.