And we back, and we back, and we back — well, back to winning at least.
The Michigan Wolverines responded to their first loss of the season by beating Indiana head coach Tom Allen and the Hoosiers, 29-7, in the Big House Saturday night. Michigan has not lost at home against Indiana since 1967.
While it took some time for the Wolverines to regain their footing after stumbling in East Lansing last week, Michigan relied upon unrelenting Hassan Haskins running the ball and a smothering defense to put this one away.
This performance was eerily reminiscent of 2019. Following an emotional road loss to Penn State, Michigan utilized a heavy dose of Haskins and the defense to regain form under the Michigan Stadium lights against Notre Dame. Nothing like a nightly remedy of H2OH and defense to make the pain go away. Something happened in West Lafayette, Indiana, that also felt good; can’t put my finger on it.
Here are three things we learned from Michigan’s bounce back victory over Indiana.
Without Lightning, There is Still Thunder
Michigan’s rushing attack has been a two-headed monster this season featuring Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Thunder and Lightning, as they are aptly nicknamed, are the best Michigan running back duo of the modern era, and maybe ever.
But an early injury to Corum in this game raised the question, what is thunder without lightning?
Thunder is a career high 168 yards, one touchdown and nearly half of the team’s offensive production. Haskins provided the bell cow effort Michigan needed in this rebound game for an offense that was slowly crumbling due to injuries.
Aside from the injuries to quarterback Cade McNamara and a slew of wide receivers, the next healthy running back on the depth chart was fourth-string true freshman Tavierre Dunlap. Translation: Haskins was barely leaving the field.
Rushing, receiving or helping a struggling offensive line in pass protection, Haskins did it all. Uncle L.V. summed it up the best in Friday Night Lights, “He can block, tackle, score the touchdown, snap the ball and kick the extra point. Hell, the boy will fill up the Gatorade cooler, walk the dog and paint your back porch.”
I’m sure Haskins can pass, too.
With three games remaining, Haskins is only 171 yards away from crossing the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He would become only the third Michigan running back (Fitz Touissant: 2011, Karan Higdon: 2018) to cross this barrier since current Wolverine running backs coach Mike Hart broke 1,000 yards in 2007.
It is impossible to not be happy for a player like Haskins whose journey at Michigan once consisted of a position switch to linebacker and a return to running back as a fifth-string option. Haskins has earned everything during his tenure at Michigan, including the title captain for the rest of the season.
Harbaugh spoke after the game on the hard working senior, “There’s no player I love more than Hassan Haskins.”
Couldn’t agree more, Jim.
Return of the Other Mac
First year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald had his first taste of scrutiny after a poor showing against Michigan State. Defensive substitution miscues, penalties and the inability to adjust to offensive tempo changes plagued the first-year signal caller.
Michigan fans are still traumatized from previous defensive coordinator Don Brown’s inability to adjust, so for the last week the question of, “Can Macdonald make the necessary adjustments?” hung over this unit like a dark, familiar cloud.
“Somebody’s got to pay” was the message echoed by the defense this week, and the Indiana Hoosiers were the ones to foot the bill.
The defense held the Hoosiers to 195 yards of total offense, the lowest total by any Michigan defense since holding Notre Dame to 180 yards in 2019. Aside from the lone Indiana scoring drive of 75 yards, the Wolverines only allowed 125 yards the rest of the game.
In the second half, the Hoosiers ran 24 plays for a total of 53 yards and two first downs. More smothering than a middle school dance chaperone, this was a complete effort by all 11 players on the field and the coaching staff.
Macdonald’s insertion of versatile linebacker Michael Barrett was a subtle change that allowed the defense to retain schematic multiplicity without substituting. Barrett played 45 snaps against Indiana and had only played 41 snaps on defense all year leading into the game.
These are the subtle midseason adjustments the Michigan defense has been lacking in recent memory.
Michigan has a glaring problem written in red.
The difference between mediocrity and immortality for Team 142 takes place inside the 20-yard line. Michigan is one of the best 80-yard offenses in college football, but once the Wolverines enter the red zone they struggle to reach the promised land.
In 45 trips inside the 20-yard line this year, Michigan has scored on 42 of them, which is the No. 8 best scoring percentage in the country. However, only 25 of those scoring drives resulted in touchdowns, which is tied for No. 88.
This has been a persistent problem all season, and one that largely cost this team it’s perfect record against Michigan State. As much as we all love the nation’s third-leading scorer — kicker Jake Moody — it would be nice to see him less.
I am not qualified to pontificate on the schematics of red zone execution or play calling, but a few moments from the Indiana game provided hope for a red zone remedy in the final quarter of the season.
Firstly, the emergence of tight end Luke Schoonmaker as a scoring threat. Schoony pulled in two touchdowns (nearly three), which were the first touchdowns for any Michigan tight end on the season. Secondly, wide receiver Cornelius Johnson broke his slump by securing five catches for 108 yards.
If the Wolverines can get healthy, they could have five scoring threats on the field at once and enable offensive coordinator Josh Gattis flexibility with habit-breaking red zone calls.
Increasing the reliable weapons at Gattis’ disposal only further enables a play-caller to solve issues by exposing mismatches.
None of this is guaranteed, especially the health aspect of this team going forward. But signs of life from players overlooked or written off is encouraging for the final three games.
Twenty yards will separate this team from their goals this season.