Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner speaks to the media on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines vs. Indiana Hoosiers
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium.
TV/radio: Fox Sports 1; WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).
Line: Michigan by 27 1/2.
Out: P Brad Robbins, DB Benjamin St-Juste, DE Luiji Vilain, QB Dylan McCaffrey. Questionable: CB Lavert Hill, S Josh Metellus
Out: OL Mackenzie Nworah, RB Cole Gest, QB Michael Penix Jr. Doubtful: WR Whop Philyor. Questionable: LB Reakwon Jones, LB T.D. Roof.
When Michigan has the ball: Indiana’s defense has taken a step back statistically this season, which isn’t a giant surprise considering it lost its top two players in cornerback Rashard Fant and linebacker Tegray Scales. Fant’s absence in the secondary has been notable, as the Hoosiers have given up 23 touchdowns through 10 games after surrendering just 18 in 12 last year. Opposing quarterbacks complete nearly 60 percent of their passes against this group. The bottom hasn’t fallen out, but this defense has lost some of the steam Tom Allen brought to it during his first season a year ago. On the ground, Maryland racked up 353 in Bloomington last week. Michigan went out of its way not to get Shea Patterson hit last week. It’s hard to imagine a different strategy Saturday, as Michigan has what it needs to gain yards on the ground and through the air against this team without much outside of the base system.
When Indiana has the ball: Indiana’s had an interesting run since Allen took over for Kevin Wilson in 2017. The Hoosiers went from a team with an elite offense and a terrible defense to a squad with a sometimes solid offense and an adequate defense. The result, record-wise, has been about the same. Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey is mobile enough to cause an issue with his feet. He’s also thrown for 18 touchdowns and 2,335 yards. But that comes at just 6.5 yards per attempt, with 11 interceptions. Freshman running back Stevie Scott (894 yards) is legit. Indiana spread the ball around with six players at 26 receptions or more, but this is not a big play offense. And, against Michigan’s defense, chunks might not work.
Know the foe
Up and down
When Wilson was at Indiana, this offense was ridiculous, but the defense was a total nightmare. Tom Allen has balanced out Indiana’s defense, even if there’s been a drop-off from a year ago, while the offense has come back down to Earth. The result with Wilson’s system was always something trending toward average. Through two years with Allen, Indiana’s in the same boat. There are days where the Hoosiers look much better than their 5-5 record. And there are days where they look exactly average.
Indiana’s defense made major strides last season. But the biggest dip this season has been on third down. The Hoosiers cannot get off the field, as opponents are converting better than 41 percent of their third-down tries. Indiana leads the Big Ten in takeaways with 24. But if teams are able to hold onto the football, bad things happen for the Hoosiers. Indiana’s allowed 39 red zone trips (No. 11 in the Big Ten) and 36 scores.
Indiana gained 45 percent of its rushing output in non-league games against Florida International, Virginia and Ball State. Ramsey’s averaged 36.1 attempts per game through the air, No. 3 in the Big Ten, in large part because Indiana hasn’t been able to run the ball. Ramsey’s averaged more than 40 attempts per game in Big Ten play. If this offense is one dimensional, Indiana is in serious trouble.
More of the same
Michigan entered last week’s game with the plan of taking what it could get on the ground and through the air, without subecting Shea Patterson to unnecessary physical contact. Michigan will likely try to pound the ball against this defense. But if Indiana loads up against the run, Patterson should be able to find room through the air. Indiana’s defense is, mostly, pretty average. The Hoosiers are better than Rutgers, of course. But Michigan’s ability to be balanced should be enough.
Jim Harbaugh’s already brought up the 1986 Rickey Foggie Minnesota game a few times this week, where his Michigan team had a perfect season destroyed on senior day in Ann Arbor just before the Ohio State game. Bo Schembechler told his team prior to kickoff that day that he hoped they’d done enough in practice the week prior to find a win. They didn’t. Harbaugh has seniors and, possibly a handful of juniors, who will be playing at Michigan Stadium for the final time. This message has surely been hammered home. Will it resonate?
Michigan, for the most part, has been in playoff mode since losing to Notre Dame in the season opener. An emotional or focus letdown doesn’t seem to be in this team’s DNA. Indiana’s not Ohio State. But Michigan knows a loss Saturday ruins a lot.
Pick: Michigan 38, Indiana 13
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.