At 9-1 overall and 7-0 in Big Ten play, Michigan will continue its quest for a Big Ten championship this weekend against Indiana.
Stu Jackson of TheHoosier.com swung by to help us break down the Crimson and Cream, and revealed how he thinks the game will play out on Saturday.
Projected Starters On Offense
• QB Peyton Ramsey (redshirt sophomore) — His 67.3 completion percentage is the second-best mark in the Big Ten, while his 17 passing touchdowns and 233.5 passing yards per game are tied for fourth — Ramsey’s 11 interceptions, however, are tied for the fifth most in all of college football. He has thrown at least one pick in six of his last seven games, but has also tossed for at least 232 yards in all seven of those contests.
• RB Stevie Scott (freshman) — Morgan Ellison’s (last year’s starter) suspension and eventual dismissal opened the door for Scott this season, and he has not disappointed. His 894 rushing yards are the second most in college football among freshmen (behind Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson’s 1,201), and his 89.4 rushing yards per game rank sixth in the conference.
• WR Donovan Hale (redshirt junior) — He leads the club in both receiving yards (425) and touchdown grabs (six), but oddly enough, has only eclipsed 60 yards in an outing once all year. Hale had his best showing of 2018 last week against Maryland, when he hauled in a season-high 92 yards and a touchdown on just three catches.
• WR Nick Westbrook (redshirt junior) — The veteran lit up the Big Ten in 2016 as a sophomore when he compiled 995 yards and six touchdowns, but after an injury forced him to miss the 2017 season, he hasn’t been able to duplicate that same success. Westbrook has a modest 381 yards (second most on the roster), but his 30 catches rank fourth on the team.
• WR Luke Timian (redshirt senior) — He leads all IU receivers with 35 receptions and is fourth on the club with 323 yards. Michigan fans probably remember him best from last year’s overtime victory in Bloomington, when he hauled in seven grabs for 95 yards on the Wolverine secondary.
• TE Peyton Hendershot (redshirt freshman) — In his first year as a starter, Hendershot has totaled 13 grabs for 148 yards and two scores. The youngster will receive the majority of the time at tight end, but fifth-year senior Ryan Watercutter and redshirt junior Austin Dorris will also see action there on Saturday.
• LT Coy Cronk (junior) — He started the first 31 games of his Hoosier career, but saw that streak snapped this season when he missed the Iowa contest with injury. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has tagged him with an overall grade of 73.1, which is the second-highest mark of any IU player on offense (64 is considered average).
• LG Wes Martin (redshirt senior) — Like Cronk, Martin has also been a mainstay on the Hoosier offensive line, starting 41 of the 48 games he has appeared in since the start of the 2015 season. He finished the 2017 campaign with honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and has been listed by PFF as IU’s best offensive player this season, with a 73.2 grade.
• C Nick Linder (redshirt senior) — Though a fifth-year senior, Linder is actually playing in his first season at Indiana, after transferring in from Miami (Fla.) and sitting out the 2017 campaign. He came off the bench for the first four contests when redshirt junior Hunter Littlejohn was the primary center, but has since claimed the starting job and begun the last six tilts.
• RG Simon Stepaniak (redshirt junior) — He has earned the second-lowest overall grade of the Hoosiers’ current five starting offensive linemen, with a 63 mark from PFF (Linder has the lowest at 61.8). Stepaniak is also tied with Hale for the most penalties committed of any of the team’s offensive players (four).
• RT Brandon Knight (senior) — He has started 24 games since the start of the 2016 season, including all 10 this year. PFF has rated Knight as a much better pass blocker than run blocker, grading him with a 73.2 in the former but just a 60.6 in the latter.
Projected Starters On Defense
• DE Gavin Everett (redshirt junior) — He has only posted 15 tackles on the year, but has still managed to rack up five stops behind the line of scrimmage (third most on the team). Everett is still seeking his first sack, though, and has just a 56.4 mark from PFF as a pass rusher.
• DT Mike Barwick (redshirt senior) — He is a load in the middle of the Hoosier defensive line at 6-0, 307 pounds, and has tallied 24 tackles and 2.5 TFLs on the year. PFF has declared him IU’s best defensive lineman, with a 72.2 overall mark and a 79.9 grade against the run.
• DT Jerome Johnson (redshirt sophomore) — Johnson’s two sacks are actually tied for second most on the team, while his three tackles for loss are tied for seventh. He has narrowly missed out on being marked as the Hoosiers’ best defensive lineman, checking in with a 72.1 overall tally from PFF, just 0.1 behind the team leader.
• DE Allen Stallings (junior) — He has notched by far the best statistics of any IU defensive lineman, checking in second on the club in TFLs (six) and tying for second in sacks (two). However, he has not played his best football as of late, winding up with a 59.8 mark or worse from PFF in two of IU’s last three outings.
• LB Raekwon Jones (redshirt junior) — He missed last week’s win over Maryland with injury (sophomore T.D. Roof started in his place), and his status for Saturday is uncertain. It would be a huge blow to the Hoosier front seven if Jones isn’t able to play — his 4.5 TFLs are the fourth most on the roster and his 36 tackles rank fifth.
• LB Dameon Willis (redshirt senior) — He has been a tackling machine this season, registering 51 stops (second most on the defense) and 3.5 TFLs. Of the 41 players who have seen snaps on IU’s defense in 2018, though, PFF has pegged him at 39th, with just a 54 overall grade.
• LB/S Marcelino Ball (redshirt sophomore) — He is the best statistical player on the Hoosiers’ defense, leading the squad in both TFLs (6.5) and sacks (2.5) from his ‘husky’ — a hybrid safety/linebacker — position. PFF has also taken notice of his prowess, listing him with an mark of 78 (the best of any IU defensive starter).
• CB Andre Brown (redshirt junior) — The 6-0, 200-pounder got off to a hot start in his collegiate career, starting eight games in 2015 as a freshman, before missing all of 2016 with injury. Brown has bounced back nicely to start 20 contests since the start of 2017, though, and leads the team in pass breakups with four.
• CB Raheem Layne (sophomore) — His 37 tackles are the fourth most on the club, and his two pass breakups are tied for third. PFF has graded him at No. 37 out of the 41 defensive athletes IU has played this year, though, with a dismal 57.5 overall mark.
• S Jonathan Crawford (senior) — Despite playing safety, Crawford actually leads Indiana in tackles (55). He has been graded as IU’s second-best defensive starter this season (behind Ball), checking in with a 75.8 overall grade from PFF.
• S Bryant Fitzgerald (redshirt freshman) — The first-year contributor has shown a knack for finding the ball in 2018, with his three interceptions tying for fourth most in the Big Ten. Head coach Tom Allen has shown a tendency to frequently sub him out of games, though, evidenced by the fact he has played more than 38 snaps in a contest just once all year (55 in last week’s win over Maryland).
Projected Starters On Special Teams
• K Logan Justus (redshirt junior) — He has been outstanding in his first year as Indiana’s kicker, converting 27 of his 28 extra points and 13 of his 15 field goals. Justus’ only two field goal misses have come from beyond 40 yards, with one of them coming from beyond 50.
• P Haydon Whitehead (redshirt junior) — He has had a subpar season in Bloomington, averaging 40.2 yards on 43 punts. Whitehead’s 40.2 average ranks eighth in the Big Ten out of 10 qualified punters (athletes must have played in 75 percent of their team’s contests and have a minimum of 3.6 punts per game played).
Indiana’s Biggest Offensive Strength
“Indiana’s biggest strength on offense is its ability to run the football,” Jackson explained. “Scott has already set the program’s freshman record for touchdowns in a single season and is approaching 1,000 rushing yards on the year (894).
“When the Hoosiers haven’t been able to run the football or get Scott going, it’s made life difficult for their offense this season.”
In addition to Scott’s 894 yards, Ramsey has also chipped in 266 and four touchdowns of his own.
Despite the rushing threats from multiple positions in the backfield, IU’s rushing statistics are actually subpar on the year. It is only averaging 155.6 yards per game (82nd nationally), and its 4.3 yards per carry isn’t much better at 67th.
In Indiana’s 3-0 start, it tallied 235 rushing yards per contest — in its five losses since, it has only accumulated 111.0 per tilt.
That statistic does not bode well against a Michigan front seven that has been dominant against the run in 2018.
The Wolverines’ rush defense ranks 13th nationally, yielding 103.8 yards per game. Perhaps even more impressively, they have held seven of their 10 opponents to a 3.5-yard per carry average or less.
It’s hard to envision Scott — who has racked up 112.3 yards his last three times out — having much success against the U-M front.
Indiana’s Biggest Offensive Weakness
“While you may have seen several big plays in the passing game in the highlights from last weekend’s game against Maryland, it’s not reflective of IU’s offensive identity for the majority of the season,” the analyst revealed. “Indiana’s biggest weakness on offense is its inability to consistently generate explosive plays, especially through the air.
“That stems from criticism of the offense being too conservative at times and lacking a sense of urgency.”
Mike DeBord — who served as U-M’s offensive coordinator from 1997-99 — is actually leading the offensive charge in Bloomington, and the results haven’t been pretty.
A Hoosier offense that was known for its explosive aerial assault under former head coach Kevin Wilson has only generated 13 passing plays of 30 yards or more, which is 73rd nationally.
U-M’s secondary, on the flip side, is only allowing 116 passing yards per game, which is 18 yards fewer than any other defensive backfield in college football.
On top of that, Michigan has limited five of its 10 foes to 93 passing yards or fewer, and has only allowed one team to throw for more than 174 yards on it (SMU compiled 209).
Indiana’s Biggest Defensive Strength
“Creating takeaways is something IU’s defense has prided itself on since Allen became defensive coordinator, and so far they’ve managed to collect 24,” Jackson explained. “That is the most in the Big Ten and tied for fourth most nationally, so that’s obviously their biggest strength.”
Indiana’s tendency to create turnovers versus Michigan’s ability to hold onto the football will be a battle of strength against strength, in a lot of ways.
The Wolverines have only coughed the ball up seven times all year, which is the third-lowest mark in the nation.
Junior quarterback Shea Patterson has led the ball security charge, tossing just one pick (Oct. 6 against Maryland) in his last seven outings.
The IU defense prides itself on forcing fumbles, with its 13 recoveries being the second most in the nation — its 11 interceptions, meanwhile, rank No. 27.
Indiana’s Biggest Defensive Weakness
“Their biggest weakness is a tendency to give up explosive plays, especially in the passing game,” the insider noted. “IU’s secondary has been torched for 23 touchdowns, which is the second most in the Big Ten behind Illinois’ 25.”
The Hoosiers’ pass defense was especially dreadful during a two-game stretch in October against Ohio State and Iowa, respectively, when it surrendered 12 combined touchdown passes (six by each team) and an average of 387.5 passing yards per outing.
A rain/snow mix could potentially limit U-M’s passing attack on Saturday, however.
Although the Wolverines haven’t racked up explosive plays in the passing game at an incredibly high level this season, the numbers are still respectable — their seven throws of 40 yards or more rank 52nd, and their four completions of 50 or longer check in at 42nd.
The Hoosier defense as a whole is allowing 232.7 passing yards per game, which is 73rd in the FBS.
Jackson’s Final Score Prediction
“Indiana’s offense will have trouble generating big plays against the No. 1 defense nationally,” Jackson predicted. “I also think Michigan wins the battle at the line of scrimmage, given IU’s struggles to do so effectively against the elite teams in the Big Ten East this season.
“Add to that the fact that Indiana will be playing in one of college football’s toughest road environments, and you’ve got a recipe for a challenging evening on Saturday.”
Michigan 30, Indiana 10
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