Taking a closer look at how Kevin Wilson’s fourth full recruiting class has fared in Bloomington.
Matthew Glenesk, Indianapolis Star
BLOOMINGTON – Big Ten teams across the conference can boast of talented rosters, so the fact that Michigan may rank near the top this season isn’t what IU offensive line coach Darren Hiller is going to get caught up on.
It’s what that talent has been able to do that separates the Wolverines from the pack, leading to a No. 4 ranking for Michigan (9-1, 7-0 in the Big Ten) and the nation’s top-ranked defense. Not to mention a 105-21 scoring differential the past three weeks in wins against teams — Michigan State, Penn State and Rutgers — that IU allowed 85 against and scored 73.
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It’s something IU must clamp down on Saturday if it doesn’t want to leave clinching a bowl trip to the season finale against Purdue.
“They’re gap-sound in the run game and they do a great job of playing and playing off of blocks with effort,” Hiller said Tuesday. “That’s what I’ve been talking about with the offensive line so far this week, is that it’s point of attack, staying engaged and maintaining blocks. Because they do a really good job of playing with leverage.”
IU (5-5, 2-5 in the Big Ten) has forced overtime against Michigan two of the past three times these teams have met, and all three have been close games. But the Wolverines are on a 22-game win streak against the Hoosiers and IU hasn’t won against Michigan at the Big House in Ann Arbor since 1967 — the season John Pont coached IU to the Rose Bowl.
Last year, IU wasn’t able to establish a running game and the passing attack suffered. The past three weeks against Penn State, Minnesota and Maryland have seen the opposite occur for IU. That hasn’t led to three-straight wins, but the Hoosiers did have chances at the end of each game to take late leads.
“I definitely love when our passing game is rolling, especially the deep balls and things like that, because that spreads the offense out more,” said freshman running back Stevie Scott, who has 894 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season. “It opens up more opportunities for more players do things and create plays for us to help us win.”
The Hoosiers play at Michigan on Saturday.
Jordan Guskey, IndyStar
IU’s offensive line is more experienced than it was last year when the Hoosiers rushed for just 80 yards against the Wolverines, when Peyton Ramsey, now a redshirt sophomore, completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 178 yards and more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one).
There are more playmakers at tight end, wide receiver and running back, too — playmakers the Wolverines will have to keep track of.
It’s a matter of not allowing Michigan’s defense to do what it does best. The Hoosiers, starting up front with the offensive line, can’t allow the Wolverines to shed blocks and swarm either the ball carrier or quarterback. Taking shots down field in the passing game won’t alarm Michigan.
“A team like Michigan, it’s not going to back them off,” Hiller said. “They’re going to play, and they’re going to play up in our face. They’re going to play a lot of man coverage and they’re going to play with an extra dude down there in the box. That’s just what they do.”
Coach Tom Allen wants to take pressure off the offensive line and running game by stretching the field. Running backs coach Mike Hart is confident IU’s game plan will yield a ground game that advances the ball.
IU just can’t let Michigan get comfortable. And when the Wolverines’ mix of coverages and pressures does force stops, the Hoosiers can’t become flustered.
“You’re going to have drives, and there are going to be situations where you don’t have drives,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “So, you’ve got to be very patient. You’ve got to be able to take the opportunities when they’re given. When we’re given a short field we got to score. We got to be able to drive the football at times. You’ve just got to be patient, it’s a patient football game.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Jordan Guskey on Twitter at @JordanGuskey or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
INDIANA AT NO. 4 MICHIGAN
Kickoff: 4 p.m., Saturday, Ann Arbor, Mich.
TV/Radio: FS1/WFNI-1070 AM, 107.5-FM.