MICHIGAN: Two Days and Counting

Hoosier Nation continues its day-by-day preview of the Hoosiers' Big Ten opener against Michigan. Today, we look at two of the biggest obstacles to IU beating the Wolverines for the first time since 1987...

Will Indiana continue to be effective in the Red Zone? – Indiana heads into its Big Ten opener averaging 41.3 points per game, and Coach Bill Lynch's team might need to match that number if it wants to open the season 4-0 for the first time since 1990.

As high-powered as Indiana's offense has been in the early going, Michigan's has been better. Led by sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, the Wolverines are averaging 41.2 points and a Big Ten-best 562.5 yards of offense per game. They're also converting a league-best 57.4 percent of their third down attempts, and are a perfect 18-of-18 in red zone efficiency (17 touchdowns, one field goal). They've managed to do all of this against a fairly formidable non-conference schedule that included UConn and Notre Dame.

With that in mind, IU heads into this game knowing it is going to need to come away with touchdowns and not field goals when it gets in the red zone. If it doesn't, it won't be able to keep pace with Robinson and the Wolverines. The good news on that front is IU has been markedly improved in the category compared to a season ago. In 2009 Indiana scored touchdowns on only half of its 44 trips inside the opponents 20 and came away without points 10 times. That ranked IU 10th in the league in the category. This year IU has scored 12 touchdowns in 19 trips inside the opponents' 20, and they've been particularly good as of late. After failing to score on its first two trips inside the WKU 20 on Sept. 18, IU scored 10 touchdowns and converted a field goal on its next 11 trips into the red zone during the next two games. That streak was halted in the closing seconds of the Akron game when IU ran out the clock inside the Zips' 10-yard line.

In Michigan's 36-33 win over IU a season ago, the Hoosiers managed only three touchdowns in nine trips inside the Wolverines' 25-yard line. This time around, Lynch's team will need a much better touchdown conversion rate if it wants to top Michigan for the first time since 1987.

Is Indiana's recent poor tackling a recipe for disaster against Denard Robinson? – The season's first three games have gone pretty much how many people expected. Offensively, the Hoosiers have been prolific through the air and have put up points in bunches. Defensively, Indiana has been suspect against a trio of pretty mediocre offenses while surrendering 338.3 yards/game.

Of particular concern was the fact that against Akron, tackling was an issue. While Indiana was missing Tyler Replogle, that was still no excuse for a handful of missed tackles against a Zips team that doesn't have nearly the offensive weapons that Michigan does. Those missed tackles didn't come back to haunt IU against a sub-par Akron team, but a similar effort will be disastrous against Robinson.

The Hoosiers head into this game knowing Robinson is going to pile up an impressive yardage total. Considering the fact he's either running it or throwing it on nearly two-thirds of Michigan's plays when he's on the field, that's a given. But what Indiana can't afford to do is give up a slew of big plays on the ground to Robinson. The easiest way for that to happen is to miss a tackle. Indiana has to keep those to a minimum against Robinson if it wants to spring the upset.

Coming Up
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction

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