It's probably been a long couple of days for the defensive coaching staffs at Indiana and Michigan.
As the Hoosiers and Wolverines ready for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff in the Big Ten opener, the onus is on each of the defensive units to figure out some sort of way to slow down the other's high-octane offense.
If you're Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson, it's all about finding a way to keep Ben Chappell and his stable of talented wide receivers from picking apart a young and vulnerable Wolverine secondary. That's no small task, considering Indiana leads the conference in passing yards/game (304.3) and Michigan's defense ranks last (264.8) in the category.
"No one has really stopped them," said Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez. "They have outstanding offensive players, they're executing really well and scoring a lot of points. We have to play a lot better defensively than we have at times this year."
Michigan's challenge, though, probably isn't as daunting as the one facing IU's co-Defensive Coordinators Joe Palcic and Brian George. While the Hoosier duo catches a little bit of a break with the fact that two of Michigan's top three tailbacks will miss the game with injuries, there's still Denard Robinson to contend with Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Based on his play during the season's first month, Robinson presents enough problems to keep coaches up long into the night. The nation's leading rusher with 172.0 yards/game, the Wolverine sophomore is compiling better than 350 yards of total offense per game. He's averaging nearly nine yards per rushing attempt, completing better than 71 percent of his throws, and has dismantled each of the first four defenses he's gone up against this fall.
Considering the fact that Towson dual-threat QB Chris Hart ran for more than 100 yards against IU in week one and the Hoosier defense has often been less than stout against three relatively mediocre offenses last month, it's easy to see why some are wondering if Robinson could put up a monster game tomorrow.
"We have our work cut out for us slowing their offense down," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "They're hitting on all cylinders. Our defense is going to be challenged, and we know we're going to have to score some points to keep up with them."
Substitute "some" for "a bunch", and then you're looking at what Indiana's offense is going to have produce Saturday. Indiana scored 33 points in a losing effort in Ann Arbor last year, and it's a very good bet that 33 won't be enough this time around, either. Anything short of 40 will make it very difficult for Indiana to come away with its first win over the Wolverines in 23 years.
Keep an eye on red zone efficiency and turnovers as the two most important statistics when this game concludes. If Indiana can force a couple of Michigan turnovers and score touchdowns instead of field goals, it has a chance. Otherwise, Michigan figures to keep its win streak in tact.
Hoosier Nation Prediction: Michigan 44, Indiana 34
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
MICHIGAN: One Day and Counting
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