MICHIGAN: Three Days and Counting

Bloomington - What are some of the biggest head-to-head match-ups in Saturday's contest pitting Indiana (3-0) against Michigan (3-0) in Ann Arbor? Hoosier Nation looks at those battles today as we continue our day-by-day preview of the Big Ten opener...

IU OT Rodger Saffold vs. UM DE Brandon GrahamIndiana hasn't given up a sack in two games, but Bill Lynch's team will have its work cut out for it if it wants to make it three straight. The biggest concern in that regard will be containing preseason All-Big Ten defensive end Brandon Graham. Graham is a 6'3", 261-pound senior who totaled 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss as a junior. More often than not, he'll be matched up opposite Indiana's most athletic offensive lineman in Saffold.

Saffold knows he'll his hands full with Michigan's 2008 MVP, but he said relishes the opportunity to go up against one of the nation's best pass rushers. In his mind he already gets that chance in practice when he lines up opposite either Jammie Kirlew or Greg Middleton, so he should come in prepared for what Graham has to throw at him.

"he's a very good opponent – I'm looking forward to the challenge," Saffold said. "I love challenging myself – I feel like that makes me play better, I think that's going to make the line play better Of course I'm focusing on the Michigan defense, but it's always good to have something else there to get you going, another incentive."

Indiana vs. Michigan in the 1st Quarter - the first thing Indiana has to do is sink its teeth into the game in the first quarter. It needs to get a feel for the atmosphere and an opponent that is significantly better than the first three it has faced, and avoid digging itself an early hole.

Indiana figures to sprinkle in the Wildcat formation again this weekend, and will likely have a new wrinkle or two to throw at Coach Rich Rodriguez's squad. But ultimately, Indiana wants to be able to run the ball, chew up some clock, and keep the game close when the two teams head to the fourth quarter. It doesn't want to turn this game into a shootout, since Michigan has proven to be much better at producing big plays than Indiana has in the first three weeks. Lynch's team also doesn't want to be forced into playing catch-up, where it would have to abandon the run.

For those things to happen, Indiana needs to get off to a good start. That doesn't necessarily mean that Indiana has to jump out to a lead in the game's first 15 minutes, but the Hoosiers can ill-afford to get themselves into a quick two-touchdown deficit.

IU LBs Matt Mayberry, Tyler Replogle and Will Patterson vs. UM Running Back Carlos Brown – With Brandon Minor still nursing an ankle injury, Carlos Brown is expected to start again this weekend. There's been no drop-off, though, in the Michigan running game with Brown serving as the primary ball carrier. The senior is coming off a 13-carry, 187-yard, two-touchdown effort against Eastern Michigan that earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors and was highlighted by a 90-yard touchdown run. That big afternoon has him averaging 8.8 yards/carry on the young season, and he'll be a load for IU's linebackers to contend with Saturday.

Their success, of course, will start with the Hoosier defensive line occupying the Michigan offensive line and keeping them from getting to the second level. If they can do that, it's imperative that the Hoosier linebackers don't have a slew of missed tackles that turn five-yard runs into big gainers.

The last thing the Hoosier defense needs is to get pounded early by Brown for big gainers, which would in turn result in safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk beginning to inch toward the line of scrimmage. If that happens, it could free up a Michigan passing attack – which has been average at best – to have some big-play opportunities with Tate Forcier throwing over the top to Greg Mathews or Junior Hemingway.

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

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