MICHIGAN: Two Days and Counting

Hoosier Nation continues its day-by-day preview of this weekend's Big Ten opener in Ann Arbor. Today, we look at two big concerns for the Hoosiers as they try to win at "The Big House" for the first time since 1967...

"Michigan is Michigan" – That's how IU Coach Bill Lynch summed up the team his squad will be facing Saturday in Ann Arbor. In his mind, this isn't the same football team that went 3-9 a year ago and lost its final four home games to Illinois, Toledo, Michigan State and Northwestern. Instead, he thinks Coach Rich Rodriguez has the Wolverines poised to return to contender's status in the conference after a one-year hiatus.

That's not good news for the Hoosiers, who'd prefer a shot at the 2008 version of the Wolverines that lost seven out of its final eight games and had the program's first losing season since 1968. As disappointing as Indiana's 2008 campaign was coming off the 2007 Insight Bowl, there was no doubt that the league's biggest disappointment was the Wolverines, who struggled from a personnel standpoint to make the transition from former Coach Lloyd Carr's system to Rodriguez's spread attack.

"Michigan is a very good football team," Lynch said. "They are playing a little bit differently than they have done in the past with the spread offense, but in terms of efficiency they are still great. The will block you. They have great backs, speed on the outside, and their quarterbacks really fit the offense. So I have been very impressed with them and you can tell they have been through a spring, a fall, a winter, a spring, a preseason, and three games. Coach Rodriguez has their offense rolling.

"Defensively, they are very fast which you expect of a Big Ten defense. They have good players, but they run to the ball and give you a lot of different looks, so there are many challenges this week in our preparation

If Michigan is in fact "back" and plays that way Saturday, Indiana's odds of springing an upset aren't good. While Indiana has veteran team that includes more playmakers on both sides of the ball than it has in recent memory, it still can't match up with Michigan in terms of athleticism and speed. Indiana is going to need to play its best football of the season Saturday and catch a break or two courtesy of the Wolverines to have a chance.

The Kicking Game – Indiana got a huge lift from Ray Fisher with his kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening play of the Akron game, but that return was probably overshadowed by some mistakes on special teams that the Hoosiers can ill-afford to make against Michigan.

The biggest gaffe was the blocked Chris Hagerup punt that was returned for a touchdown. Hagerup was of the league's best punters a year ago, but there has been a knock on him as far as how long it takes him to get punts off. That could be one of the reasons that IU opted to start using the rugby-style approach this season. Whether it was or wasn't, it clearly didn't work against the Zips. Akron had a defender come virtually unabated on the punt block due to a lack of communication on Indiana's part, and the end result was an Akron touchdown.

When it comes to field goals, Nick Freeland had a field goal blocked for the second straight week. Freeland's 38-yard attempt at the end of the third quarter was woefully low, and it came on the heels of a 22-yard miss the previous week against Western Michigan when the Hoosiers were trying to stretch a six-point lead to nine late in the game.

Ultimately, neither miscue proved costly. The IU defense came up with a huge turnover late against Western Michigan to preserve that win, and the Hoosiers overwhelmed the Zips in the second half Saturday to pull away in the 38-21 victory. But against a team like Michigan, those kinds of mistakes will be costly.

Now that Michigan has seen the film of those special teams miscues, it's also a safe bet that Michigan will do what it can to take advantage of a perceived vulnerability in that area. Michigan could decide to come after a few more punts than normal instead of settling to set up for the return.

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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