Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
Michigan (4-0) at Indiana (3-0)
(W) Towson 51-17
(W) at Western Kentucky 38-21
(W) Akron 35-20
(W) Connecticut 35-10
(W) at Notre Dame 28-24
(W) UMASS 42-37
(W) Bowling Green 65-21
IU Players to Watch:
The Hoosiers believe they will win.
It's not just bravado from the team; the locals think so, too. That includes the fans. That includes their local media. They see their football team going anywhere from 6-6 to 8-4, but even the pessimists that believe they'll be .500, express with confidence that they'll finally beat the Wolverines for the first time since 1987 and will go to a bowl game.
Michigan fans expect to beat Indiana too, but despite both teams looking likely to be 4-0 in non-conference play, the loser of this game probably isn't bowling. Lose to Michigan, and ask Indiana which two teams are they going to beat in Big 10 play. Their road game with Purdue and Illinois? Their home game with Northwestern? Lose to Indiana, and it's not nearly as dire for the Wolverines, but ask Michigan fans which two games are certain W's the rest of the way.
A Hoosier fan will tell you they lost three Conference games by a combined seven points.
The team was very schizophrenic last season blowing a 28-3 lead to Northwestern and a 21-7 lead to Iowa, while being destroyed by Virginia, and coming close to beating Wisconsin. None hurt more than Michigan, when they thought they got the game winning touchdown in the 4th quarter and felt robbed by an official's call to effectively end the game.
Darius Willis (So. #28) ripped an 85 yard touchdown run outrunning every Michigan defender down the sideline midway through the 4th quarter. It seemed like a dagger to the Wolverine's hearts after Tate Forcier (So. #5) ran for a seven yard score and subsequent two point conversion. Forcier, who would bang up his shoulder on the game winning score, led a gutty drive culminating in a 26 yard pass to Martavious Odoms (Jr. #9) with 2:29 left.
The Hoosiers were poised to start their two minute drill needing a field goal to tie, but the suspense ended quickly. On the first play, Michigan's Donovan Warren jumped the route thrown by Ben Chappell (Sr. #4) and wrestled the ball away from Damarlo Belcher (Jr. #88) as they both fell to the turf. Hoosier enthusiasts thought Belcher should have retained possession as even Warren himself admitted that he "out tugged" Belcher for it while "rolling on the ground." However, replay didn't overrule the pick and the Wolverines won 36-33.
After three non-conference games, IU is pretty much performing as expected. They are undefeated against three opponents that rank amongst the worst in football. Their opposition is 1-11. The offense, with eight returning starters, has been very productive. The defense, with only four returning starters appears to be very suspect.
Statistically, Chappell is a machine. He's number one in the Big Ten throwing for nearly 300 ypg. Last season Chappell threw 17 touchdowns but also 15 picks. This year he's thrown for 9 TD's and is only one of four remaining quarterbacks, with a minimum passing efficiency rating and attempts, not to throw an interception. Dating back to last year, Chappell hasn't thrown a pick in his last 113 attempts. Barring injury, Chappell will probably be 2nd on the Hoosiers all time passing yard list.
Chappell has no less than five targets to choose from starting with Belcher and Michigan native, Terrance Turner (Sr. #1), who rank 1-2 in receptions per game in the Big Ten. Competition notwithstanding, as a unit the receivers came into this season as amongst the best in the conference, and so far are playing above expectations with a different star each week. Belcher, Turner, and Tandon Doss (Jr. #2) combined for 2,175 yards, 184 receptions and 11 touchdowns in2009.
"No question, one of the strengths of their team," says Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. "They're big guys (Belcher 6'5, Turner 6'3, Doss 6'3), very athletic, they can run. We've got a lot of young DBs... It's a concern for us, especially because they're throwing the ball so well with a veteran quarterback, veteran line, all that. We're going to have a great week in preparing for their passing games and wideouts."
The biggest surprise is their difficulty running the football. Despite playing teams that give up a lot of yards on the ground, IU is dead last in the Big Ten in rushing, at 113 ypg, which is 36 yards less than 10th place Northwestern. Willis, who is still a legitimate home-run threat, has 219 rushing yards this season or 39 yards less than Denard Robinson's (So. #16) rushing total against Notre Dame. Perhaps it's just easier for the Hoosiers to pass than it is to run, but one IU insider suggests that the team is struggling to run in short-yardage situations. The offensive line is naturally getting some blame for the lack of run production but praise for their pass protection.
On Defense, Larry Black (So. # 97) leads the team up front at tackle. Black, the older brother of Michigan Freshman, Jibreel Black (Fr. #55) is a Freshman All-American, starting in every game he's played. This season he's not making highlights. This group is lacking a pass rush and is looking for people or just someone to replace the two most recognizable names on last year's Indiana defense, Greg Middleton and Jamie Kirlew, who exhausted their eligibility.
Indiana's best defender is SLB Tyler Replogle (Sr. #46). The co-captain missed last week's game with a concussion, but he still leads the team in tackles. He's expected to play.
In the secondary, the Hoosiers return one starter from last year and feature two starters CB Matt Ernest (Jr. #15) and SS Mitchell Evans (Sr. #5) who were wide receivers in spring practice. This defense has four returning starters, two converts, a former walk-on and a Junior College Transfer. None have been really exposed by Towson, Western KY, or Akron, but as team they have been leaky, surrendering 20 ppg.
Match-Ups: Michigan Offense vs. Indiana Defense
There shouldn't be any problems with Michigan scoring against Indiana. The Hoosiers are tenth in rushing defense. Michigan's rushing offense is so good that if they played a game and didn't get a single yard and the rest of the Big 10 got their average rushing performance, Michigan would still be leading the Big 10 in carrying the ball.
Even better news is that Indiana head coach Bill Lynch won't try to get creative with a plan to stop Robinson.
"That's the challenge with what you do," Lynch says. "Everybody is going to have an opinion on how you stop that guy but we have watched four games and every team has a different approach and nobody has stopped him yet."
"I think in a game like this, it is very important that we go back and work on fundamentals. So often, history tells me that when you get into creating new schemes in a week, you play poorly because you are thinking too much instead of just playing. That's why you must trust the system, and it goes back to great fundamental play."
IU's fundamental play means playing more 3-4 than 4-3 this season. One defensive end will stand and the other will either rush or drop back. Taylor Lewan (Fr. #77), who is expected to make his second start, will salivate at knocking over a standing defensive end but must be disciplined enough not to give up the edge on a pass rush. That shouldn't be hard.
One surprising note from last year's game was that Michigan carried the ball 50 times for just 149 yds (just under 3 ypc) against the Hoosiers, whose rush defense was being doubted just as much as this year's team. While Lynch would love to duplicate those numbers, he thinks turnovers are the key.
"I would say if there's one thing we need to do from a defensive standpoint - we've got to create some turnovers. We haven't created a turnover the last two weeks. While we haven't turned it over, we need to create turnovers on the other side. That will be something we'll work on during the week as well."
Michael Shaw (Jr. #20) and Fitzgerald Toussaint (Fr. #28) won't be available in this game because of injuries. That means Vincent Smith (So. #2) will carry the load while the 2nd back will not have as nearly as much game experience. Keeping the football will be an emphasis put upon the backs.
Because Indiana's strength is in its offense and that they generally aren't a big play team, Michigan's offense may not get as many possessions as they normally might. The Wolverines will have to make each of them count.
Match-Ups: Michigan Defense vs. Indiana Offense
Indiana players on offense should be spending a lot of time in the film room this week. The three previous defenses they faced don't play a 3-3-5 and aren't nearly as athletic.
"I watched quite a lot of film yesterday (Sunday), and I've tried to get somewhat comfortable with them. They are similar to last year defensively. I think they're better," says Chappell. "I think they'll stay gap-sound, so our protections are still going to hold, but we've got to get in the film room a lot and get comfortable with those calls. It is just a matter of trying to decipher what they're trying to disguise."
Lynch thinks Chappell really benefits from film study.
"I think that's why he's played so well, because he's so well-prepared going into the game and knowing exactly what the defense is doing and what we need to do against it. He needs to do the same thing on Saturday."
Meanwhile, the Michigan defense will be learning the nuances of the Pistol offense. Almost set-up as an extension of the "I", the quarterback is in shotgun, with the tailback lined up even deeper behind the QB. It gives the back a chance to penetrate the line or the hole at a higher speed and power. That means tackling will be important for the Wolverines.
Chappell does very well moving out of the pocket and finding his receivers in space. In turn those receivers have done a good job making defenders miss and they're accumulating a lot of yards after the catch. Blitzing won't always be the answer according to Rodriguez.
"I don't know if you can confuse him (Chappell) because he's a veteran guy. They have a veteran staff. They know what they want. They run out of the pistol. They have ways to really protect him with their offense. I think we just got to do a good job of not blowing assignments, give them the cheap ones. Biggest key, as any coach would tell you, when they throw the ball around, if they're catching the short passes, we got to tackle them quickly. Can't let them get a lot of yards after the catch."
Michigan's defense might get back Safety Carvin Johnson (Fr. #13), who was injured in the UCONN game. He started in the opener.
Right now Michigan is going on the wrong side of the kicking game. They're still 1-5 on FG's and will probably have to go 10 yards deeper towards the end zone before attempting a field goal. Much can be said about IU. Nick Freeland (So. #99) and Mitch Ewald (Fr. #16) are 4-5 but their longest try, at 38 yards, was a miss. Last season Freeland was 0-5 beyond 40 yards.
The Hoosiers make up for it their return game, where they rank #1 in conference in kick returns and #2 in punt returns. The Wolverines are 10th and 9th respectively. Hopefully this game won't come down to kicks.
It will be rare to see that the two punters are brothers, Chris Hagerup (Jr. #12) for IU and Will Hagerup (Fr. #43) for U-M. This might be a bigger headline, but there is a feeling that neither may see the field.
It's always difficult to come up with real "intangibles" when doing write-ups for a game. If they are clearly defined, it's not an intangible. However, with the Hoosiers genuinely feeling that they can win for the first time in 23 years and add that they are still kicking themselves for what they consider minor mistakes that cost them the game in Ann Arbor last year, this team is going to be focused. Normally reserved for big rivalry games, this is the week where the players ignore their school work and hit the film room longer and more often.
The over/under on this game is 66 pts and Michigan is favored by 10. While that seems like a big number, dominant offenses and big plays may mean stressful times for both fans. Chappell expects big scoring swings.
"I think it is going to be one of those games where we might go up 21-0 or go down 21-0 and then comeback with four scores in a row," Chappell says. "I think with both offenses high-powered, that is the way it is going to be, so we've got to be ready for that mentally and physically."
So if the Notre Dame game and the UMASS game drove you crazy or gave you high anxiety, this one may not be any different. In the end Michigan will win but not before you think they're going to lose, at least twice.
ENJOY THE GAME!