Call it a trap game if you will, but the Michigan football team isn’t overlooking this weekend’s matchup against a much-improved Indiana team.
The Wolverines (8-2 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) have grown accustomed to the timing of this showdown. Four of their last five meetings against the Hoosiers (7-3, 4-3) have come in November, with Michigan winning three of the last four in single-digit fashion. While U-M has won all 23 meetings since 1988, Indiana has managed to keep Michigan from pulling away in the first half in recent years.
From Jim Harbaugh’s standpoint, the ascension of the Hoosiers’ program is a credit to coach Tom Allen.
“(Allen) has built that team to be a winning team through the defense,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a physical front … and (they’re) very athletic in the secondary and at the linebacker position. They’ve got a lot of good schemes and adjustments.”
With Ohio State looming, how can the Wolverines escape Bloomington unscathed?
Take advantage of a banged-up Indiana offense
When Indiana’s offense takes the field for the first time tomorrow, it will do so with a familiar face under center.
After losing the starting quarterback job to Michael Penix in the preseason, redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey was thrusted back into the role when Penix sustained a season-ending sternoclavicular joint injury earlier this month.
Michigan has already faced Ramsey twice in his Indiana career, holding him to a combined 373 passing yards through the air on a 47% completion rate with three interceptions and two touchdowns. In those two games, though, the Wolverines allowed Ramsey to run for a combined 65 yards.
From the way Ramsey played against Penn State last week, you’d never guess he lost the preseason competition. He completed 31 of his 41 pass attempts for 371 yards without throwing an interception and added three total touchdowns.
With offensive lineman Coy Cronk (leg) and wide receiver Jacolby Hewitt (torn ACL) both already out for the season, losing the signal-caller that guided Indiana to its best start since 1993 comes at an ill-timed point in the season. Beyond Penix, Cronk and Hewitt, junior wide receiver Whop Philyor (concussion protocol), who leads the Hoosiers in receptions (61) and receiving yards (863) by a landslide in each category, is questionable for Saturday’s game.
When Philyor is on the field, Indiana’s offense has the second most yardage in the Big Ten. Should he be unable to suit up, his absence would elevate Ty Fryfogle, who racked up 131 receiving yards and a touchdown on five receptions against the Nittany Lions last week, to the top of the Hoosiers’ receiving depth chart.
Give Patterson the green light to take deep shots
For a Michigan receiving corps that seems to have a clear leg up in athleticism every week, Shea Patterson has shown a reluctance to take downfield shots at times.
That wasn’t the case last week, when the senior quarterback racked up 384 yards and four touchdowns through the air en route to Co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, and it shouldn’t be the case on Saturday. With Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black all playing well, U-M should have advantages in size and speed on the edge, while Ronnie Bell is emerging as one of the conference’s top slot weapons.
Though it has held opponents to less than 200 passing yards per game, Indiana’s defense doesn’t force many turnovers. The Hoosiers have just three interceptions on the season, which ranks last in the Big Ten behind the likes of Rutgers (4), Northwestern (5) and Maryland (7).
Against a defense that hasn’t made opposing quarterbacks pay for errant throws, there aren’t many reasons for Patterson to think twice when an opportunity to take a chance downfield presents itself.
No matter when you ask, just about everybody around Schembechler Hall will tell you the next game is the most important one. For the Wolverines, that particularly applies to this week, as looking past a formidable Indiana team could result in a worst-case scenario ahead of next week.
That won’t be the case. As they’ve done recently, the Hoosiers will give Michigan a good game, but the Wolverines will leave Bloomington with a full head of steam going into their game against the Buckeyes.
Final: Michigan 27, Indiana 20