This may comes as a shock to everyone reading this, but Michigan isn't that good this year. There I said it. Let's get it all out, the Michigan Wolverines are 5-1 on the season, but they're only 2-1 against teams with a pulse. Yes, I'm counting Minnesota as a part of that group, but barely. Michigan has one victory that looked very shiny at the time when they beat a then ranked #14 Notre Dame. Since then Notre Dame has fallen out of the polls and Michigan has continued to ride some media momentum until this past weekend when they were upset in 4 overtimes by Penn State at home. The Wolverines are no outside of the AP Top 25 and #24 in the USA Today Poll. Why am I saying all of this? To point out that this game is winnable for the Hoosiers.
To this date, Michigan has played the 97th strongest schedule in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin. For comparison's sake, the Hoosiers have played the 37th toughest schedule. So Michigan's numbers should look pretty darn good against such a weak schedule right? Well... not really. Michigan's offense is still very much an explosive threat to score at any given time, but at this point in the season they've not been all that good.
Devin Gardner is a dual threat quarterback in the vein of Denard Robinson. And much like his predecessor he was on the early season watch list for the Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately for Michigan that hasn't really been working out quite as well as homed. Robinson has completed just 6 more passes than he has rushing attempts on the season. At a 60% clip he's not inaccurate but he is prone to making some very poor throwing decisions. So far for the year, he's thrown 10 interceptions to his 11 TD passes. At 8.7 yards per attempt, Michigan is more apt to use his running ability to set up big passes.
Essentially, Devin Gardner is an OK thrower but watch out for his legs. Between Gardner and Fitzgerald Toussaint the Wolverines are a pretty threatening rush attack. They haven't put up gaudy numbers all year like you would expect. They're only averaging 173 yards a game, but so was Michigan State. We know that Indiana's defense lacks some of the necessary discipline to bring down runners and both Toussaint and Gardner are shifty enough to cause those kinds of problems. It will really come down to Indiana being able to stop those sort of attacks to win the day.
On Offense the Hoosiers have to compete against a middling defense as well. In Michigan's 6 games so far this season they have given up 30 points to a pretty meh Notre Dame offense. 24 to a bad Akron, 21 to a worse Connecticut and 40 to a Penn State teams that has its ups and downs. What I'm trying to say is that this Indiana offense should throw for quite a bit of yardage. The offense is going to score points and there's a good chance they can do it in droves.
Michigan has been quite good defending the rush on the season, only giving up 90 yards a game. However, they've been middle of the pack defending the pass. Of course, we all know passing is Indiana's specialty and with this group of receivers Michigan is going to struggle to stop everyone. They're going to have to get to the quarterback quickly to slow down Indiana. If they don't do that, then a shootout is a guarantee.
I genuinely began writing this preview with the idea of a Indiana loss being a pretty high probability, but I'm starting to have a little more confidence in this game. Certainly going into the Big House and coming away with a W is a very tall task, but as I look closer at the numbers, I'm almost prepared to state that these two teams are pretty even on a neutral field. Michigan isn't nearly as good as they've been in recent context and Indiana is definitely much better. Still its an away game against a team that knows how to bear down and get a victory when they need it. Still I expect Indiana to give Michigan a scare. Earlier in the week I said IU 42 - Michigan 52. I've changed my mind. Indiana 38 - Michigan 42