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Indiana at Michigan Game Preview: Hoosiers visit Wolverines as heavy underdogs

This should be fun.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (5-5, #53 S&P+) at Michigan Wolverines (9-1, #2 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 11/19, 3:30 PM, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Channel? ESPN

Vegas? INDIANA +24

S&P+ Projection? MICHIGAN, 42.4 - 7.6 (98%)


You don't need me to tell you this but a stat-based assessment of Michigan and Indiana playing a game of football in 2016 is not going to be a very fun read for Hoosier fans. So before we get into all that, I just want to do everyone's favorite activity, THE BLIND RÉSUMÉ COMPARISON.

PLAYER A: 48.5 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 0 INT, 0 PBU, 1 FF
PLAYER B: 81.5 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF
PLAYER C: 62.0 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 0 INT, 2 PBU, 4 FF

Player A is Jabrill Peppers, Player B is Tegray Scales and Player C is Marcus Oliver. Now, the latter two don't touch the ball on offense and special teams a little over 4 times per game like Peppers, but to see him at 12/1 Heisman odds (even if the race is all but wrapped up, rendering anyone not named Lamar Jackson moot) is rather puzzling. Peppers is a great player given his versatility but I've never seen a campaign fueled almost exclusively by hype like this.

Really the main purpose of this was to reveal to Indiana fans the monster campaigns Scales and Oliver are putting together this season. And any time we at CQ can get on a rooftop with a megaphone and scream "ACTUALLY [insert popular thing] IS BAD" we're not passing on it.

Anyway, things go spectacularly downhill from here.


(% indicates how often a team wins the game if they win that battle. Explanation here.)

Field Position 
Finishing Drives 
Turnover Margin 
INDIANA (#53 Offense) 1.38 (22nd) 42.3% (65th) 31.3 (38th) 3.38 (127th) -6 (108th)
MICHIGAN (#1 Defense) 1.13 (9th) 27.2% (2nd) 27.2 (20th) 2.55 (1st) +8 (14th)

Field Position 
Finishing Drives 
Turnover Margin 
INDIANA (#46 Defense)
1.30 (92nd)
37.0% (25th)
28.2 (48th)
4.58 (83rd)
-6 (108th)
MICHIGAN (#25 Offense)
1.29 (48th) 46.9% (23rd) 35.2 (2nd) 5.24 (13th) +8 (14th)


As I was alluding to, Michigan is an extremely great football team with basically no weaknesses and will be playing in their home stadium the week after a frustrating loss. The numbers speak for themselves and, outside of offensive explosiveness (which is only somewhat above average), the numbers say they're elite. It is a statistical profile befitting a team that remains firmly in control of their CFP destiny.

You could possibly talk yourself into this being a trap game, with archrival Ohio State waiting next week, had Michigan not gone out to Iowa and lost in an extremely on-brand game for the Hawkeyes. Now, however, you can rest assured Indiana has the Wolverines' full attention and will relish the opportunity to beat the brains out of a conference opponent as a reminder to themselves and others what they're capable of.

They'll likely have to do it without Wilton Speight, the junior quarterback is injured to a certain degree, but there are conflicting reports ranging from his status for Saturday being a game-time decision to a long absence due to a broken collarbone. Regardless of the diagnosis, it seems more likely than not that Speight won't play Saturday and senior John O'Korn will get the call to lead a passing offense that is currenetly 6th in the nation (26th in success rate, 22nd in explosiveness).

He'll have his full complement of weapons at his disposal. The senior trio of receivers Amara Darboh (43 catches / 746 yards / 6 touchdowns) and Jehu Chesson (27 / 446 / 2), along with tight end Jake Butt (39 / 472 / 4) take up a whopping 64% of the targets in the offense and for good reason. They're all incredibly tough covers with good size and great route running. They can make life awfully easy on O'Korn if Indiana's secondary can't stick with them.

Michigan's rushing offense, ranked 29th (21st in success rate, 84th in explosiveness) may not be flashy, but it keeps the machine on schedule. Four guys have received at least 60 carries with De'Veon Smith leading the field (121 carries, 592 yards, 8 touchdowns) while Indianapolis-native Chris Evans should probably be getting more than the 66 carries he's got. He's averaging 7.7 YPC and a ridiculous 8.2 HY/O. To borrow a phrase from Bill Connelly: he's basically unlit dynamite on the field and every carry that goes to someone who is not him is probably a win for the opponent.

Defensively, Michigan excels at everything. I'm not kidding. Look at this nonsense:

Pass D: 1st

Sack Rate: 2nd

Rush D: 3rd

Stuff Rate: 5th

Standard Downs D: 2nd

Passing Downs D: 2nd

1st Down: 4th

2nd Down: 7th

3rd Down: 2nd

Havoc Rate: 1st

I'm not going to write a thousand words about how good the defense is. It's the best the Hoosiers will see this year by quite some margin. Every yard the Hoosiers gain on Saturday will be well-earned, and if they can't avoid the mistakes and turnovers that have plagued them of late this game will get completely out of control very, very quickly.


The goal for Saturday is simple in concept and extremely difficult in practice. The defense has to pitch a perfect game or close to it. That ugly, at-times-boring, rock fight of a game that Iowa pulled off is pretty much the blueprint on how you beat Michigan. The Wolverines are letting up a shade over 9 points per game in conference play overall and that number drops to an even 7 when they're playing at home.

Given Indiana's struggles to score once they're in plus territory (now next to dead last in the entire country) it's not difficult to envision that Indiana probably gets, at the absolute most, two touchdowns in this game. So the path to victory likely comes by keeping the Wolverines out of the endzone. Which is not to say this isn't an enormously difficult task in and of itself, but with a backup quarterback for Michigan and an Indiana defense that has enjoyed a huge turnaround this year, it's definitely the more viable path.

Granted, the Hoosiers are going to have to sort out their issues in the secondary, which got lit up routinely for big plays against Penn State's boom or bust offense. They completely neutralized Saquon Barkley but Trace McSorely and company made that mostly irrelevant as the 3rd and 9s, 10s, and 11s were undone by huge gains downfield through the air. It'll be up to Indiana's talented, but largely unseasoned, defensive backs to keep plays in front of them and not let O'Korn wing it downfield with nearly the same regularity.


  • Slow down the tempo. Big upsets like this can get sprung a couple of different ways, but I'd recommend Indiana play this game like they have a capable defense (which they do) and chew up as much clock as possible on offense to give them rest and pick your spots (carefully) to speed the game up. Don't play scared, but going three and out in 35 seconds after the defense gets a stop isn't all that helpful. Punt on 4th and 3 from their 35 and play the field position game, get this as B1G as possible. Wait for something screwy to happen and then capitalize.
  • Show the whole playbook. If you're showing the Natee / Zander read-option against Maryland, there has to be even weirder things waiting in that playbook for a game like this and I want to see all of it. Put Camion Patrick at quarterback. Put Zander and Lagow out there at the same time in some weird homage to the A-11. Run the Twitter Playbook all day. Put it all on tape so Purdue has to spend all week practicing against it just to have us run up 65 on them by handing it off to Devine Redding.
  • Tegray Scales is better than Jabrill Peppers. Don't @ me. Or feel free to @ me telling me "man, you're super right about this one."


Whatever. We'll backdoor cover. WOLVERINES: 38, Hoosiers 17