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Previewing Indiana at Michigan

Why can’t this be a noon kickoff?

Syndication: USA TODAY Nick King / USA TODAY NETWORK

While it didn’t end up being the most impressive win by the end of the year, I don’t know that any game was more enjoyable for me personally than handily beating Michigan in the third week of last year’s COVID-19 shortened season. Having watched Indiana nearly expose Harbaugh’s overrated teams in so many overtime losses over the years made that game feel extra important; they were that statement win that was always within reach and Indiana usually found some tragic way to lose, so I thought last year’s win was truly the beginning of a new era.

Indiana has another shot at an upset this year, but as Andy pointed out, Vegas does not seem to think that’s going to happen. With a true-freshman, third-string quarterback leading the offense and Indiana’s defense looking very mediocre last weekend against Maryland, Vegas just might be on to something. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the Wolverines ahead of Saturday’s primetime matchup.

The Record

The Wolverines only just lost their first game of the season, a 33-37 battle in East Lansing against then #8 Michigan State. Losing by one score on the road to a top ten opponent isn’t terribly damning though, and Michigan only dropped three spots in the AP poll. Michigan is now 7-1 on the season, with wins over three Big Ten West opponents in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern. The Wolverines handled Wisconsin and Northwestern easily, but did struggle a little with Scott Frost’s Nebraska, winning on a 39-yard field goal with under two minutes left in the game. Given Scott Frost’s commitment to running Nebraska into the ground, this game is a bit of a red flag on Michigan’s schedule, and wins against the Big Ten West as a whole are always a little suspect. Outside of Saturday’s loss to Michigan State, Michigan has only played one other Big Ten East opponent in Rutgers, who they also beat by just one score. If Indiana had looked even competent to this point, I might be hopeful.

The Players

Cade McNamara won the starting spot at quarterback out of camp, but Michigan has played true freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy at points this year, like when McNamara went down for a few plays last week against Michigan State. McNamara has completed 63.2% of his passes so far this year for seven touchdowns versus just two interceptions while McCarthy has thrown for three touchdowns on just 23 attempts. Harbaugh has used two runningbacks, Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, about equally this year. Corum has averaged six yards per carry on 129 attempts for ten touchdowns while Haskins has picked up 4.8 yards per carry on 138 attempts, also scoring ten touchdowns of his own. Indiana’s runningback group has ten touchdowns total, for comparison. As such a run-heavy team, none of their receivers stand out as much. Tight end Erick All currently leads the team with 26 receptions, though none have been for touchdowns.

Defensively, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo have accounted for 13 of the team’s 18 sacks so far this year, with six and seven solo sacks respectively. Safety Daxton Hill has two interceptions and six pass deflections so far this year, while also accounting for 41 tackles, second best on the team. Some outlets, such as ESPN, are touting him as a sleeper first-round draft pick.

Team Stats

Averaging 456.5 yards per game, Michigan’s offense ranks third in the Big Ten, behind Nebraska and Ohio State. The Wolverine’s 37.5 points per game is second in the conference, behind only Ohio State who is now running up the score in every game to prove that their loss to Oregon was a fluke. As mentioned earlier, Michigan is a run-first offense and they get about twenty yards more per game on the ground than they do through the air.

Michigan’s defense is more competent than most of Indiana’s recent opponents, ranking fourth in the conference in yards against per game and points allowed. Only Iowa is better in both of those two statistics, and they were able to hold the Hoosiers to just 6 points. Out of Indiana’s other opponents, Penn State is the only other comparable defensive team in points allowed per game, likely helped by their shutout victory over Indiana. In other words, this might be a long day for Donaven McCulley if Tuttle and Penix are out again this week. Kenneth Walker III was able to break through Michigan’s defense last week with 197 yards and five touchdowns, so if Indiana wants to be competitive, Stephen Carr may need to have a career day. Which is asking a lot from this offensive line.

Prediction

Earlier this year, I may have been able to muster up the energy to pick an upset in this one, maybe out of pure spite for the Michigan fanbase. However, the Hoosiers are now 2-6 and their disappointing season may have cost Cincinnati a spot in the playoffs. I am tired.

Michigan 27, Indiana 6