Fee Fi Foe Film: Indiana Defense

Submitted by Ace on October 11th, 2017 at 1:52 PM

protip: avoid this guy

There were two full Indiana games from this season against FBS competition available online: Virginia and Penn State. Guess which game I went with to get the best representation of how IU would fare against an offense of Michigan's quality?

(Sigh.) Hello, Hoos.

To add to the depressing nature of this post, Indiana completely shut down Virginia, ceding only 3.5 yards per play by eliminating the run and forcing UVA to dink and dunk their way to any success. Virginia drives in this game before garbage time:

  • seven three-and-outs
  • two turnovers on downs on drives under 50 yards
  • 7 plays, 20 yards, field goal
  • 8 plays, 55 yards, touchdown, drive extended via iffy DPI call
  • 10 plays, 75 yards, touchdown, drive featured two turnovers (one a strip/sack/touchdown) that were negated by extremely dubious penalties

This was a thrashing of the #62 S&P offense in the country. Michigan ranks 69th, which in this case is not nice. Not nice at all.

Personnel: Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:

On Michigan's side, we're no longer pretending to know the starting running back, and we've replaced Nolan Ulizio with Juwann Bushell-Beatty at right tackle after that change was made during the MSU game.

Indiana is dealing with some injuries, mainly in their secondary. Cornerback A'Shon Riggins and hybrid safety Marcelino Ball are "questionable at best" according to coach Tom Allen. Nose tackle Nate Hoff, who missed last week with an undisclosed injury, is expected to play this weekend; IU was being cautious last week given their matchup with Charleston Southern.

Base Set? 4-2-5, and they'll stay in that personnel against most opposition looks—the main variation was lifting a safety for another lineman when UVA was in a goal-to-go situation. As Seth noted in last year's FFFF, it essentially functions as a 3-4:

Base Set? A 4-2-5 that’s spiritually more like a 3-4. I pulled this from the MSU tape to show you what it tends to look like against how Michigan lines up:

The “husky” is a hybrid space player who for Indiana leans toward the blitzy linebacker end of the scale. As Michigan fans we’re used to 4-2-5 defenses we face being those MSU/OSU/Virginia Tech quarters things that make the WLB a coverage LB. This is more akin in spirit to “true” 4-2-5s like Michigan’s 4-3, where the SAM is an attack piece and the WLB/MLB are mostly interchangeable light linebackers.

Much like in a 3-4, the defensive linemen are mostly charged with taking on blocks so the linebackers and safeties can flow to the ball unencumbered.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Man or zone coverage? A ton of Cover 1/Cover 4/pattern-matching, so most of what Indiana runs functions like man coverage. Virginia's passing attack was almost entirely limited to quick-hitters to the tight end off play-action, which were good for 5-7 yard gains against the aggressive linebackers, but not more than that because of the aggressive safeties.

Pressure: GERG or Greg? Tom Allen, like Don Brown, likes to solve his problems with aggression. You can expect some exotic looks and five or six rushers on passing downs, and he's not at all afraid to bring heat on early downs, either.

Dangerman: Indiana's best player in this game was cornerback Rashard Fant, who's very much on the NFL radar despite his small stature. He recorded 39(!!!) pass breakups over the past two seasons; for some reason (presumably his size), opponents love to target him even though it rarely works. The deep shot that graces the top of this post shows off Fant's remarkably quick feet and recovery speed. That was far from the only shot Virginia took at Fant. Let's see how they went:

I actually clipped another but I think you get the point. This was akin to watching UVA bang their head against a wall. Fant is technically sound, comfortable in both press man and off coverage, and handsy in a way that occasionally draws a flag (he picked up a hold in this game) but usually just makes it extremely tough to make a clean play on the ball. His style is reminiscent of Jourdan Lewis and his ability isn't far off.

Indiana's most heralded defender, inside linebacker Tegray Scales, had a relatively quiet outing against Virginia, but mostly because the Hoos couldn't get through the D-line and then abandoned the run. "Relatively quiet" by his standards still featured eight tackles, 1.5 for loss, and half a sack.

Scales is at his best when he's going downhill; he has five run stuffs and 3.5 sacks while leading the team in tackles this season. He's a bit undersized, but IU utilizes him a lot like Michigan does Devin Bush, sending him on a lot of blitzes so he can knife past linemen or build a strong head of steam before taking on blocks. His mobility also makes him an asset in coverage.

As mentioned in the personnel section, nose tackle Nate Hoff is expected to play after sitting out against Charleston Southern, and that's great news for IU. Hoff isn't super flashy—his three TFLs and one sack don't jump off the page—but his job is to take on doubles, and he does that with aplomb. On the rare occasion he does face single blocking, he often makes a play out of it:

If Hoff isn't 100%, his backup, Mike Barwick Jr., is similarly sized and looked quite capable against Virginia. Depth could be a problem if Hoff can't give it a go but it seems like him sitting out last week was more precautionary than anything.


Hoff led a really strong performance against the run by the defensive line, which consistently kept the linebackers clean. Both three-techs, Jacob Robinson and Jerome Johnson, had impressive TFLs after beating blocks in this game, and nobody stood out as a weak point. The defensive ends, Robert McCray III and Greg Gooch, hold up well against the run but have trouble generating pressure on their own; they'll probably generate pressure anyway against Michigan's right tackle, whoever that ends up being.

The linebacker level is where the plays really start getting made. Scales is a sideline-to-sideline demon, and while IU lost a quality ILB to graduation in Marcus Oliver, they have a worthy replacement in Chris Covington. I would've given Covington a star if not for a couple plays in coverage in which he appeared to blow an assignment. He was otherwise excellent. Like Scales, he's undersized and mobile; his best play came when he quickly beat a block and tackled in space on a screen pass that was otherwise going for big yardage.

While IU is probably going to be without hybrid space player Marcelino Ball, that might be addition by subtraction. Ball is a talented, athletic young player; he also routinely busts assignments and was picked on in the underneath passing game by Virginia. Meanwhile, Indiana boasts three safeties with extensive starting experience; one of the three, Tony Fields, has shifted down to Ball's spot, and he should be an upgrade in most aspects that aren't blitzing. That's still a hit, as Allen likes to send his HSP into the backfield, but I think this is their best lineup.

The primary deep safeties in this game were Jonathan Crawford and Chase Dutra, who'll fill those roles on Saturday. They were barely tested against Virginia. Crawford was one of the better cover safeties in the conference last year, though he's prone to taking some iffy angles against the run. Dutra is a solid fifth-year senior. While UVA wasn't looking to go deep over the middle, it didn't look like there was much to attack there in the first place.

A'Shon Riggins's injury means IU is down a good cornerback, but Andre Brown Jr. wasn't beaten in the spot snaps he saw against UVA, and he now has four starts under his belt. He's also facing Michigan's receivers. I don't expect M's wideouts to have much success on the outside.

Virginia ended up attempting to make an entire offense out of screens and quick hitters, hoping to either break a big play or get half-decent gains out of man-beating route combos. They never managed the former, though they came close on the Covington slip screen tackle, but they had success with the latter:

The vast majority of Virginia's offensive success came when they caught IU in a blitz and RPS'd them. I suspect Michigan will require a similar approach. Indiana has been excellent at preventing big plays this year. Given M's troubles stringing together positive plays this season, this isn't a great setup for an offensive turnaround. They're going to have to find a way to run the ball and consistently hit short-to-intermediate passes to keep the chains moving; I don't think anyone who's watched the offense of late is particularly optimistic that'll happen.

If Michigan is going to find a way to win, it's going to be through creative, timely playcalling. Virginia's long touchdown drive was capped by a flare screen that caught IU sending the house:

Three blockers, three defenders, walk-in touchdown. Virginia didn't dial up enough of these—and their quarterback didn't always execute when they did—to keep this game truly competitive. Hopefully Jim Harbaugh, John O'Korn, and company can do better.



October 11th, 2017 at 2:17 PM ^

we see the return of Purdue John O'Korn.  I liked that guy better at QB.  We'll see if Harbaugh and the offensive coaches learned anything from the MSU game with the playcalling on Sat.  We can only go upward at this point.


October 11th, 2017 at 3:45 PM ^

really did not think the State game was his fault.  He looked generally confident and commanding until the Izaac fumble, and then our defense kind of imploded for about ten minutes of game action.  The recievers were dreadful duing this stretch also.  The next time he could really breath he threw a TD that was called back for holding, then hit McKeon on a nice throw that was fumbled.  14-3 MSU.  0% O'Korn's fault.

He comes out of the tunnel with the full knowledge that he has about fifteen minutes to take the lead or we ain't taking it, and he delivers a strike to Perry and we are at least within shouting distance.

Can we really judge him on anything after Katrina rolled into town?  Everything was a complete cluster-F at that point.  I know he threw the picks but one of them was really kind of flukish and should have fallen incomplete except for a bad break and the one after the fumbled snap was kind of whatever.  He then hits McDoom on a scamble in the 30 second drill except for actual DOOM and then delivers a passable hail mary that at least had a shot.


October 11th, 2017 at 3:57 PM ^

Defense gave up a TD on a short field, with the aid of two 15-yard penalties. 

Then one drive which consisted of a long run, an incredible catch which the defender got a strong hand on, and a wonderful screen play.  They did not implode in any way. 

Though I agree on O'Korn, I think it's a bit harsh around her on him.  In an alternate dimension where we don't fumble and drop passes and have beautiful long TD's called back on penalties, he played pretty well in this game. 


October 11th, 2017 at 4:07 PM ^

I think you believe that great defenses shut every drive down and don't allow any points except field goals.  That's not the case.  Even very, very good defenses allow yards and TD drives (except Alabama, but they're at another level). 


October 11th, 2017 at 5:25 PM ^

Okorn played good enough. Our o-line hearts pump kool aid. They have zero heart and pride. They play stupid, weak and uninspired football. Whoever is coaching them needs to go. That is a total clown show. A real o-line coach and co-ordinator would have them actually looking like they at least practice. Our running backs look the same ...scared to block someone. I watch these interveiws with the o-lineman and I just wish someone would just ask...do you guys think you might block someone this year. You are like one of the worst offenses in the country. Do you not have any pride. If you are just looking for a free education please sit the fuck down because you really suck. Cole had a walk-on running around him. Good for you cole....not going to be drafted, better graduate worthless LT. Uluzio should have never seen the field or got a scholarship. Onwenu is just flat out to fat. Like the play of Kugler and Bredeson has more potential then shown.

Our running backs cannot block and turn it over every game to stall momentum. They also show very little pride. TE's do allright but when your stopped go down. Don't leave the ball out there for another TO. More stupid play. So Ya the whole offense is a fuckin joke, but you expect the QB to carry the play. Who was the TE who cost us points. Higdon is just stupid with holding like that cost us a touchdown. This game was won even with bad play because we have talent, maybe a little heart except lineman, but we must have the dumbest offensive football players in the country. The object is to score, not fold up like a bitch and turn the ball over. The o-line plays with no fire. I want someone hurt on Indiana, a lineman or Lb just to see if we even hit hard enough to hurt someone. Play through the whistle. Watch a game with Taylor Lewan. That's how you play if you have any heart. Pick #11 to the Titans. Not because he is a nice guy. Hurt someone, anyone and I would be impressed. Offensive lineman should always have one thing in there mind and that is to fuck someone up and if that is not your mentality or the mentality of the line coach they need to go play soccer and move on. Hutchinson, Backus, Elliot, Everitt, Jansen , Lewan etc. were the type of lineman Michigan wants. Getting pushed around by walk-ons and three star nobody's who will never in a million years play on sunday. Just pathetic....no heart pussies that until they move on and are replaced Michigan will continue to get pushed around.

Like I said before, I saw two starting o-lineman for Michigan getting flat out drunk as skunks on a wenesday night before playing Notre Dame. They went out and got there asses kicked. One of them played in the nfl and I hear him call and talk and I just laugh. Hungover on thursday and just one more practice until the biggest game of the season. This was back in the late eighties but shows total selfishness and there play was what I thought it would be. Don't know what this o-line is doing, but whatever it is, does not help block anyone.


October 11th, 2017 at 4:08 PM ^

on the coaches.  They didn't do that.  But, we are 5 games into the season and they haven't really found some "go to" plays they can run that are always good for yards.  We had some good plays with the tight ends at Purdue, but they disappeared last week.  When I look at the trend this season, it's kind of like reinventing the offense every week.  With this much youth, consistency seems like a good idea.  I don't see the play calls working to the strengths of the offense/players while working against the weakness of the opposing defense.  I'm sure the coaches are frustrated, but they need to ask hard questions about what they are doing to put everyone on the offense in a position to succeed.


October 11th, 2017 at 3:44 PM ^

as many think they are. Once you're in college, recruiting stars don't mean shit. People now judge team's talent level based on how many NFL players they have on the roster or at least the starters.

Michigan defense has 10 of 11 players who will be playing on Sunday.

Michigan offense has 1, probably 2 players who will be playing on Sunday. Mason Cole and maybe DPJ(he's all potential at this point). Jury's out for the TEs and WRs.


October 11th, 2017 at 5:46 PM ^

As mentioned a million times before, we needed more bullets in the chamber (e.g., 2014, 2015 classes being very light). That's recruiting.

As it happens, I was on AL.com (don't ask) and came across this article:
"How an Overlooked Lineman is starting for Alabama"

I thought, "Hey, they got an 'overlooked' OL to start for the best OL in college football. Maybe UM can do that!"

He was a high 3-star recruit in 2015 (same class as Newsome, Runyan and Ulizio) and, in short, through hard work, good coaching and some talent, he now starts ahead of 5-stars like Alex Leatherwood (who granted, are younger than him).

He was higher ranked than Ulizio and Runyan but lower than JBB (who had similar, high-end, offer sheet). Yet this guy has been developed into never-missing-a-play starter at #1 Alabama, and we can't get JBB, Ulizio, Runyan or even Spanellis to be even somewhat close to that. That's coaching.


Ron Utah

October 11th, 2017 at 2:40 PM ^

This is a great test as a follow-up to our offensive ineptitude against MSU.  If we can move the ball against Indiana, we can move it against Penn State.  Sad to think this game is in question, but I have faith Harbaugh and the team will get it done.


October 11th, 2017 at 2:40 PM ^

If we don't turn the ball over with dumb ass fumbles, we should be able to run the ball well. This should take pressure off of JOK.Good thing the weather will be nice. I think we have another slow first half of dominant defenses. We get the run game going in this game, along with our tall tight ends, and we can pull out with a win. Or IU turns into chaos team and we're fucked. I like the latter...


October 11th, 2017 at 5:50 PM ^

Seriously.  That changed everything.  The game "flow" or whatever "script" changed after that.  The offense had previously established the run, which wouldve probably would've led to some nice first half completions, but the fumble took that momentum away.  The ensueing MSU score ensured different playing calling, and maybe sapped some confidence from the O.  Whatever the reason, the whole tenor and feeling of the game changed.  You could feel it. 

Of course if any of the random crappy events (fumbles, ints, drops, penalties, etc.) that followed had gone our way maybe we still win.   Lot's of weird stuff has to happen to have a 5+ turnover margin and only win by 4. 


October 11th, 2017 at 2:52 PM ^

Regrettably, I've seen nothing so far to indicate that our offense will be anything other than abysmal.   It's been bad all season and seems to be regressing.   


Taking a step back was to be expected, but this has been a quantum-leap backwards.  

Steve in PA

October 11th, 2017 at 3:22 PM ^

PSU with Barkley averaged 1.1 yards per rush when they played Indiana.  Indiana was in that game with the exception of gifting them points on special teams and turnovers...oh, wait :(


October 11th, 2017 at 3:23 PM ^

against MSU until we started shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers. From there we played from behind with poor field position. We were forced into trying to make something happen in a downpour. If we had gotten the early break or not had a TD called back, we would have had the 3 or 4 point lead and it would be MSU fans complaining about their lousy offense.

Bertello NC

October 11th, 2017 at 4:07 PM ^

I agree. I rewatched the game and we were moving the ball pretty well and on the ground not to mention. In fact it was a great zone play for an issac cut back and then shit happened. We just have to get the playmakers in good positions to have success. And no more fades that tightrope the sidelines. Hopefully OKorn can put throws in a spot where guys can make a play on the ball. Much like his lob to Gentry in the Purdue game. You can see flashes of this offense being very effective. If Black hadn’t gotten injured it could be clicking quite well. I do however think that if OKorn does struggle I think it may be time for Peters. At that point you wouldn’t really be sacrificing much and you’d be grooming for next year. Allowing a lot of in game experience for Peters and all of these new targets to build in game chemistry. I know it’s not all on the QB, but it would seem like Peters and OKorn have to be somewhat close in abilities by now. In game experience goes to OKorn but you never know how a guy will perform when the lights come on. He could surprise.