Preview: Indiana 2017

Submitted by Brian on October 13th, 2017 at 10:09 PM


WHAT Michigan (4-1) vs             
WHERE Memorial Stadium,           
Bloomington, IN
October 14th. 2017
TICKETS can be had
WEATHER sunny, mid-70s, 0% chance of rain


Indiana! You used to be #chaosteam and are now this weird mish-mash of stuff, featuring a Good Defense (22nd in S&P+), which is a shock, and a Bad Offense (76th), which is not. Ace filled you in on the details over the last couple days. Suffice it to say Indiana replaced Kevin Wilson with Mike DeBord, and subsequently added Nick Sheridan and Mike Hart as offensive position coaches. Those latter two might not be bad ideas, the former... uh.

Things are weird now. There's always one year where momentum from a successful previous staff forces you to keep doing what you were doing before, so the Hoosiers are still a high-tempo spread offense. Just not a very good one.

Expectations have changed from a frenetic arcade rumble to a rock fight, and nobody's happy about this. What am I supposed to do with all the Butters gifs I've saved to my hard drive now? /kicks rock

Run Offense vs Indiana


star Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales can only be cured by Tesamuel Tarly

This will be tortoise versus tortoise. Indiana is excellent at preventing long plays and substandard, but not terrible, in most other rushing stats. They've got a burly nose tackle who will try to hold up to doubles, a thumping middle linebacker in Tegray Scales, and run a conservative version of the 4-2-5 on early downs. Ace:

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.

Michigan has an advantage as the first real manball outfit Indiana has gone up against; if they can apply some force to the IU box safeties and undersized linebackers there will be gaps. Expect Michigan to continue with a majority of gap-blocked plays after those found success against Michigan State. Indiana isn't a blitzball outfit and will try to read and react and get Michigan in moderate distance third downs.

Output similar to that from the MSU game is likely, with Michigan steadily biting off small chunks of yards but struggling to break a chunk play. Whether or not they can manage a couple will go a long way towards deciding the game. They're not consistent enough to clobber their way down the field on 18-play drives.

KEY MATCHUP: JUWANN BUSHELL-BEATTY versus WHATEVER KEPT HIM ON THE BENCH. JBB was a clear upgrade on Ulizio on the ground when he came in, and with Ulizio struggling so badly in pass protection one wonders whether that was a bit of a mirage a la O'Korn. If Beatty can solidify the right side ground game that's a lot of beef to run power behind and the season projection changes a bit.


Pass Offense vs Indiana


the only thing that can cure Rashard Fant is oh god i don't know how to finish this sentence i've made a terrible mistake

Well, man, I just don't know anymore. The hope offered by John O'Korn's Purdue outing was swiftly taken away last week, and now a... good Indiana pass defense... is next up? Is... did I say that? Out loud? Aw hell naw. Ace, save me from this opinion!

[Rashard] 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.


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.

Dammit Ace. Fancystats aren't quite as agog as our opponent-scouting-maven, but they're reasonably impressed. Indiana's 35th in success rate and 38th in explosiveness allowed. Virginia had—holy crap—3.7 YPA on 66 attempts. Penn State got up to 7. Which is still just meh for an opposition passing offense that is much better than Michigan's.

There's a clear dichotomy in Indiana's stats. They are mediocre on standard downs, and get no pass rush (124th). They kill it on passing downs and get to the QB (9th). Michigan needs to stay ahead of the chains on first down, because  this offensive line picking up Indiana's blitz package looks unlikely. O'Korn might be able to be more comfortable in the pocket on standard downs but expect Michigan to run first and foremost, hoping to build on last week's performance.

When they pass: for the love of God can a receiver not named Perry do something? Kekoa Crawford, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Eddie McDoom have combined for 39 targets and 13 catches. Or, failing that, just throw it to Perry 20 times. 30 times. However many times it takes.


Run Defense vs Indiana


just eight months ago

This should be the usual blowout. Indiana comes in with one of the worst rush offenses in the country: 99th in success rate, 105th in explosiveness, etc, etc. Leading rusher Morgan Ellison is a burly true freshman who's done some work against the likes of Charleston Southern. Against OSU—the closest comparable on Indiana's schedule to the Michigan DL—they averaged 2.1 YPC.

They did a little better against Penn State with 4.2 YPC, most of that after Penn State had jumped out to a big lead... and Indiana had flipped to freshman QB Peyton Ramsey, who provides a Lewerke-esque rushing threat Richard Lagow does not. Ace:

One major reason Ramsey has surpassed Lagow on the depth chart is he adds a running dimension his competitor completely lacks. Saquon Barkley housed the opening kickoff of this game and IU committed two first-quarter turnovers, so Penn State got out to a huge early lead (28-7) by the time Ramsey took over midway through the second quarter.

Despite the game situation, Indiana went from a pass-first offense to a more varied attack featuring Ramsey's legs on read options and QB draws. Ramsey is about as athletic as MSU's Brian Lewerke, though a little less shifty. He'll make you pay if you leave a lane open but he's not doing much more than heading straight upfield and sliding when defenders arrive. He gets a six.

Indiana uses him as a runner quite a lot—he has 47 non-sack rushes and 89 passes, and last week in his first action as a full-time starter he ran 16 times against Charleston Southern. Ellison also got 16 carries as Indiana trundled to 3.6 YPC against an FCS school.

Indiana will spread Michigan out and try to take advantage of six-on-six or even seven-on-six in the box, and while there's always the possibility of a breakdown they should mostly get slaughtered.

KEY MATCHUP: MO HURST vs HIS OWN UFR RECORD. Indiana has an interior line similar to MSU's.   

Pass Defense vs Indiana


Cobbs is a true #1

This segment will be more interesting largely because of Simmie Cobbs. As anyone who watched Cobbs turn Denzel Ward into a corncob for the better part of a half in IU's opener against OSU knows, dude can catch some footballs. At a sinuous 6'4", Cobbs is a guy who's open even when he's covered and will provide a challenge for whoever is covering him.

Unfortunately for Indiana, Cobbs has kind of fallen out of the downfield offense due to QB and OL issues. His catch rate of 69% is very nice; a yards per catch of 11.2 is in the possession receiver range for a guy who is emphatically better than that. Indiana has not been able to activate him downfield sufficiently. Ramsey doesn't look like he's going to change that much. Despite a completion rate near 70%, Ramsey's averaging just over six yards an attempt.

Tight end Ian Thomas has picked up some of the slack there. Ace:

I was also impressed by tight end Ian Thomas, a redshirt junior who's solidified a TE position so weak last year that senior returning starter Danny Friend, listed at 260 pounds, was moved to offensive tackle over the offseason, the football equivalent of putting a player out to pasture. Thomas was one of IU's more effective run-blockers against PSU; he had one Wheatley-like block that caved in the backside of the line to open up a cutback on an inside zone, and they feature him as a blocker in frequently deployed split zone runs.

Thomas is also an excellent receiver. He's averaging 15.9 yards per reception while catching a shade under 70% of his targets. As those numbers indicate, he's much more than an underneath dumpoff option. He can work up the seam, and he can also haul in some really difficult catches:

<--------- Thomas was running this way and turned at full speed to catch this.

Thomas got leg-whipped in the knee against Penn State and sat out last week, but he's listed as probable for Saturday. If he's close to full speed, he's a major threat.

The rest of the IU passing offense has been dire. Their slot Luke Timian has 36 targets and is averaging 3.9 YPT, which is incredibly horrible. Donovan Hale, who is also a 6'4" downfield threat, has flashed some things in a Cobbs vein but had just seven catches this year and might be iffy to play here. Thomas and Hale both sat out the Charleston game. A true freshman is going to start if Hale can't go.

This is going to be a dink and dunk attack that tries to limit its OL's impact on the game. That early OSU game got out of hand when the Buckeyes adjusted to the quick fade routes Cobbs was killing it on; robbed of the ability to go get chunk plays based on a 1-v-1 matchup Indiana's OL got more involved and got killed. Indiana's sack rate is about average nationally largely because the Hoosiers are gameplanning around their OL.

This should feel like the MSU or Purdue games, where the opposition gets some stuff via gameplan and the occasional contested ball downfield that goes the wrong way but struggles to pass protect and execute cleanly enough underneath.

KEY MATCHUP: SIMMIE COBBS vs EVERYBODY. Cobbs is not just Indiana's biggest threat but a bellwether for emerging star Lavert Hill.

Special Teams

K Griffin Oakes has been around a million years, oscillating. In 2015 he was 24/29 and the #31 kicker in the country per Connelly. Last year he imploded, going 16/26 and finishing 110th. So far this year he's 5/5 on a bunch of long ones. He's not a lock, but I wouldn't expect him to miss anything from 45 in. Oakes is 50/50 on getting KOs to the endzone. Saquon Barkley housed the opening kickoff of the Penn State game, a fact which has zero relevance to Michigan.

Punter Haydon Whitehead—good lord, are these specialists or guys in an Ivy League a capella group?—averages 40 yards a boot and has given up only seven returns on 36 punts. A return opportunity is going to be a rare one.

Michigan will have to be more careful on punts than they have been so far this year. PR J-Shun Harris already has two return TDs. He's also lost a muff, so explosions are possible either direction. Kickoffs have been boring.




"debord cat"

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • The ball is in the air headed towards a single-covered Cobbs downfield.
  • O'Korn is MSU O'Korn, not Indiana O'Korn.
  • The ball is in the air headed towards Not Grant Perry.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Indiana opens up with a zone stretch left.
  • Michigan's able to grind 'em up on the ground for, yes, a second week running.
  • Oakes and Whitehead perform the same song for the second straight year and the judges hate it.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for About Last Week's Offense, –1 for About Last Week's Defense, –1 for Mike Debord Versus Don Brown, –1 for LET ME REPEAT THAT: MIKE DEBORD VS DON BROWN, +1 for Spreads Creepin' Down Here Folks, –1 for Trench Battle Will Be A Blowout On One Side And Maybe OK On The Other, +1 for Anything Could Happen At QB.)

Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; –1 for Offense In A Coma, It's Really Serious, +1 for I Mean We're Not Out Of It Yet, +1 for Oh God The Fanbase Meltdown, +1 for And Then I Have To Go On  The Radio, –1 for I Have Accepted This Is A Rebuilding Year, +1 for Until The First Time Michigan Doesn't Convert A Third Down, +1 for Losing To Michigan Classic, Except Crappy Would Just Be Ugh).

Loss will cause me to... get 342 gloating twitter mentions from incognito DeBord family members, all of which I will CC Ace on.

Win will cause me to... attempt to talk myself into winning at Happy Valley.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Rock fight!

Indiana has a good defense. Michigan has a yowling maelstrom from the bowels of hell, and that should make the difference unless the football gods decide that they hate Michigan more than they hate Indiana, who they do hate quite a bit. Indiana has been smitten with turnovers like Michigan.

Cobbs will get his, but it'll be tough, and if Michigan can just punt to win their ability to move it on the ground in small increments should have field position tilt in their favor as they club out a win. Or they'll turn it over five times. One of the two.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:


  • Karan Higdon has a 100 yard game with a long of 15.
  • Rashan Gary gets the sack denied him last week.
  • Michigan twitter turns into a medusa of hissing when they show Debord in the box and then melts into a puppy when they subsequently show Mike Hart. They pretend Nick Sheridan didn't happen.
  • Michigan, 19-9


Chitown Kev

October 6th, 2017 at 4:15 PM ^

I don't care what the weather is...MSU's offense could get outscored by Michigan's defense and/or special Michigan's offense, OTOH...

Michigan 28 Michigan State 6

kevin holt

October 6th, 2017 at 3:31 PM ^

I think he was hedging optimism due to weather and knowing this is an odd rivalry. But also O'Korn could have 300 yards giving us 3 TDs along with a lot of long drives that stall---that's 22 points and definitely possible if we cant run.


October 6th, 2017 at 3:15 PM ^

This is the game in which we find out if Harbaugh and co. were calling vanilla plays deliberately.

Put another way:

I am not worried about Don Brown downloading MSU's offense.

I am extremely worried about setting downs on fire trying to run up the middle. There's a reason that STOP RUNNING INSIDE AGAINST FLORIDA'S DEFENSE is now an automatic suggestion on my phone...


October 6th, 2017 at 3:55 PM ^

has been holding back on offense, but I think we will have some new wrinkles in the offense that Sparty has not seen yet and it will open things up a little more for us. Dantonio pulls out all the stops when he plays us, I expect we will give him a dose of his own medicine tomorrow night.  I too also don't think their offense will have much success against out defense and not be able to put up many points. 

I think UM wins like 27-10 with the game really not even being that close.

I Like Burgers

October 6th, 2017 at 4:05 PM ^

I don't think Harbaugh is a kind of guy that calls stuff vanilla intentionally.  This whole blog thought they were doing that with the PepCat package last year saving the good plays for Ohio State.

And then it turned out that package was just terrible and there never was a hidden second level to it.

Sometimes when its vanilla, its because that's the only flavor available.


October 6th, 2017 at 4:57 PM ^

when we were in a "break-glass-in-case-of-emergency" situation and it was crushed because we didn't know how to counter the most obvious scrapes the defense would try.

So we sort of did "save" extensive use of it for a close game. Problem is, it didn't work.  So of course we didn't see it anymore.

I get the sense that we would have liked to save more of our TE mesh plays until later than Purdue, but had to break them out to help JOK out with those plays that were sure to spring an open guy if the defense hadn't prepped for it.

Everyone Murders

October 6th, 2017 at 5:11 PM ^

PepCat wasn't vanilla - that's an affront to vanilla. 

PepCat was more like unseasoned uncooked soft tofu that you get at a cafeteria as a salad topping.  It looks alright sitting in the [tub at the salad bar cut into small cubes][playbook as an option to use Peppers's great athletic ability], but when you put it on the [salad][field] it is bland, uninspiring, and makes you wonder why you keep [putting it on an otherwise fine salad][running that play for 1.5 yards]. 

And it leaves you wishing you had done something to spice it up, mixing in a [bit of Tabasco][option/flea-flicker/etc.] to spice that shit up.


October 6th, 2017 at 6:12 PM ^

I don't know. The first evens TD was a new flavor off the toss sweep.
At the half of that game my wife went to the Michigan football Facebook page and everyone was torching harbaugh for being so transparent with that play by the formation. I told her he has plays to counter them attacking the pitch but have not used any besides the very basic counter. Then he runs a toss with the TE showing counter pull action and the outside defenders ran themselves out of the play because they were for sure it was toss sweep because that's all they have shown.
Add in the fact that both offensive and defensive players said before the Purdue game they have not opened up either playbook yet, and it's a young team, I think they are holding plays back.


October 6th, 2017 at 5:11 PM ^

mostly because that'll mean the basic stuff is working.  Seth mentioned it on the podcast, but that's what we haven't executed well.  There is a reason we made the switch to a heavy inside zone team.  Unless it's all been some weird plan to work on what we're bad at, I can't imagine that we didn't go into improvement work with the intention of getting better at those plays.

And I have to think we'll at least test whether we did get better at those plays. Obvioulsy, we'll have a ton of contingency stuff and won't stick with the basics (like Iowa did) if they get stuffed, but I hope we crush them with what we want to run and don't even have to get very exotic.

To your point about Florida, our RBs ran for 220 yards on 5.5 ypc.  We crushed them in the second half.  If running inside sets up your counters and cutbacks such that you have that kind of success we had against Florida, I'm all for it. 

This staff will have a good gameplan.


October 6th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

I would hate to be an opponent's offensive staff:

"So we're gonna double Hurst"
"Of course"
"And we're gonna double Gary"
"Sounds good so far"
"And we're gonna double Winovich"
"Wait what now??'
"And we're gonna keep the back in to block Bush"
"I mean, in a perfect world..."
"And we're gonna chip whoever's the Viper on each play"

"Dammit man there's only so many guys on the field"
"So, single block on Hurst?"
"Are you crazy?!"
"Single block on Gary"
"Fuck that"
"Single block on Winovich?"
"No. Hell no."
"Look, just tell me who you want hitting the QB"

"Sigh...well, if it's Winovich the QB might live through it..."
"And Bush."
"What the hell?! No"
"So we don't need a running back in the flat?"
"Sigh...let Bush through...and update my resume for me...

Durham Blue

October 6th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

After last season's 4th quarter debacle I vow to NEVER AGAIN bet Michigan minus the points against MSU.  Weird shit always happens in this game.  The final score is usually weird too.  IDK, weirdness and gambling are not a good match.

Magnum P.I.

October 6th, 2017 at 3:24 PM ^

Get ready for a close one. State will get a few scores, and we will not be able to run the ball at all. I anticipate an ugly game, especially if the weather's bad. A lot is riding on O'Korn staying composed amidst pressure and making quick, easy throws. 


October 6th, 2017 at 3:28 PM ^

I really hope the bad weather holds off. Wind and rain can lessan the talent gap a ton. I don't want any outside factors that could throw off our holding onto and throwing the ball. If the weather is alright, I can't see this being all that close. 


October 6th, 2017 at 3:31 PM ^

Yeah, weather is going to fuck this game up majorly.  I'm banking on a coinflip rockfight that I really really hope UM comes up on.  If the weather were nice, I'd be pretty confident in UM.  But UM needs the passing game, and the weather is going to kill that.  I'm guessing whatever the cool stuff UM was coming up with on offense gets washed out by wind and rain and we end up eating a bunch of TFLs.  Hopefully MSUs couple of trick plays aren't enough to put them past UM.


October 6th, 2017 at 3:59 PM ^

is as bad as some people think it will be, this is going to be an ugly game.  I don't see either team having much success running the ball, and from the sounds of the weather, it's not going to be good conditions for throwing the ball.  It'll be a battle of field position and whichever side wins the punting game might be the winner.

yossarians tree

October 6th, 2017 at 5:09 PM ^

As of right now the forecast is calling for rain coming in during the first half, with heavier stuff possible in the second half. My scheme would definitely involve trying to open the offense up right away and try to get ahead in the first half. Let's not waste half the game feeling them out. We know what they are going to try to do anyway. Foot on the gas early and get some points.