|WHAT||Michigan at Indiana|
|WHERE||Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, October 2nd 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –10.5|
high 60s, partly cloudy
0% chance of rain
It's tough to get a read on IU because their first three opponents are somewhere between horrible and horrible:
- Towson is a 1-3 I-AA team with a single 5OT win over Coastal Carolina. They just lost to an Ivy League team by two touchdowns.
- Western Kentucky is 0-16 in its second year in I-A and lost 63-28 to Kentucky.
- Akron is 0-4 after losing to 2-2 I-AA school Gardner-Webb and 47-10 to Kentucky.
I watched a torrent of the WKU game to get educated. Their opponents are not only winless against I-A competition, they're 1-3 against I-AA. The bye week may have been their toughest test. All stats except crappy ones should be taken with a grain of salt. Speaking of crappy stats…
Run Offense vs Indiana
(truth and justice @ right via MZone.)
Despite the competition level, Indiana is 92nd in rushing defense. This is suck on a truly epic level:
Akron managed 55 yards against Syracuse, Towson 87 against Columbia. Sacks make that better but I can't be bothered to figure out exactly how much given the incredible weakness of IU opponents and IU's incredible weakness against them. Once the crappiness reaches a second derivative I'm done parsing sacks.
The upshot: Indiana could be on track for a historically bad run defense. They are giving up 5.2 YPC according to the sacks-included NCAA numbers—106th nationally—against those guys. It's so bad that the local beat writer offers up a… C-:
RUSH DEFENSE: After watching the Towson quarterback run wild, then a good back from Western Kentucky have a good first quarter against the Hoosiers, and then Akron gain 160 yards rushing, there’s only one question that keeps coming to my mind: How is the team going to stop Michigan or Ohio State or Wisconsin or (fill in your Big Ten team here). Missing Tyler Replogle had to hurt Saturday but this is a unit that needs to improve in a hurry. I think the Hoosiers have some good players up front but someone needs to start tackling better. GRADE: C-
What would Indiana have to do to get an F from Terry Hutchens? By the looks of it, picking tailbacks up on a palanquin and escorting them into the endzone would warrant a D, maybe a D+ if they looked unhappy about it.
Michigan will shred them mercilessly. After 466 yards against Bowling Green at 8.3 YPC Michigan is now second nationally in rushing offense behind only Air Force. They are second to Nebraska in YPC. There is zero chance Indiana can even slow down Michigan's ground game unless penalties intervene; a day much like that Michigan had against BGSU, where passing was an optional sidelight and it took a turnover or a comedy of errors to prevent a touchdown drive, beckons.
The only things that can stop the donkeytrain are crappy execution by Michigan and the return of linebacker Tyler Replogle, one of Indiana's best defensive players, from injury. The former is always a possibility since football is weird; the latter will help IU but probably not enough. When this is the best Indiana folk can muster…
Also, I would note that Robinson has thrown 80 passes and has run the ball 79 times this season, and so far he’s thrown one interception and has not lost a fumble. Of course, that means he’s really good, but even for a really good player, those numbers are unsustainable. Perhaps his luck will take a turn for the worse against IU. I realize that hope is not a strategy, but given Robinson’s ability and IU’s defense, it’s all I’ve got.
…a firebombing is on the horizon. The Mathlete says so, too.
It is worth noting that both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw are doubtful for Saturday. Toussaint has not been a factor so far and his absence won't have much impact, but Shaw has been the better half of Michigan's two-headed tailback and losing him forces Michigan to rely on a seemingly damaged Vincent Smith or a couple guys who haven't seen much playing time yet.
I have an unconfirmed report that Mike Cox is going to start Saturday, though in this offense that just means he'll get half the carries for the tailbacks and a quarter of the overall carries. He has flashed an impressive size-speed combo and great balance in limited time, but he also completely biffed an assignment when he ran out to block when he was supposed to take a handoff off tackle (note: the UFR mistakenly attributed this to Shaw), which completely lives up to his scouting report.
Key matchup: Tailbacks versus ball security. Ball not on turf == touchdown. Shaw out == increased possibility of ball on turf.
Pass Offense vs Indiana
So the good news is that the Hoosiers are 20th in pass defense and 43rd in efficiency. Woo! However, they did this against teams ranked 114th, 95th, and 56th in I-AA in passing efficiency. Michigan is 11th in that category. Given the horror show their run defense is, Michigan is all but guaranteed to have the luxury of passing when it wants and sucking linebackers out of position when they duly freak out about Denard or whoever else is gashing them. Michigan will pass to keep 'em honest and to stick the dagger in.
Indiana returns one starter from last year's secondary in corner Donnell Jones. Mitchell Evans, who you may remember as a receiver and part-time wildcat QB from a year ago, is the starting strong safety—he's a position switch starter, and a desperate one. On the line they lost their excellent defensive ends and replace them with short (like six-foot short) guys who haven't done much in their careers to date. Their defensive tackles are happy just to stay in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage. They're playing Denard Robinson, who will murderize you if you get out of a rush lane. He'll have as much time as he wants to throw.
This section is short. We have little information on Indiana since the QBs they've gone against have been horrible and Michigan is going to run lots and lots. But the stats here are deceiving, as Michigan's highly efficient passing attack goes against a team that's way worse on paper than their stats to date suggest. They haven't been tested by anything approximating Denard and the Michigan receivers are likely to steadily bleed yardage with one to three explosive plays mixed in when play action burns them.
Key matchup: Denard versus Tendency to Chuck Seams on a Line. Here, too, it will be a matter of executing cleanly and taking the many opportunities the Indiana defense offers.
Run Defense vs Indiana
This looks like it sucks when it comes to raw yardage, too, but part of that is atrophy. While IU is 96th in overall yardage, here they're 72nd—almost average—in YPC. That's still completely horrible given their schedule, which features the 86th, 92nd, 102nd (in I-AA) best rushing defenses in the country despite playing run-averse Indiana.
I took in the Western Kentucky game and while the Hoosier pass offense was genuinely impressive, that's another section. The run game was not so good. Some of WKU's defensive tackles were tiny, yo, and Indiana's OL still had trouble moving them. IU ended up with 108 yards on 30 carries, with most of those coming on jet sweeps or outside runs on which WKU inexplicably passed on even the vague idea of containment. Primary tailback Darius Willis, who you may remember from last year's emasculating faster-than-our-secondary 85-yarder, managed 30 yards on 13 carries. He's done better in the other two games, probably thanks in no part to the offensive line. The team hasn't really: IU had 102 yards on 25 carries, sacks and kneeldowns excluded, against an Akron team that was gashed for 290 by Kentucky and 202 by Syracuse.
The Mathlete calls this a "pillow fight" and that's fair after Michigan was gashed for almost 100 yards by two separate UMass tailbacks, but I expect this area to be closer to the Bowling Green outcome than that since Jonas Mouton's played well in three of four games, Obi Ezeh has done decently in two and much better than he did against UMass in all, and frankly I'm willing to bet that a transfer-enriched UMass backfield and line is at least Indiana's equivalent. Willis should average about 3 YPC except on the one run that someone busts an assignment on; hopefully that goes for 20 yards instead of 85.
Key matchup: Michigan's heavy package versus short yardage. I'm not sure a third and two is a running down for Indiana after what's gone down so far this season, but they'll probably regard it as one. Each third and short is an opportunity to boot IU off the field and let the offense hold serve.
Pass Defense vs Indiana
This is where it breaks down for Michigan. Western Kentucky busted coverages periodically and never really challenged Indiana receivers even when they had the right assignments, and Chappell had all day to throw. But caveats aside, Chappell was 32 of 42 for 366 yards and three touchdowns and a large number of these passes were accurate downfield zingers. Even if WKU made it easy, Indiana can really execute their passing game and they have far more talent than UMass and their QB's 22 of 29 day did. I love Michigan's receivers and I'd think about trading for Indiana's straight up. Seriously. I wouldn't do it because of the insane rootability factor Roundtree, Stonum, and Odoms have, but I'd think about it. And Michigan has trouble against teams that can execute and stuff.
The one uncertainty in an Indiana offense that returns a bunch of starters is the offensive line, which is down a second-round pick and could not get any push at all in their first three games. They've kept Chappell clean so far, but they'll be facing an enormous step up in quality when facing Mike Martin, Craig Roh, and Jonas Mouton. Michigan hasn't put up many sacks thanks to an awful lot of three man rushes and some missed opportunities; they're kind of better than Akron's dudes, I'm guessing.
A positive for the Michigan defense: Chappell does not roll out much, something that's been a struggle for M. He was lethal when provided time to throw (which was almost always) against WKU; Michigan needs to get him rolling and uncomfortable. I expect them to alternate between three- and six-man pressures like they have most of the year, with a focus on getting IU into any third down possible and banking on their erratic run game to see the punter (or field goal kicker hit the field). Second and ten is a guaranteed eight-man zone.
One thing to watch for here is how often Michigan goes to the nickel and dime packages it deployed on passing downs last week. The bet here is we see Courtney Avery as much or more than the Thomas Gordon/Carvin Johnson spur combo, which has been solid against the run but indifferent in coverage. Terrence Talbott will appear on third and long, as well, and Michigan will test those tackles with the "rush" line.
Key matchup: Eight man zone drops versus big chunk plays. Michigan's gameplan to date has featured a ton of three-man rushes paired with eight man zones, so they'll probably do it again this weekend. The key there is to get to the QB with some regularity and cover the deep seams and corners, forcing checkdowns and putting IU in a lot of third downs that they aren't particularly likely to convert on the ground.
This is slightly less guh than last week, though not because of anything the kickers did. When not watching they were kicking extra points and leaving kickoffs as short as they usually do; Will Hagerup didn't get to punt even once.
The improvement came in the punt return game, where a new formation featuring three returners spread across the field saw Michigan field all but one punt and get decent returns on three or four. If Indiana uses a spread package (and Blue Seoul says they do) Michigan will keep that going, which has the potential to improve Michigan's average net by ten or more yards.
Hagerup should pull out of his Frankly Mr. Shankly phase sooner or later, hopefully sooner. His net on punts that he actually gets off isn't as bad as it seems without looking. If Michigan loses yards versus Indiana in the punt game it won't be many unless Hagerup drops another one. That's unlikely.
Indiana, on the other hand, has strong return units. They're second nationally on kick returns, something that combines with Michigan's tendency to drop line drives at the ten in a nasty way. A mitigating factor: if you think the guys on Towson, WKU, and Akron's offense and defense are not I-A caliber athletes, the special teams are another level of wobbly weeble. IU's kicker was iffy last year, going 14/25. He missed the first couple games, allowing a freshman to take over and hit two of three.
With offenses going up and down the field the most important bits here should be kickoff returns and field goal kickers; both are advantage IU.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
This one's on the verge of no cat because it's a double digit spread, but when you've got this picture…
…and these offenses are going up against these defenses we'll bend the rules.
- A confused Michael Cox runs the wrong way and fumbles explosively.
- The field goal kicker makes multiple appearances.
- Denard ends up in another crumbled heap, temporary or not.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan's three-man rush is tearing through the Indiana line.
- Indiana's run defense turns out to really be that inept, which it probably will.
- A Michigan safety manages to not lose a fumble on his interception.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline 5; –1 for Denard!, –1 for Indiana's Run Defense!, –1 for The Combination Of The Two!, +3 for Chappell!, Michigan D!, Combination All Reverse Like!, –1 for Michigan Is Not The Lollipop Guild Of IU's Schedule To Date, –1 for I'm Giving Denard Another One, If You Don't Like It Try To Stop It Oh That's Right You Can't, –1 for Michigan's Passing Offense Is The Hidden Extra Mismatch.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Is The Last Really Long Winning Streak To Our Name, +1 for If We're Not Thumperating A Team With This Run Defense The Boding Is Not So Good, +1 Rabble Rabble Just Like Last Year Rabble, +1 for It's Indiana, +1 for Constant Rodriguez Job Rescue Program)
Loss will cause me to... make more use of an open bar at a wedding than anyone short of Andre The Giant ever has.
Win will cause me to... make moderate use of open bar at wedding.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Chappell was good against Michigan last year, returns all his receivers, and has complete control of the offense. Indiana did lose their NFL-worthy left tackle but returns most of an offensive line that was good in pass protection last year. They're going to move the ball. However, their run game has been poor against a ridiculously soft schedule and when it comes down to the redzone IU is going to have to make some tight throws or hope to catch Michigan off guard—that offensive line couldn't crease Western Kentucky, they're not doing much with Martin and Van Bergen unless they're caught pass-rushing. This points to a lot of frustrating drives, a lot of red zone opportunities, some touchdowns, and a number of field goal attempts. Holding them under thirty would be good, and should be possible if Michigan successfully bends down the field.
On the other side of the ball… come on. Indiana lost every talented player not named Replogle from last year's already-terrible defense and is near triple digits in run defense despite playing what might literally be the worst possible schedule available. No one on this defense is ready for Denard and Michigan's ass-kicking offensive line. The difference in skill and speed from Akron to Michigan will leave Indiana in a state of shock for most of the first half. A Michigan drive that doesn't end in the endzone is 80% likely to come up short because of failed execution by M and penalties, and it's a lot harder to fail to execute on the ground than in the air.
Red zone efficiency will be the difference, and Michigan leads the nation in that category against a much tougher schedule than #48 Indiana. Michigan can stiffen inside the 20; Indiana can only watch Michigan grind it into the endzone. If Michigan loses they will have suffered a torrent of penalties and a turnover margin of at least –2.
Finally, five opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard goes over 200 yards rushing again.
- Mike Cox gets more carries than any other tailback; RAGING COX threatens to overwhelm all memes ever for juvenility.
- Hagerup punts twice.
- Michigan is again positive in turnover margin.
- Michigan, 44-27.