Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
The Indiana Hoosiers football program has improved dramatically in the past couple of seasons. The facilities have modernized, the players are developing well, recruiting is increasing and the defense has gone from woeful to downright stingy. However, IU still has not been able to snag that one big “scalp” by knocking off a traditional power and notching a landmark victory. Tom Allen had his first crack at it in the season opener but the Hoosiers faded late and fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Two weeks ago, they dug themselves a huge hole against Penn State and lost to the Nittany Lions. Perhaps their best chance to wrestle a win from a blue blood program in 2017 comes this Saturday as the Indiana Hoosiers (3-2, 0-2) host the #16 Michigan Wolverines (4-1, 1-1) for Homecoming. The contest kicks at noon and will be broadcast live by ABC and Tom Allen knows his team must be prepared for a physical, defensive struggle that will test them for 60 minutes.
“They are very in the core, really modified their system to match their personnel and different than last year,” Allen said of Michigan’s defense. “They create a lot of havoc, a lot of movement, that’s why they create a lot of sacks, more so than even last year at this time. We’re number two in three and outs and they’re number one. So you got the top two teams in the country defensively in three and outs coming to play on Saturday. Coach (Don) Brown is there, he’s one of the best, he truly is. We definitely will have a tremendous challenge offensively, but that’s what you want, that’s what you have.”
IU will again turn to Peyton Ramsey to lead their attack and solve the Michigan defense. The redshirt freshman made his first career start last week against Charleston Southern and excelled in throwing the football and making the occasional play with his legs. Overall, Tom Allen was pleased with the offense but knows they will need to be even sharper to have a chance against the maize and blue.
“I felt like he (Ramsey) did a good job of running the offense, distributing the football, making good decisions, got a lot of guys involved, a lot of different guys catching the ball. I felt like he missed a couple reads on his run reads to where he can give it or pull it and he’ll get better at that the more he does it. He needs to continue, when he decides to run it, run it. He’s been good at that and I think that’s something that as the play continues to elevate and the opponent elevates real quickly here on Saturday, you have to make those quick decisions,” Allen said.
While there was plenty to be encouraged about from the performance against Charleston Southern and optimism surrounding the Ramsey-led offense is understandably high, the Hoosiers have had seven turnovers in the past two games and fumbling against the Wolverines could be a fatal blow. Both teams are battling injury issues at multiple key positions. Michigan will be without quarterback Wilton Speight for the remainder of the season and John O’Korn is expected to get the start despite struggling mightily against Michigan State. IU is expecting to get tight end Ian Thomas and defensive tackle Nate Hoff back from injury but guys like Marcelino Ball, J-Shun Harris, Donavan Hale and A’Shon Riggins continue to be questionable.
The Wolverines have dominated this series, winning 21 in a row dating back to 1988. That kind of repeated superiority is difficult to get past but changing things like that is what Tom Allen has worked so hard to do since he became the head coach. He feels his squad has worked and prepared for an opportunity like this and they are ready to embrace the challenge in front of them on Saturday.
“I think I’ve been pretty clear about what break through means to me and it’s an attitude, it’s a mindset, it’s an expectation. I’ve said that many times. It is created over time. You have to create that. It doesn’t happen through talking about it, you have to live it, you have to experience it, and to me I’m a guy that goes back and studies history, and we haven’t beaten Michigan in 30 years. We have beaten them twice in 50 years. I understand the history. The bottom line is that how do you break through that from our perspective and to me we have laid that out. It’s about doing the little things, our one word for this week is confidence. And to me preparation creates confidence. And I’ve said that ever since I got here, that’s not going to change…tremendous challenge and opportunity wrapped up into one. That to me is what this is about and I told our team, break through is going to happen. The “when” is up to them.”
A homecoming crowd will be in Bloomington on Saturday and a national television audience will be watching. Will Indiana find a way to do what is necessary to end a losing streak that is older than the young men on the field? Will the Hoosiers find a way to make the plays necessary to come out on top and break through? Or, will this be yet another chapter in the growing book of Michigan victories over the cream and crimson? Tom Allen knows there will eventually be a break through. He believes it with every fiber of his being. IU fans hope the players are ready to make “eventually” happen this Saturday.