Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
What: (14) Michigan Wolverines (7-2, 4-1) at Indiana Hoosiers 4-5 (0-5)
When: Saturday, November 14 at 3:30
Where: Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana
How to Watch: The game will be broadcast on either ABC or ESPN2. You can also listen to the game on the IU Radio Network.
What’s at Stake: The Michigan Wolverines still have a chance to win the B1G East (they need to win out and have Michigan State lose one more conference game) and they are definitely still playing for a New Year’s Day bowl game. Most projections currently have the Wolverines playing in the Citrus Bowl or the Outback Bowl. The Hoosiers still need two victories to gain bowl-eligibility. This game seems like a very unlikely one to pull off the upset (this is the largest point spread the Hoosiers have been up against this season) but it would be incredibly helpful because the final two games are on the road.
Senior Day Festivities: IU will honor senior player and their families during pregame. IU is also hosting “Scout Day” and Boy Scouts will have a chance to form the Champions Tunnel on the field. In addition, there will be an indoor campout inside Mellencamp Pavilion on Friday evening.
A Few Things to Look For
1. Moving the Ball Against the “Immovable Object”
The Michigan defense has been as good as any unit, offense or defense, in the country. The Wolverines are surrendering only 11.9 points per game (first in the country) and most advanced statistics models have them ranked as the top defense nationally. Michigan is third against the rush and 13th against the pass. Both Michigan State and Minnesota were able to move the ball effectively against the Wolverines but they righted the ship last week and shut down Rutgers. The defense is led by the linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden (both with 40+ tackles) and the safety duo of Jarrod Wilson and Jabril Peppers. Chris Wormley and Willie Henry are both extremely disruptive and the IU offensive line will need to prevent them from breaking into the backfield and creating negative plays.
A look back at the box scores of their B1G games should frighten any IU fan. They surrendered only 105 yards to Maryland in a shutout victory. They obliterated Northwestern 38-0 and held them to 168 yards. Rutgers managed 16 first half points but they were shutout in the second half and only 225 total yards. The bright spot is that IU can watch film of two teams that have had success against this defense. Michigan State gained nearly 400 yards and Minnesota shockingly racked up 461 yards including 4.1 yards per rush. On the whole though, this is a dominant defense. IU’s receivers can’t drop the ball, the Hoosiers can’t dig themselves holes with negative plays and they are going to have to execute at a very high-level just to put points on the board.
2. An Emerging Offense
Michigan’s offense has improved throughout the season because Jake Rudock has gotten more comfortable. The running game has always been pretty solid but the passing attack was extremely limited for the majority of the first part of the season. However, Jake Rudock has taken much better care of the ball lately and he’s connecting with his receiving options for some big plays and they are efficiently moving the ball. The passing attack is now ranked 27th in S&P+ and Jake Rudock is completing 62.8% of his passes. Amara Darboh is the top receiver but Jake Butt is probably the weapon that Hoosier fans should be most worried about. Harbaugh may chuckle like a minion while saying his last name but he’s become a great option in the passing game and the best tight end in the B1G.
3. Third Down
As I wrote earlier, Michigan is the top defense in the country. This is due to many factors but one of the primary reasons for their success is their ability to get stops on third down. They are second in the country in third down conversion defense, surrendering a first down on only 21.8% of third downs. For comparison’s sake, IU is allowing a first down on 45.2% of third downs (110th in the country).
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines are converting on 42.3% of their third downs (42nd in the country) while the Hoosiers are only converting 38.2% of third downs (80th). IU was much better on third down against Iowa (8-17). That’s encouraging and it will be needed once again. IU will need to get themselves into favorable third downs (on defense, that means forcing Michigan into obvious passing situations/on offense, that means getting into third and short and handing the ball to Jordan Howard) and then execute at a high-level. Anything short of being very good on both sides of the ball on third down will prevent Indiana from having a chance on Saturday.
4. Jabrill Peppers: Three-Way Star
Jabrill Peppers was a highly-hyped recruit that has begun to fully justify the buzz surrounding his arrival in Ann Arbor. Peppers arrived in Ann Arbor before last season and has since been used primarily as a safety. He has also lined up as a boundary corner in some defensive formations, has developed into a dangerous returner on special teams and is now being used situationally on offense. Last week, he took a bubble screen for a touchdown run that was as impressive as anything a receiver or running back could do.
“The move he made and then the way he weaved himself through there,” Jim Harbaugh told reporters, “I knew he was good but he’s really good. I thought there was not another rung to go on the ladder. There is. He found another rung to go even higher.” Peppers played more than 90 snaps against Minnesota and he’s developed into Michigan’s most dangerous player and IU will need to be careful of him every time he gets near the ball because he can change the game every time he touches it.
Stay tuned to Hoosier Huddle for more excellent coverage of this week’s matchup. We’ll have multiple preview pieces and the best post-game coverage you’ll find anywhere.