September 25, 2009

Scouting report: Previewing Michigan-Indiana

As the Big Ten season commences this Saturday, Michigan and Indiana are both eager to take another big step forward. Each 3-0, a win would further prove their candidacy among the conference elite. How do they match up? And who comes out on top? We take a look

GAME FACTS
What: Indiana at Michigan.
When: Sept. 26, 12:00 p.m., in Ann Arbor.
Radio-TV: The game will be televised nationally by ESPN2. Pam Ward will handle the play-by-play with Ray Bentley serving as the color analyst. The contest will be carried by the Michigan Sports Network (104.3 FM) and its 38 affiliates.
History: Michigan leads the series with Indiana, 50-9.
Last Meeting: Michigan 34, Indiana 3, 2006.
Coaches: Michigan: Rich Rodriguez (6-9, second season). Indiana: Bill Lynch (13-15, third season).
Indiana Notes: This is the first meeting between the two programs at Michigan Stadium since 2005 IU has trailed for only 5:38 in 180 minutes this season, outscoring its rivals 22-14 in the first quarter and 53-31 through 30 minutes of play The Hoosiers have lost 15 in a row to Michigan, dating back to 1988 - the longest active losing streak of any U-M opponent Following two years of construction, the 138,000-square foot North End Zone Student-Athlete Development Center has been finished.
MATCHUPS
Matchup
Analysis
Winner
Michigan's
Pass Protection

Vs.

Indiana's
Pass Rush
It may be difficult for opposing fans to acknowledge, but in senior defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew, Indiana has two of the Big Ten's best pass rushers. Are they as good as Michigan's Brandon Graham? At least one NFL Draft evaluator we spoke to this week thinks Middleton will challenge Graham for the first Big Ten DE taken next April. U-M's starting tackles, Mark Ortmann and Mark Huyge, have not struggled in pass protection this fall but they have not faced talent like they will Saturday. Add in the uncertainty over what the line will look like and Indiana has the edge, for now.



Indiana's
Pass Protection

Vs.

Michigan's
Pass Rush
This has been the kind of matchup that would make Michigan's front seven drool. Indiana has never boasted a top offensive line and has always struggled blocking the Maize and Blue. However, U-M's pass rush has not been very effective this season. The Wolverines rank dead last in the Big Ten with three quarterback takedowns. They've been close to about five more sacks but close doesn't show up in the stats. Michigan must find a way to dial up more pressure consistently, without having to blitz.



PUSH

Michigan's
Rush Offense

Vs.

Indiana's
Rush Defense
The Wolverines rank third nationally in rushing with 270.7 yards per game and enter play fresh off a 380-yard performance. Despite their success, the Maize and Blue will face some questions this week after juggling the offensive line in the absence of injured center David Molk. Indiana also boasts one of the best rush defenses, listing 15th nationally at 76.00 yards per game. Of course, the Hoosiers haven't been tested by a competent ground game and while they feature stout run defenders in the front seven, Michigan is playing too well to be stopped.



Indiana's
Rush Offense

Vs.

Michigan's
Rush Defense
Sophomore left guard Justin Pagan's return to the lineup in week two (he had been out due to injury) has coincided with a strong rushing attack for the Hoosiers. IU has averaged 183.5 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry the past two weeks as Indiana utilizes ball carriers Demetrius McCray and Trea Burgess. Michigan's rush defense has had serious problems the past two weeks, allowing 154 yards to Notre Dame and 179 to Eastern Michigan. U-M ranks 54th nationally, allowing 123.7 yards per contest, and has to prove it has the answers before winning this category again.


Michigan's
Pass Offense

Vs.

Indiana's
Pass Defense
Indiana's greatest defensive weakness is its backfield. In fact, the Hoosiers were so desperate for help in the secondary they moved starting wide receiver Ray Fisher to cornerback in the spring. Fisher has played well, relying on his athleticism to make plays. Redshirt sophomore Donnell Jones is also back at corner after missing the first three games. In Fisher and Jones, IU feels it has two competent covermen. That remains to be seen against good competition. Michigan's pass offense wasn't a factor a week ago but didn't need to be. This Saturday, the Wolverines will look to prey on an opponent that cannot match the Maize and Blue for talent or depth.


Indiana's
Pass Offense

Vs.

Michigan's
Pass Defense
Despite boasting a collection of 6-3 (or taller) wide receivers and a quarterback that throws a good deep ball, Indiana has yet to connect on the big play. And the Hoosiers' lack of success doesn't seem to bother them as long as they possess the football and keep it out of the opponent's hands. That will be the strategy again this week and that works in Michigan's favor because the Wolverines have shown an ability to defend the short pass. IU quarterback Ben Chappell, though, could have a big day if he decides to chuck the ball down field.


Michigan's
Special Teams

Vs.

Indiana's
Special Teams
Only two teams in the Big Ten have returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season, and they meet in Ann Arbor Saturday. Fisher had a 91-yard score last weekend while U-M's Darryl Stonum brought a kick back 94 yards against Notre Dame. The teams are almost mirror images of each other each featuring a solid punter (for Indiana it's Chris Hagerup) and reliable, if not experienced, placekickers. About the only difference is that IU has had some trouble on punt coverage, allowing 12.0 yards per return and a touchdown.



PUSH
Michigan's
Coaching

Vs.

Indiana's
Coaching
After two years just serving in the place of the late Terry Hoeppner, Bill Lynch decided to put his stamp on the Indiana program, installing the pistol offense this season. So far, the reviews have been positive, though the level of competition is about to increase exponentially. Lynch is a good guy and a good coach. He may lack the charisma of Hoeppner but he's a good fit at IU. Rich Rodriguez has brushed aside all obstacles to lead U-M to three impressive wins and is proving he was worth every cent Michigan paid for him.




INDIANA PLAYERS TO WATCH
INDIANA QUOTES OF THE WEEK


Senior Tailback Demetrius McCray

Locked in a position battle when fall camp commenced, McCray has separated himself from a pack of four backs to assume the bulk of the carries this year. The 5-11, 209-pound Brandon, Fla., native rushed for a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown against Western Michigan in week two and leads the Hoosiers with 228 yards and 5.4 yards per carry.
"I definitely think we're two of the most talented defensive ends in the country. Having us on the same team is a blessing because you create a great challenge for opposing teams, to see where you put double-teams - you can't double both of us at the same time.
"Greg and I talk a lot. We share moves. We change sides so we talk about what each tackle wants to do to block us. There is a competition between us, a friendly competition [for sacks and tackles for loss]. He talks about it more than me but we have fun with that."

-- Senior defensive end Jammie Kirlew, on bookend Greg Middleon



Redshirt Freshman Defensive Tackle Larry Black

Black wasn't supposed to be the guy this soon, but he edged classmate Nicholas Sliger for the starting spot at tackle, and has proven to be a big part of the Hoosiers' success against the run this season. At 6-2, 306 pounds, Black has forcibly pushed the middle of the offensive line back, creating opportunity for IU's standout defensive ends to converge on the ball carrier. He's also a bit of a playmaker, with 3.5 tackles for loss.
"In going to Michigan, our guys haven't played there. I think we have three guys on the roster who traveled up there the last time we went in 2005. Those three guys were all on the roster, but were redshirted and didn't play. Kirlew, (Nick) Polk, and Justin Carrington were on that team. I know our guys are excited to get up there and get going in Big Ten play. The intensity and everything about the game goes up this coming week and our guys are ready for that."

-- Head coach Bill Lynch, on preparing for Michigan


Senior Safety Austin Thomas

The Hoosiers' defense sorely missed Thomas in 2008 when he suffered an ACL injury that held him out of seven games. This fall, the physical, 6-2, 220-pounder, has returned with a swagger. A key difference-maker, he has a team-high two interceptions this season, returning the picks for gains of 31 and 46 yards to set up IU scoring drives. Thomas has also recorded 10 stops in three games.
"I don't pay attention to it. Yes, I'm sure we know we're the underdog, but we have to practice with a high intensity and even though it's high intensity, it has to be crisp. If we do that, we'll go up there and do the best we possibly can. You get wins from working hard."

-- Senior left tackle Rodger Saffold, on being a 21-point underdog

Sophomore Wide Receiver Tandon Doss

About the only thing Doss hasn't been yet is a big-play threat for the Hoosiers, but he's done everything else for Indiana this fall. The 6-3, 199-pounder ranks third in the Big Ten with 7.00 receptions and 90.0 receiving yards per game as he has piled up 21 catches to lead IU this season. Only a sophomore, Doss could rewrite the Indiana record books for receiving prowess.
"The big story in the offseason was their implementation of the pistol offense and in the first week, it didn't look great but they've made a lot of strides since then. The running game has been much improved since [sophomore left guard] Justin Pagan returned two weeks ago. The passing attack hasn't been overwhelming, mainly because they aren't making the big play, but it has been effective. I don't think we've seen them score as much as we were maybe thinking they would, but they've had a lot more long, ball-control drives, which in turn has helped the defense."

-- InsideIndiana.com beat writer Ken Bikoff


PREDICTION
Something about this Indiana team feels different. And if I were to put my finger on it, it would have to be the play of the offensive and defensive lines. The Hoosiers are producing on both sides of the ball thanks to strong play from their front five and front four, respectively. However, IU lacks the difference-makers at the skill positions to compete with Michigan's talent and that will be its undoing Saturday. Expect a good game but expect the Wolverines' big-play threats to prove too much for Indiana to match. Score: Michigan 31, Indiana 17




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