When: 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN
TV: ABC/ESPN2 (depending on market)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 54-9
Last Meeting: Michigan 34-10, in 2014
Line: Michigan -11.5
Indiana has a lot of negative streaks it is trying to break this weekend in the final home game of the season for the Hoosiers. Five straight losses this season have jeopardized the chances for a bowl game, which still has not happened under Kevin Wilson and not for this program since 2007. Those are streaks that need to end for Indiana to make the next step, and Michigan provides a perfect opportunity to do so.
Another streak on the line is Michigan’s 19-game winning streak in this series. These are all things that would be a huge deal if Indiana can pull the upset, so let’s count to five to preview this game and see whether that can happen this weekend.
1 Burning Question: Can (essentially) no defense actually knock off the best defense in the country?
This is a game pairing the worst defense in the conference against the best, and the results so far speak for themselves. Michigan is a blown punt away from a 5-0 start in conference play, while Indiana is still seeking that first win in the Big Ten. But will the drastic contrast of styles lead to a different result when these teams meet in Bloomington?
The obvious initial answer would be no, but then again, there are some additional layers to consider. Indiana has the best running back-quarterback combination that Michigan has faced this season, and when Indiana was fully healthy, this team did perform in the clutch moments. This past weekend, the Hoosiers almost knocked off a better Iowa team now that this duo of Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld are healthy and back in the action.
So while Michigan will put up some points against the Indiana defense, this particular IU offense will also put up some points against the Michigan defense, in all likelihood. So perhaps the worst defense in the league can beat the best defense in the league.
2 Key Stats:
— 94.7% (Michigan) and 91.7% (Indiana). These are the red zone scoring percentages for both teams. The Wolverines and Hoosiers do have one thing in common and it is highly effective red zone offense. Michigan has 27 touchdowns in 38 opportunities down there, while Indiana has scored 23 touchdowns in 36 total red zone trips. That means when these teams threaten to score, more than likely the trip is paid off with a touchdown, and even if not, with some points. Neither of these teams has turned the ball over in the red zone and that makes a world of difference in close games.
— 240.0 (Michigan) and 504.0 (Indiana). These are the total defensive yards per game allowed by both teams. This is the contrast between the best team in the conference on defense and the worst, as alluded to above. The difference is astounding on paper, just thinking about the Hoosiers giving up well more than twice as many yards and over three times as many points as the Wolverines. If these numbers stay anywhere near averages, then IU has no chance to win. However, thankfully Indiana also has an offense that can keep up with the often-seen defensive lapses.
3 Key Players:
Jordan Howard, Indiana RB – Despite missing two games with injury and most of a third (that latter game counting against his per game averages), Howard still ranks just below Ezekiel Elliott as the most consistent and effective running back in the Big Ten. Howard rushes for 137.3 yards per game and he has seven touchdowns, which is actually a touch lower than you might expect for a keystone of such an effective offense. This is precisely the type of running threat Michigan’s defense must respect, otherwise he will gash the opponent for big plays to keep drives alive and keep the Hoosiers in this game.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan All Around Threat – Peppers has seen more offensive snaps as the conference play has worn on, leading to a touchdown run a week ago. But his primary responsibilities have remained on special teams and especially as a safety on the Wolverines defense. It is this role where he will have to step up against the potent Indiana offense. If Indiana pushes the pace at all, Peppers may have to end up limiting his snaps to avoid being worn out at the most important time of the game. However, this is the most explosive and exciting player that Michigan will bring to Bloomington for Saturday’s showdown.
Marcus Oliver, Indiana LB – Following a season where Oliver had a medical redshirt thanks to an ACL tear in Week 3, the expectations were fairly low for what production he could provide. However, Oliver has been the best player on the Indiana defense, ranking 4th in the conference with 79 tackles already in 2015. More importantly, he has forced 4 fumbles as well, meaning ball carriers and receivers always have to be diligent about ball security around this linebacker. If Michigan is to have an effective day on offense, the Wolverines will have to scheme to keep Oliver from being a big disruptive force.
4 Bold Prognostications:
Indiana carries a lead into the fourth quarter – This is senior day for the Hoosiers, and the veterans on this team are determined to turn this losing streak around and prove that their coach has actually built a program with progress in five seasons. To do that, six wins is a must, and thus I expect the Hoosiers to start quickly against Michigan. Although the Wolverines will adjust to clamp down quickly on the IU offense, that will cause a lead that will take all game for Michigan to come back from. Thankfully that legendary IU fourth quarter lack of defense will be in play before the end of the game.
Jabrill Peppers approaches 90+ snaps – The talented freshman will likely see a ton of plays on defense, but with a larger load coming on offense, expect Peppers to see his largest use of the season by far. Indeed, if Michigan is desperate for a spark to keep up with the Hoosiers, Peppers may take a lot more offensive snaps than normal. When that happens, he will begin to approach the magic 100 snaps in a game statistic that only two-way ironman type players eventually reach.
Michigan gives up 150 rushing yards – Although I expect Nate Sudfeld to have a reasonably effective day, Michigan is holding opponents to a ridiculous 80.6 yards per game rushing. Jordan Howard will do some heavy lifting with at least 20 carries, and considering his average, plus the mix of other running threats, expect Indiana to double that average this game. That will also let Indiana avoid the trap of having Michigan dominate time of possession, which is what Jim Harbaugh wants to do in view of the potent offense and porous defense on the opposing sideline.
At least one of the teams turns the ball over in the red zone – When you point out a statistic like we did above that these two teams are the most effective red zone scoring teams, thanks to a lack of turnovers, that’s usually when the jinx is in. So as a final bold prediction, I will call for one of those turnovers to bring down the percentages for one or both of the Wolverines and Hoosiers this weekend.
5 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Michigan 31-28 (73-19 overall; 41-50 ATS)
Dave: Michigan 31-21 (75-17 overall; 48-42 ATS)
Greg: Michigan 44-35 (68-26 overall; 50-40 ATS)
Matt: Indiana 38-35 (73-19 overall; 53-37 ATS)
Phil: Michigan 38-26 (27-12 overall; 14-22 ATS) *joined in Week 5