Indiana vs. Michigan: Breaking Down How Wolverines Can Avoid Another Upset
It hasn't been a smooth season for the Michigan Wolverines.
Despite starting 5-0, they barely beat Akron at home and narrowly escaped at UCONN, one of the worst teams in college football.
After rebounding against Minnesota, the Wolverines suffered a truly heartbreaking loss against Penn State in quadruple overtime. Brendan Gibbons missed two field goals in overtime, and the team as a whole was pretty sloppy.
No longer ranked, the team will get a chance to bounce back against the 3-3 Indiana Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers have been better than expected this season and have an impressive win over Penn State. They even stayed somewhat competitive with No. 14 Missouri.
Indiana's strength is their pass offense and Michigan is going to need to stop it if they want to avoid another upset.
Led by quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who has thrown for 1,604 yards and 13 touchdowns, the Hoosiers score 41.7 points per game, which is 15th in the nation.
Michigan's pass defense isn't awful, but they're going to find it hard to stop Sudfeld and leading receiver Cody Latimer. The Wolverines give up 229.7 passing yards per game, but they did give up 305 yards and three touchdowns to Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
The Wolverines should be able to keep the running game in check. While Tevin Coleman has been outstanding this year rushing for 557 yards and eight touchdowns, the Wolverines have the ninth-ranked rush defense in the league, giving up just 89.5 yards per game.
If the Wolverines can stop Coleman, they can focus all of their attention on stopping Sudfeld and the passing game. The Hoosiers are explosive—as evidenced by their 73-point outburst against Indiana State—but the Wolverines defense might be good enough to keep it in check.
Assuming Michigan can at least contain Indiana's offense, the onus is on Fitzgerald Toussaint and the running game to pick up its production. Toussaint had an absolutely miserable game against Penn State, rushing 27 times for 27 yards. It's mind-boggling why Michigan stuck with the running game when it clearly was not working. Regardless, Toussaint has been on the decline. He averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry in 2011. This year? A pretty pedestrian 3.4.
It's incredibly important that the run game gets going, because Devin Gardner has been a disappointment this season. He's thrown 11 touchdowns, but along with 10 interceptions. Last year, he only threw five picks. Gardner is not good enough to carry a team on his own, and the Michigan receivers are nothing to write home about. If Toussaint can't get the job done, teams will be able to load up against Gardner. When he's pressured, he turns the ball over.
On paper, Michigan is a better team. But their season has not gone as planned. Instead of competing with Ohio State for a Big 10 title, the Wolverines are trying to get back in the Top 25. They barely avoided two upsets and could easily be 3-3.
Indiana, while not a great team, is certainly improved, and the win over Penn State was impressive. This is easily a game that Michigan could lose. If they can't stop Sudfeld, then it will be a long day. Similarly, if the run game continues to be a large sinkhole, then Gardner will continue to turn the ball over.
I think Michigan hangs on, but just barely. If they can find some success in the run game, it will certainly be easier. But Michigan fans have to be on edge right now. This is certainly not how it was supposed to go.
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