Michigan's Road to Redemption: Week Four: Indiana
Homecoming, don't you love it?
Festivities everywhere, plenty of booze to drink, and fun is everywhere to be found.
Sept. 26, week four, of the 2009 season is the day the University of Michigan will hold its annual Homecoming game.
Why it would be none other than the perennial Big Ten power Indiana Hoosiers.
Wait did that just say perennial Big Ten power?
Should read perennial Big Ten laughingstock, sorry for the typo...
Anyway, being serious this should be yet another easy matchup for the Michigan Wolverines who are still trying to rebound from the dismal 2008 season.
But what could be better for a rebound then a blowout victory on your Homecoming? Answer: Not much (outside of a winning record, a bowl appearance, and a victory over OSU).
Looking at Indiana from top to bottom just makes you laugh. The program is weak and it all starts with the man on top, head coach Bill Lynch.
Lynch is not fit to coach at this level and is bar none the worst coach in the Big Ten and possibly the entire nation (top five at least).
Pot shots aside this game is a cake walk for Michigan heading into their big game versus Michigan State that following week.
On the offensive side Indiana has some serious issues.
Gone is big time playmaker and former quarterback converted wide receiver Kellen Lewis, who was dismissed from the team following violation of team rules.
In 2008, Lewis accounted for 1131 yards on 110 of 193 passing (57 percent completion) for six touchdowns and eight interceptions on limited play at quarterback. Lewis also tacked on 500 yards rushing on 93 carries with three touchdowns, which all were good for second on team.
After moving to wide receiver, Lewis managed to get only two receptions for 17 yards
Also gone is playmaking running back Marcus Thigpen. In 2008, Thigpen put up team highs in rushing yards (631), rush attempts (94), yards per carry (6.7), and touchdowns (seven).
Thigpen also gained attention as a receiver out of the backfield after hauling in 13 catches for 235 yards (18.1 ypc), two of which went for touchdowns. One of those touchdowns came on team longest 79 yard reception.
In fact, Thigpen accounted for the teams two longest plays with the aforementioned 79 yard reception and a 78 yard touchdown run. This type of home-run threat will be hard to replace for the Hoosiers.
Replacing Thigpen at running back will be senior Bryan Payton who racked up 339 yards and two touchdowns on 79 carries last year.
Out at wide receiver the Hoosiers will look to replace receiver Andrew Means, after he declared early for the NFL draft this past April.
In 2008, Means accounted for 450 yards receiving on 34 receptions, only one of which was a touchdown.
Courtesy of a dumb decision, the Hoosiers will also be replacing their top receiver Ray Fisher after moving him to cornerback this spring. Fisher is ranked eighth all-time in IU history in receptions but they now decide to move him to defense...in his fourth and final year.
2008 was a pretty good year for Fisher as he snagged team highs with 42 receptions and five touchdowns and also had 373 yards receiving.
Did I mention how terrible of a coach Bill Lynch was?
Anyway, look for receivers Terrance Turner (29 rec/ 289 yards), Demarlo Belcher (25 rec/ 337 yards/ two TD's), and Tanden Doss (14 rec/ 186 yards/ one TD) to fill the new voids on the outside.
Along the offensive line all but one starter returns so there is at least one positive for Indiana. However, it isn't much positive when that offensive line ranked dead last in the Big Ten a year ago in sacks allowed (2.33 per game).
Again, just like with Eastern Michigan, it appears Brandon Graham will get to line up against a new starter at right tackle. So I believe that kills off whatever positive was left about the returning offensive line.
Now on to defense...
Should be a little hesitant to say this, but good news again for IU. They will return nine starters on their defense so that should help, right?
Maybe, but not by much.
Not when the unit was 91st nationally in rush yards allowed (171.6 ypg), 105th against the pass (260.5 ypg), 107th in total defense (432.17 ypg), and 108th in scoring defense (35.25 ppg).
For the IU defense there is really only one key loss and that is Ryan Marando who tallied 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks on 28 tackles in 2008.
Along the defensive line things look actually quite good for IU, as they return what can be argued as the best pass rush tandem in the conference.
Defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew have both been honored as All-Big 10 in their time at IU (Middleton in 2007; Kirlew in 2008).
This should aid the weak Hoosier defense to some extent, but will it be enough? ...Not likely.
A for the Hoosiers linebacker unit all but one returns. The key returner is middle linebacker Matt Mayberry who led the team in tackles in 2008. He was also second in sacks and third in tackles for loss.
The secondary is far from strong, however, and doesn't look to be much improved this year.
Ray Fisher, the former wide receiver, will look to fill the lone hole in the IU secondary. But that alone should tell you how weak the secondary is and will be. A converted wide receiver will likely start at corner despite this being his first year at the position.
What does that say to you?
Fortunately, the other starters are all seniors who come in with at least one year of starting experience under their belt. But still expect teams to light them up through the air early and often.
Fisher, of course, will be the main prey for quarterbacks in the early half of the season as he tries to get settled in to his new role of knocking away passes instead of catching them.
Basically expect a lot of nothing out of this unit. It is weak, has little to no depth, and poorly coached.
As far as special teams go the teams punter returns but IU will have to replace its kicking specialist and their returners.
Matchups to watch
Ray Fisher vs Michigan wide receivers...
Going into his first year as a corner it will be interesting to see how he will fair so early on against the Michigan receivers.
With a more accurate quarterback in the backfield for Michigan one would think that Rodriguez would focus his passing attack on the inexperienced Fisher, so whoever Fisher is covering better be ready. This all of course is assuming that Fisher gets the starting role.
Brandon Graham vs James Brewer(potentially)...
Just like in the Eastern Michigan game, Graham, will be seeing a fresh face standing over him on the opposing side of the line. Stepping in as the new right tackle will likely be James Brewer the 6'8" 339 pound junior-to-be.
Physically Brewer is imposing at that size, but athletically he most likely is not. Should be interesting to see how the size of Brewer matches up with the speed and athleticism of Graham. Keep an eye on this matchup.
Middletone/ Kirlew vs Forcier and Ortmann/ Omameh(or Huyge)...
Arguably the top pass rushing duo in the Big Ten, Middleton and Kirlew should provide a solid pass rush against Michigan's young freshman quarterback Tate Forcier.
Even more interesting than seeing how Forcier handles the pressure is how Ortmann and Omameh/ Huyge handle the All-Big Ten defensive ends. This will be a serious challenge for the Michigan tackles but more so for whoever starts at right tackle (Omameh or Huyge) as the are both young and inexperienced.
What to expect
Well expect to hear "The Victors" ring early and often this fall and don't expect a repeat of last years Homecoming (my first trip to the 'Big House" by the way) against Illinois.
Indiana just doesn't match up on paper or on the field in really any category. Michigan holds clear advantages in coaching, talent, and the fact that it is being played at Michigan.
The IU game will cap off a two-week stretch of cake walks for Michigan before heading off to East Lansing for their first road test against hated rival Michigan State. That is where the real fun will begin for the Wolverines.
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