There's the uncanny familiarity wafting through the air around Ann Arbor. The 4-0 start, the last-second win over ND, the Heisman candidate, and the Big Ten opener (which happened to be against an undefeated Indiana).
Rich Rod is 2-0 in Big Ten openers, a 27-25 triumph over Wisconsin in 2008 [the 2nd biggest comeback in Michigan history] and last year, a 36-33 shootout with these very Hoosiers. The only difference this time around is this is the first Big Ten opener on the road.
So what exactly should we expect when the Wolverines invade Bloomington this Saturday?
In an interesting plot twist, Michigan's punter, Will Hagerup, will be facing his older brother Chris, who is Indiana's punter. Michigan's defensive lineman Jibreel Black is Hoosier lineman Larry Black's brother. Whoever would have thought that we would be redefining sibling rivalry this week?
Both teams walk in with, for lack of a better word, sexy offenses. The pistol has been kind to the Hoosiers and senior QB Ben Chappell is making some noise (never mind it was against three of the worst teams in college football). At a 72.4 percent completion rate and no INTs, he's looking quite studly out there. Indiana has a talented corp of receivers that will likely do a number on the Michigan secondary.
Michigan's offense is rolling. It hasn't slowed down since the first game, and in fact, it's become faster. If what Michigan did to Bowling Green last Saturday was any indication of how this offense is going to run through the conference, then I suspect many Big Ten coaches are sleeping just a bit less.
Michigan amassed 721 yards of total offense, just five short of the record they set last year against Delaware State. At least this was an FBS school.
The defenses are both suspect, which means we've got the stage set for another barn-burner.
Michigan's Rush Attack vs. Indiana's Rush Defense
Michigan comes to town sporting the nations No. 1 offense in the nation, amassing 2251 yards in the first four games (for about 563 yards/game). More pertinent, however, is that Michigan has the second-best rushing attack in the nation behind Air Force. The Wolverines finished last game with 466 yards on the ground, and are currently averaging 333 rushing yards per game.
This doesn't bode well for an Indiana team that has one of the least desirable rushing defenses in the nation. Indiana comes in at No. 92, allowing 177 yards per game on the ground to their opponents.
And how did the Hoosiers wind up 92nd in the nation at defending the run? By playing FCS Towson, Western Kentucky, and Akron.
Sounds respectable? Think again. Towson, Western Kentucky, and Akron have combined for just one win (they're 1-11 altogether), the lone victory being Towson's in five OT against Coastal Carolina. Western Kentucky is on a 24-game losing streak, and Akron is a lower-tier winless MAC opponent.
Michigan's rushing attack is commanded by Denard Robinson, the nation's leading rusher. Behind Robinson are capable backs in Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins (especially for goal line plays), and Mike Cox.
The only thing benefiting Indiana in this category is that starter Mike Shaw is out this week with an injury.
Michigan's Pass Attack vs. Indiana's Pass Defense
Michigan's pass attack has not been as stellar as the run attack, but it is still formidable. Starting QB Denard Robinson owns a 71.3 percent completion percentage and has tossed the ball for 731 yards and 4 TDs while throwing one INT. Not too shabby for a QB who used to be a run-only option.
Okay, so Michigan's pass attack is established.
Indiana has done sufficiently well defending the pass, allowing just 161 yards per game. This statistic is deceiving. First of all, Indiana hasn't faced a receiving corp as talented as Michigan's, and secondly, teams that face Indiana aren't passing because they're having success running the ball.
If Indiana gets too caught up in trying to stop Denard from running, he likely won't have a problem finding open receivers. Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum, Kelvin Grady, and company present a real threat down the field and should be enough to keep Indiana's unproven secondary occupied.
Indiana's Rushing Attack vs. Michigan's Rushing Defense
Indiana has failed to establish a running game so far this year. Indiana's running back Darius Willis tore Michigan up for 152 yards in last year's meeting, but he has since been unable to duplicate that effort. Combine that with Michigan coming off of allowing just 32 yards to BGSU and their good RB (Willie Geter), and Indiana looks to be in trouble.
In four games, Willis has managed 219 yards and two TDs, good for 54.75 yards/game. This kind of production will be met with significant resistance from the Michigan's front four. Linebacker play has improved substantially for the Wolverines after Greg Robinson took over the unit. It is, by no means perfect, but combine that with Mike Martin and a defensive line holding their own, and it looks like Indiana might not have a chance to get anything going on the ground.
Indiana's Pass Attack vs. Michigan's Pass Defense
If Indiana is going to beat Michigan, it is going to be through the air. Expect the Hoosier pass attack to come often. Leading the aerial attack is senior QB Ben Chappell, who has been very impressive in his first four outings this season. He boasts a 72.4 percent completion rate, good for 890 yards and nine TDs. Oh, and he hasn't thrown an interception at all this year.
Actually, Indiana has never turned the ball over this year, but I digress.
Michigan's secondary has accurately been described as the Achilles' heel of this Michigan team. This is true, and the unit will prevent Michigan from otherwise doing something quite special this season. Expect the mistakes to continue from the Wolverines secondary; they are well intentioned, but mistakes nonetheless.
Chappell is undoubtedly the best QB this young secondary will be up against, and the Hoosiers have excellent receivers in Doss, Turner, and Lynch. In fact, Tandon Doss may be the best receiver in the conference now after Purdue's Keith Smith went down with an injury.
Well, we didn't learn much about Michigan's special teams last week as Michigan cruised to 31 first downs, never having to punt. Michigan was never forced to kick a field goal either (*sigh of relief*). Michigan's punting is inconsistent (Will Hagerup averages 39 yards per punt, but owns punts of 53 and 51 yards). The coverage is, well, average on kicks and punts. Overall, it's nothing to write home about. I think the game plan for the Wolverines is to never have to use their special teams units.
Indiana is in a similar boat: field goal woes (not nearly as bad), a punter who's average isn't the greatest, and the loss of return threat Ray Fisher.
I wouldn't expect anyone to really impress on special teams in this game.
Edge: INDIANA (slightly)
MICH 42, Indiana 32