Wolverines tasked with stopping strong Indiana aerial attack this weekend

Torehan Sharman/Daily
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Daily Sports Editor
Published September 30, 2010

Through four weeks, the Michigan offense has been nothing short of extraordinary. Sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson and the rest of the Michigan offense has put up almost 563 yards per game, good enough to be the No. 2 offense in the country.

But Indiana, the Wolverines’ opponent this week, has been no slouch on offense this season, either — the Hoosiers boast the No. 11 pass attack in the nation and best by far in the Big Ten.

And with that talented offense, headed by experienced senior quarterback Ben Chappell, Michigan may have its hands full on defense. The Wolverines have given up, on average, 400 yards per game so far.

“We’ve got to do a good job defensively limiting the big plays, which we’ve struggled with at times and know that they can pitch and catch it at anytime,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said in a teleconference Wednesday.

Chappell also has two of the league's standout receivers in Damarlo Belcher — statistically the top receiver in the Big Ten — and Tandon Doss, an explosive player who’s used all over the field.

“They’re big guys,” Rodriguez said. “They’re very athletic, they can run. We’ve got a lot of young DBs … so it’s a concern, especially because they’re throwing the ball so well.”

And with the Wolverines still struggling in the secondary, they may find themselves locked in a shootout.

In a high-powered offensive game like Saturday’s matchup is expected to be, the winner may just be the team that has the ball last. The Wolverines’ spread option run attack is known for consistently running the clock down, as they’ve only lost the time-of-possession battle in one game so far. Winning that battle could mean having the ultimate advantage over a team that's reliant on getting down the field through the air.

For now though, stopping Chappell’s aerial attack out of Indiana’s pistol offense is at the forefront. Chappell’s skills have forced Michigan to make several changes to their game plan to adapt.

“If you blitz all the time and expose yourself to one-on-ones, that’s a dangerous combination,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if you can confuse (Chappell) because he is a veteran guy and they have a veteran staff … They have ways of really protecting him in their offense.”

As for the pistol offense the Hoosiers employ — one-of-a-kind in the Big Ten — Rodriguez isn’t concerned with its uniqueness.

“It’s a system, it’s the same as any offense,” Rodriguez said. “If they execute it well, they’re going to get their moments. They’re going to have plays where they get you.”

Robinson, who was deemed OK to play after suffering a minor injury last week, could play an even more prominent role in the run game as Michigan will play without running backs Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, leaving Robinson, Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins and Mike Cox to carry the load in the team’s running-by-committee system.

Regardless of the matchups, the Wolverines are eager to move one step closer to proving that this year’s 4-0 start is different than last year’s, when they closed out the season losing seven out of eight games.

And in a Big Ten opener, Rodriguez said that his team knows the importance of this week's matchup in terms of the rest of the season. Of course, the team’s 3-13 record in-conference — with just a single Big Ten road win — should be motivation enough as the Wolverines head to Bloomington on Saturday.

“It needs to crank up even another notch, going into Big Ten play,” Rodriguez said. “They understand how important all of these Big Ten games are.”