The hope for an undefeated season is gone, but the Michigan football team has plenty to play for.
One week after a jarring loss at Iowa, the Wolverines return to action Saturday when they host Indiana at Michigan Stadium. Michigan still controls its own destiny, but any safety net it had is no more. The Daily breaks down the key matchups for when the teams take the field.
Michigan passing offense vs. Indiana passing defense
This is the great question mark of the week. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight will reportedly miss the game with either a shoulder or collarbone injury, leaving redshirt junior John O’Korn to guide the offense in his absence. A former starter at Houston before he transferred to Michigan, O’Korn has sufficient in-game experience to lead the offense, though he has not played meaningful minutes as a Wolverine.
His greatest advantage, perhaps, could be his mobility. Whereas Speight relied on his size and strength to stave off tacklers, O’Korn has the quickness to elude them with his feet. Armed with a loaded receiving corps made up of fifth-year seniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh and senior tight end Jake Butt, he will have plenty of weapons to help him ease into the game.
Fortunately for O’Korn, Indiana’s pass defense has fallen short of stellar so far this year. The Hoosiers are giving up an average of 235.8 yards per game, and while they do have 10 interceptions, that could be a sign O’Korn will have some room to work on Saturday.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Indiana rushing defense
With a unit that gives up just 156.2 rushing yards per game, Indiana could be poised to stuff the Wolverines on the ground. Michigan struggled on the ground at Iowa last week, and with Speight likely out, it’s a safe bet that the running backs will be counted on. Watch for the Hoosiers to stack the box, a look that has given the Wolverines trouble at times this season, particularly against Central Florida.
Senior running back De’Veon Smith still leads Michigan’s crowded backfield, but against an Indiana defense that has totaled 70 tackles for loss this year, it may need production out of the whole backfield committee to have success.
Indiana passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense
Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow has the unenviable task of attacking the nation’s most effective pass defense Saturday.
In senior cornerbacks Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis, the Wolverines boast an athletic pair of corners capable of changing the game on any play. Lewis has hardly been targeted this season, and Stribling has capitalized with four interceptions.
Saturday, though, they’ll be guarding an impressive trio in Ricky Jones, Mitchell Paige and Nick Westbrook. Westbrook has accounted for 793 yards and five touchdowns this year, while Paige leads the team with 49 receptions. All three are capable of stretching the field, and this may be the toughest test for Michigan’s secondary since Colorado visited Ann Arbor in September.
We’ll give the slight edge to the nation’s top pass defense, but don’t be surprised if Indiana makes some noise through the air.
Indiana rush defense vs. Michigan rush defense
Gone is Jordan Howard, but Indiana’s Devine Redding has kept opponents on their toes all season. Against No. 8 Penn State last week, Redding rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, putting a scare in one of the nation’s top-ranked teams.
Given that Michigan has struggled in recent weeks against Michigan State’s LJ Scott and Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, it wouldn’t be a shock if Redding had a similar measure of success on Saturday. There’s no doubt the Wolverine line will be fired up to reassert itself after a loss, but sometimes that aggression leads to mistakes, too.
Once again, this one is close, but Michigan’s track record is enough to earn the benefit of the doubt.
Just as the Wolverines got their field goal problem figured out, new troubles have emerged on special teams. Michigan was hampered by a series of penalties against the Hawkeyes, including a targeting penalty on freshman linebacker Devin Bush and a critical late-game facemask on redshirt junior linebacker Mike McCray.
With Jabrill Peppers neutralized in the return game of late, the Wolverines do not appear as dangerous on fourth down as they did earlier this season. Meanwhile, Paige is a dangerous return man himself, and he may actually get the chance to field some punts. Hoosier kicker Griffin Oakes is having a rough year, making 12 of 21 field goals, so Saturday’s special teams battle may come down to who makes fewer mistakes.
Oakes knocked in a big 47-yard field goal against Penn State last week, and if he is indeed back in form for the Hoosiers, they could win that battle.
On one hand, Michigan will be looking to rebound from a major letdown last week. But Indiana will still view the third-ranked Wolverines as upset bait.
The Hoosiers can qualify for a bowl game with a win, but on Senior Day at Michigan Stadium, it’s hard to give this one to anyone but the home team.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Indiana 17