Well, there’s another week before Michigan’s annual slugfest against Ohio State. But before the Wolverines meet the Buckeyes at the Big House, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and his players will have to deal with Indiana. The Hoosiers sit near the bottom of the Big Ten with a 1-5 conference record and a 4-5 overall mark. Terry Hoeppner is in his first year as head coach. Indiana looks to snap a four-game losing streak, during which the Hoosiers have been blown out in each game. That might be hard to do against the Wolverines, who have beaten Indiana 13 straight times and in 28 of their last 29 meetings. Michigan needs a win and a Wisconsin loss to Iowa in order to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive.
Michigan passing offense vs. Indiana passing defense:
Chad Henne has had his share of struggles this season, but his numbers still look pretty solid. He’s thrown for nearly 1,900 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Receiver Jason Avant has remained solid all season. Avant needs just 166 more yards for 1,000 on the season, but he probably won’t get it against the Hoosiers. Michigan will likely rely heavily on the ground game on Saturday to control the clock and attack Indiana’s biggest weakness. The Hoosiers rank fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing just 210 yards per game. Still, that statistic is a bit misleading, since most teams choose to run all day on Indiana. Even with an aggressive defensive backfield of Leslie Majors, Will Meyers, Troy Grosfield and Tracy Porter, Michigan will make mincemeat out of the Hoosiers through the air.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Indiana rushing defense:
Mike Hart is probably healthy and rested after last week’s bye gave him a chance to rest his sprained right ankle. But even if he’s 100 percent, it’s likely that he won’t get too many carries, instead resting for the Ohio State game on Nov. 19. With or without Hart shouldering the bulk of the load, the Wolverines should dominate the Hoosiers’ front seven. Indiana ranks 10th in the Big Ten, allowing 205 rushing yards per game. Backup running backs Kevin Grady and Jerome Jackson are playing their best ball of the season, and they’ve certainly been good enough to expect a big showing on Saturday.
Indiana passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense:
Indiana wide receiver James Hardy ranks fourth in the Big Ten with an average of just more than six catches per game. But Hardy has made each of those grabs count. The freshman leads the conference in receiving yards with 95 per contest. Even more important for the Hoosiers, Hardy has scored 10 touchdowns this season – more than any other receiver in the Big Ten. Thanks to Hardy, sophomore quarterback Blake Powers has passed for more than 2,000 yards this year.
The Wolverines’ defense is third in the conference in terms of yards allowed each game, giving up 208 yards per contest. Even with the week off, Michigan has to be confident after it held Brett Basanez to just 62 yards in the second half of Michigan’s win. Hardy has been impressive, but the Wolverines’ experience should be enough to shut down the Hoosiers’ air attack.
Indiana rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense:
The Hoosiers’ run offense ranks dead last in the Big Ten, averaging fewer than 140 yards on the ground per contest. Senior tailback Chris Taylor has gained just 609 yards in nine games. Even worse for Indiana, Taylor has scored four rushing touchdowns all season – and the rest of the team has recorded just three.
Michigan has struggled against the run all season, but it has improved in recent weeks. The Wolverines currently rank sixth in the conference in terms of rushing yards allowed, giving up 146 yards per contest. After letting a string of the Big Ten’s top running backs gain more than 100 yards, Michigan held Wildcats tailback Tyrell Sutton – the conference’s third-leading rusher – to 50 yards two weeks ago. The Wolverines should have no trouble shutting down the Hoosiers’ sub-par running game.
Indiana is mediocre at best in terms of kickoff and punt returns. Junior Lance Bennett ranks seventh in the Big Ten in kickoff returns, averaging 23 yards per return. When it comes to fielding punts, Bennett places just 10th in the conference with an average of eight yards per return. Michigan’s Steve Breaston has been inconsistent in the return game, but his 25.7 yards per kickoff return ranks fourth in the Big Ten. Even though Michigan punter Ross Ryan has dropped out of the top 10 in terms of yards per punt, Breaston should pose enough of a threat for the Wolverines to win the special teams battle.
A team with a losing record on the road against a ranked opponent is never a good combination. The fact that Indiana hasn’t beaten Michigan since 1987 and comes to Ann Arbor with a weak defense makes matters much worse. The crowd won’t be as rowdy as it will be next week, but any game at Michigan Stadium is intimidating for most every team. With an extra week of rest and preparation before facing the Hoosiers and a Big Ten championship still possible, the Wolverines seem to have everything in their favor and more to play for.
Pick: Michigan 42, Indiana 13