ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan has never lost back-to-back regular season games under third-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
This past Saturday, his then-No. 7 Wolverines lost 14-10 to Michigan State, which has beaten his teams twice in three meetings. Now ranked at No. 17, the Wolverines (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) will try to avoid another hiccup Saturday when playing Indiana in Bloomington.
With a new starting quarterback, the Hoosiers blew past Charleston Southern, 27-0, in Bloomington. Despite a 45-14 loss to Penn State, the Hoosiers could hang around for a little while against Michigan. Don’t forget their first half — they led 14-13 at the break — in their 49-21 Week 1 loss to Ohio State.
The Hoosiers (3-2, 0-2) are in search of their first Big Ten win under new coach Tom Allen. Beating the Wolverines would be quite the accomplishment.
Michigan has yet to find an offensive rhythm, and the right side of its offensive line teeters on disaster. That needs to be fixed, but it’ll likely take more than one game to rectify the situation. Don’t be surprised to see a change at right tackle.
With that said, here’s what to watch on Saturday as the Wolverines attempt to rebound from a painful rivalry loss to Mark Dantonio’s Spartans.
Is JOK OK?
Five turnovers against Michigan State were a point of emphasis this week for Michigan — ball security and fumbles were two of the main topics. This past week, the Wolverines fumbled twice. Quarterback John O’Korn threw three picks, too.
Michigan — forget that, any team — can’t win that way.
Following the loss to MSU, O’Korn accepted full responsibility for the interceptions. On Tuesday, center Patrick Kugler, a fifth-year senior, said that all three weren’t O’Korn’s fault. Coach Jim Harbaugh has suggested that at least one pick was a result of an error in route running by a receiver.
Despite the three picks and being sacked four times, O’Korn — a fifth-year senior — has remained confident heading into preparation for Indiana.
His teammates are confident, too.
“We’ve talked to John — John’s a tough kid,” said sophomore left guard Ben Bredeson. “He’ll be fine. We’re not too worried about John. He’ll be ready to go for Indiana. Like I said before: Everybody had mistakes (against MSU), and we spoke individually and as a unit, so we’re just cleaning those (mistakes) up this week.”
This past Saturday, the Spartans had to grind for yards, relaying on quarterback Brian Lewerke — who had 15 carries — and running backs Gerald Holmes and Madre London, who combined for 21 carries and 86 yards in the 14-10 rain-soaked win in Ann Arbor.
Regardless of the weather, Michigan knew it would face a pro-style attack from Michigan State, which rushed 40 times and threw ball 11 times this past weekend. This Saturday, Michigan will face a different style of offense, a faster-paced Hoosier barrage that ranks No. 10 in terms of average plays per game, per Team Rankings.
That’s faster than Oregon, faster than reigning national champion Clemson, and even faster than Ohio State, which ranks No. 23 in that category.
One would think that swing from one extreme to the other — Michigan State ranks No. 46 on the list — would present some obstructions. After all, the Hoosiers have the No. 4-ranked scoring offense in the Big Ten, now directed by quarterback Peyton Ramsey, averaging 29.6 points per game.
They also used tempo to their advantage during a closely played 20-10 loss in Ann Arbor in 2016.
With all things considered, sophomore VIPER Khaleke Hudson realizes that the Wolverines must be attentive and patient while defending the Hoosiers. An early bite on a play could result in trouble. They’re prepared for that, Hudson said — the Wolverines have done well when facing variations during practices.
“It’s not going to be a challenge for us because we’re prepared for anything an offense can throw at us. In spring ball and camp, our offense gave us great looks and went hard against us,” Hudson said. “I feel that we’re ready for any offense that anybody throws at us. I feel that’s not going to be a challenge going from a two-tight-end, three-tight-end offense — which Michigan State ran — to a spread offense, which Indiana runs. (Going from pro-style to spread) is not going to be a challenge for us.”
Despite the loss this past Saturday, the Wolverines remain atop the defensive statistics board. They still have a top-five-ranked passing defense (in terms of efficiency) and have a handful of almost-certain All-Big Ten players (and that’s just through six weeks).
Returning Home … Again
Sophomore running back Chris Evans already had one “homecoming” in Indiana two weeks ago at Purdue, but he’ll have another one Saturday when he visits his home-state Hoosiers in Bloomington, about 75 minutes south of Evans’ hometown of Indianapolis.
He expects several friends and family members to be in attendance, just as they were when he rushed 12 times for a season-high 97 yards — including a 49-yard touchdown — during Michigan’s 28-10 win over the Boilers in West Lafayette.
“In the student section, I’m probably going to know a lot of people (at Indiana),” said Evans, who added it was “cleansing” to perform well in front of familiar faces at Purdue.
If Michigan wants to attain its goal of winning the Big Ten, which is “still ahead” and doable, per Kugler and others, it must win at Indiana.
Prediction: Coordinator Don Brown’s defense, again, carries the load Saturday and Michigan scores a 24-10 win over Indiana
- Josh Metellus developing into a star — and a leader
- Looking for answers to what is plaguing Wolverines offense