Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Match Up Rundown: Indiana

Runaway success was not something Indiana
saw a lot of last year.
While I was doing a bit of research for this weekend's game, two things became abundantly clear:

  1. Indiana will have success passing the ball against Michigan's inexperienced secondary.
  2. The most intriguing match up will be between the two rush offenses.
We have all seen this secondary bleed yardage against Notre Dame and UMass.  It is safe to say that the same would have happened against UConn if the quarterback and receivers would have executed at all, and against Bowling Green had the starting quarterback not been injured.  The fact of the matter is that this Michigan defense can only hope to slow down Ben Chappell and his talented group of receivers.  However, the game won't be won in the air.  It will be won in classic Big Ten fashion.  On the ground.

Can Indiana find a way to slow down the dynamic Michigan rushing offense, and can Indiana find a way to establish a run game against the Michigan defense.  The answer to these two questions will most likely decide who walks off the field victorious on Saturday.


Indiana's rushing offense vs. Michigan's defense
Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat.  Indiana is not a good rushing team.  Not only are they last in the Big Ten in yards per game, they are last by a mile.  Through three games Indiana has gained 3.9 ypc for 113 yards on average.  Considering the schedule   a bad FCS team, a bad Sun Belt team, and a bad MAC team   this is hardly encouraging.  Granted, Indiana has found other ways to move the football, but when Penn State (bad O-line), Minnesota (no explanation needed), Iowa (under Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God's wrath), and Purdue (like the movie the happening, only with ACL injuries) have all found a way to out-gain you by some 50 yards a game on the ground, there is a problem.

Willis had a career day against the Wolverines in '09
Sophomore Darius Willis is back this year after leading the Hoosiers with 600 yards and 6 touchdowns last year   152 of those (long of 85 if you don't remember) came against Michigan FWIW.  So far he has topped the 100 yard mark against Towson and put up 87 yards against Akron.  Neither of these teams would ever be confused for a competent defense, although neither would Western Kentucky, which held him to 30 yards and a measly 2.3 ypc.  Trey Burgess is the only other running back with significant carries (and that is being generous seeing as he has only 10) has 42 yards on the season.  RS-Fr. Nick Turner impressed on the scout team last year and has six carries for 32 yards   24 of them on a TD run against WKU.  Neither of the back ups seem to be threats going into Saturday.

Along the offensive line there is plenty of experience, which could be good (development?) or bad (if they couldn't block last year, why should anything be different?).  Junior LT Andrew McDonald moves into a starting role after mostly reserve duty the last two years.  Next to him Jr. LG Justin Pagan has 16 career starts before this year and RS-So. center Will Matte started 11 last year.  The right side of the line features two seniors with significant starting experience as well as significant time missed with injury in RG Cody Faulkner and RT James Brewer.

What you see before you is a group that was bad last year (9th in the big ten with 117 ypg) and is on pace to be just about as bad with the same group of players.  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.  Your 2010 Indiana Hoosier rushing offense is probably just bad.

Most of the Hoosier O-Line is back in 2010.
That didn't much matter last year when Indiana put up their best rushing stats of the year against the Wolverines, but the Michigan rush defense seems to be decidedly average after facing a tougher non conference slate.  The Wolverines clock in at 8th in the Big Ten at 135 yards per game allowed.  The worst game of the year came against the UMass offense, which gashed the Wolverines for 217 yards on 4.4 ypc.  Blah blah blah FCS, but the Minutemen feature a big offensive line and a productive ground game.  Other games against non-MACky cakes saw the Wolverines hold UConn to 138 yards   a fair portion of which came in garbage time.  This is another team that prides itself on it's running game, one which currently ranks 26th in the nation with 212 ypg.  Notre Dame managed 154 yards on the ground at 4.8 ypc.  Nobody would accuse the Michigan defense of being dominant against the run, but that was never in the cards to begin with.  Eighth in the Big Ten with 135 yards allowed per game is something all Wolverine fans should be very happy with.  If this trend continues, we have reached the best case scenario for the season.

If we know Indiana is going to move the ball through the air, what can this Michigan team not afford to do?  If you answered, "give up 197 rushing yards to a bad team at 6.0 ypc for three touchdowns," you are either right and/or you have a good enough memory to recall what happened last year when the Hoosiers out gained Michigan and still lost the game.  Special teams saved Michigan's ass last year, but they are so bad this year that there are at least five threads a day on mgoblog that deal with either, "Kicker Tryouts" or "The Virtues of going for it on 4th down."

If Indiana can get something going on the ground, it will open up the offense and the game will become a dangerous shootout.  If Michigan can hold the Indiana run game to under 100 yards   which is entirely reasonable given the production of both units over the first four weeks   it will allow the Wolverines to drop seven and eight men into coverage and slow down Ben Chappell and his band of merry air-raiders.  Let's hope Ryan Van Bergen remembers last years game and Mike Martin clicks into BEAST MODE early.

Michigan rush offense vs. Smoke and mirrors?  Voodoo?  Witchcraft?
Remember when I said that Indiana's first three opponents were all doing their best to redefine "suck" in their respective conferences?  Well, those three offenses have driven the Hoosiers to 10th in the Big Ten in rush defense.  The Hoosiers are giving up 177 ypg for 5.2 ypc against teams that are a combined 1-11 this season.  Only Minnesota has managed to give up more yards on the ground this year, and if you take USC's 216 yards rushing away, the Hoosiers no longer have anyone to hide behind.

Last year's crew took its lumps en route to a 9th place finish in the Big Ten in rush defense, with 159 ypg allowed.  From last year's front seven they have lost four starters   both DE's and two LB's.  I'll let John M of Crimson Quarry lay explain just how bad this is:
The Defensive ends: "Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew may have been the two most successful defensive linemen in IU history.  Middleton was an all-American and led the nation in sacks as a sophomore; Kirlew was all-Big Ten his last two seasons."
And the Linebackers: "Will Patterson,  Matt Mayberry, Justin Carrington.  Mayberry and Patterson were multi-year starters and were IU's leading and third-leading tacklers, respectively."
It becomes easier and easier to see why this unit has struggled so much against even the poor rushing offenses of bottom-feeding mid-major programs.  RS-Sophomore Larry Black (Brother of UM's Jabreel) and True-So. Adam Replogle are both back after productive campaigns last year to anchor the DT spots.  Outside of them are Darius Johnson and Fred Jones, both Jr's who have little experience and a history of injury problems.  Senior Tyler Replogle (brother of Adam) is back at linebacker after racking up the second most tackles on the team last year.  The new candidates for linebacker, So. Chad Sherer, Jr. Leon Beckum, and Sr. Jamie Lukaszewski have scout team and special teams written all over their resumes.  It must be entertaining to watch this group go up against the rush offense in practice.  We might finally get an answer to what happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object.

Luckily for the Hoosiers, they don't have to face the top rated rushing offense in the country on Saturday.  Nope, Air Force will be taking on Navy this weekend.  The Hoosiers will have to settle for the second best rush offense in the land that just finished demolishing it's first four opponents.  Denard Robinson is averaging 172 ypg and almost 9.0 ypc.  In five rushes against Bowling Green he racked up 129 yards and two touchdowns.  The only thing that has slowed him down this year is a hard patch of turf.  Michael Shaw has started to emerge as a legit number one back with 185 yards and four scores in his last two games*. Vincent Smith has not been electric, but has shown the ability to be effective against bad rush defenses (5.2 ypc against Bowling Green).  Also, Michael Cox and Stephen Hopkins will likely get more time to audition for the number two running back spot.  Furthermore, any discussion of the Wolverines success on the ground would not be complete without a shout out to the offensive line.  This unit is deep and playing the best that any Michigan line has in years.

*(It has come to my attention that Shaw is doubtful for the Indiana game.  This could negatively impact the run game, but that is somewhat doubtful when looking at Indiana's defense thus far.  He likely won't be needed, and it is smart to rest him for MSU the following week if at all possible.)

If the Hoosiers cannot find a way to slow down the Wolverine rushing attack we could very well be in for a repeat of last Saturday when 80-90% of the drives end in touchdowns and the Wolverines dominate time of possession and first downs.  If the Hoosiers can get some stops in the run game and put the Wolverines in a few third and long positions, the Michigan special teams unit will become more of a factor, which is an advantage for the Hoosiers right now.

Like most Big Ten games, Saturday's contest will come down to a battle in the trenches.  If Indiana can find success running the ball like last year, as well as a way  to slow the dynamic Wolverine ground attack, the game becomes a tossup.  If not, look for the Wolverines to literally run away with it.

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