Friday, September 25, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Hoosiers!

Preview: No. 23 Michigan vs. Indiana, September 26, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
“Did I mention before that we’re LIVE!!! in Ann Arbor, Michigan yet again! Two Big Ten football teams that were 3-9 only a year ago are today undefeated 3-0 in 2009 and entering their first game of Big Ten play. The last time these two schools met on the gridiron was 2006 when Michigan crushed the Fightin’ Hoosier’s 34-3 in Bloomington. One cannot overstate the challenge ahead of Indiana in this game. The Hoosiers have not won a Big Ten opening game since 2001 (versus Wisconsin 63-32 under then coach Cam Cameron). They have not beaten Michigan since a 14-10 victory in 1987 in Bloomington. They have not beaten Michigan in the Big House since 1967. Michigan and Indiana have each played at home one common opponent this year: Western Michigan. The results were quite different. Michigan defeated WMU in resounding fashion 31-7, while Indiana hung on for dear life in the waning moments of a mistake-prone football game 23-19 over the Broncos."

This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:

1.) From here on out Michigan faces 9 straight Big Ten opponents (CORRECTION: 8 Big Ten opponents because Delaware State is not a Big Ten team!) with no bye week. Today there are 5 unbeaten teams in the Big Ten conference (UM, PSU, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa). Four of them clash head-to-head this weekend (UM vs. Indiana, PSU vs. Iowa). Michigan won only two Big Ten games in 2008 at home versus Wisconsin and at Minnesota. A decisive victory over Indiana on Saturday, therefore, keeps Michigan tied for first place in the Big Ten conference standings.

2.) A UM victory over Indiana keeps the Wolverines in a position of considerable strength and confidence heading into next Saturday’s match up, and first game on the road, against cross-state rival Michigan State in East Lansing. All eyes on that damn clock!

3.) Historically Michigan claims hegemony on the gridiron over a number of Big Ten teams, but none quite to the same extent as over Indiana. Michigan has played Indiana only 59 times since the turn of the century. The Wolverines are 50-9 all-time versus the Hoosiers (only 59 meetings!?), and 29-1 since 1970.

4.) Michigan’s defense has faced essentially 2 pro-style football teams (WMU, Notre Dame) and 1 power run team (EMU) so far and had mixed results. Indiana will present Michigan with their Pistol Offense on Saturday, giving Greg Robinson’s Wolverine defense some much-needed additional preparation against a downhill, power run-oriented offense, plus a passing attack that really spreads the ball around to many different players and can score a lot of points quickly.

5.) Just like last week versus Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines need to be able to heal team injuries and be fortunate enough to avoid new ones in this game. Michigan must also continue to build greater depth and experience at several key positions by getting more reps for 2nd and 3rd string players at quarterback, along the defensive front, linebacker and the defensive secondary. This opportunity was afforded last week against EMU in the second half. Michigan has a similar opportunity for more playing time on Saturday if they can overpower the Hoosiers early.

6.) This will be Rich Rodriguez’s first game ever against an Indiana football team.

7.) Following Michigan’s 2006 road victory over Indiana 34-3 in Bloomington, the Wolverines proceeded to lose 4 straight football games (Ohio State, USC in 2006, and versus Appalachian State and Oregon in 2007) before shellacking Notre Dame in Ann Arbor 38-0.

It’s important to note that Indiana returns 6 starters on offense and 9 starters on defense for the 2009 football season. On the other hand, Michigan returns 9 starters returning on offense and about 7 starters on defense. On paper Michigan is a far more talented football squad than the Indiana Hoosiers at just about every position.

Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Your Face:

1. Hoosier Quarterback Ben Chappell
Ever since former quarterback Kellen Lewis was kicked off the Indiana football team, every man and his dog thought Bill Lynch and the Hoosier football team was as good as toast for 2009. I never really bought into that argument 100%. Why not? Well, aside from 9 starters returning on defense for Indiana in 2009 including 49 total letterman, it’s a little known fact that as a backup last year (2008) to Kellen Lewis, quarterback Ben Chappell played in 9 games and threw for over 1,000 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs. He also rushed for 72 yards and 3 TDs. So the kid did some things that made you at least recognize his arm strength, playmaking skills, and overall talent package. The 2008 experience serves Chappell well in the new implementation of the Pistol offense by head coach Bill Lynch this year. To date Chappell is now hitting on 70% of his throws for about 224 yards per game and 7.3 yards per attempt. He does admittedly have only 3 TDs and a disappointing 3 interceptions after just three games against opponents of questionable potency (Eastern Kentucky 1-1, Western Michigan 1-2 and Akron 1-2), but Chappell makes things click for Indiana and his consistency is getting better. What’s more is that Chappell really spreads the love amongst his speedy receivers. Four different Hoosier receiving targers have 9 or more catches so far this season.

Chappell has three favorite targets to throw to. All of them are big and possess big play speed: Sophomore Tandon Doss (6-3), Sophomore Demarlo Belcher (6-5) and junior Mitchell Evans (6-3, a converted QB). I suspect that covering these players with any degree of consistency is going to be a serious challenge for Michigan’s banged up and rather smallish secondary on Saturday.

Suffice it to say that Ben Chappell is a good quarterback. He has plenty of dangerous weapons to work with on offense. He is only a junior, and is already showing improvement each and every week this season. This has to be a welcome relief to Hoosier fans following the Kellen Lewis departure.

2. Pistol Packin’ Hoosiers
If you had ask me about the greatest Indiana Hoosier running backs since 1970, I could probably name four: Mike Harkrader, Anthony Thompson, Vaughn Dunbar and BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Four! That’s a pretty damning indictment on Indiana football’s stature in the run-oriented, “smashmouth” Big Ten conference over the last 40 years. But, if given time, that might change once Indiana’s new Pistol offense starts to churn out anything closely resembling what Chris Ault achieved over his many years at Nevada. This is a deceptively powerful offense and can score a lot of points quickly when executed well. With the loss of Kellen Lewis at quarterback, I really like Bill Lynch’s decision here because it plays into Indiana’s few strengths: a quarterback that can throw and experienced running backs. Hoosier tailback Demetrius McCray is the team’s leading rusher with 228 yards, 1 TD and a 5.4 YPC average. Indiana also fields a good amount of depth to complement McCray with senior tailback Bryan Payton, junior Trea Burgess and freshman Darius Willis. Of all of these backs, Demetrius McCray is clearly the one to watch.

3. The Hoosier Defensive Line and Linebackers
Indiana is sort of weird in that they have two defensive coordinators: Co-DC Bryan George who is DC but also looks after the defensive line and Co-DC Joe Palcic, who is also the secondary coach. Indiana runs a 4-3 defense and returns 9 starters on defense in 2009 including two of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten conference: seniors Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Kirlew tallied 11 sacks over 12 games last fall. The Hoosiers also have two of the finest linebackers in the Big Ten in team-leading tackler senior LB Matt Mayberry, as well as senior LB Will Patterson. Both are hard hitters, have nice sideline-to-sideline quickness and tackle well in space.

This level of experience and talent along the Hoosier defensive front and middle is extremely important because the Hoosier secondary, while nicely-sized, is not fortified with a high-level of talent or experience. Chris Adkins and Richard Council are the most experienced players there. After three games against relatively benign opponents, Indiana’s defense looks improved over 2008. In my e-pinion, they have the ability to beat teams like Virginia and Purdue this year and perhaps surprise somebody else as well. So far they’ve only given up only 17.7 points per game and 312 total yards per game (ranked 4th in the league for both categories). It might sound strange for me to write this, but I do predict that Michigan’s run game and pass protection will encounter a much more pronounced challenge by the Hoosier front 7 on Saturday that they’ve seen all season. And I include the Notre Dame game in that assertion. Such challenges are a good thing for this young Michigan team.

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
While I don’t like the fact that Michigan’s defense is ranked 9th in the anemic Big Ten in any category, particularly defensive yards per game (359 yards given up per game), Greg Robinson’s efforts have placed Michigan 5th in scoring defense so far with 19.3 points per game, which isn’t too shabby given Michigan’s more fortunate offensive fireworks displayed thus far in averaging 38 pts per game. In my view, Michigan’s defensive statistics after 3 games confirm to the severity of the situation that was predicted months ago. The Wolverines have inadequate depth and experience at all defensive positions. Still what does it say to you that Greg Robinson’s defense has not given up a single point in the 3rd quarter and has given up only 21 points in the second half after the first three games? Michigan is giving up about 235 yards through the air and about 123 yards on the ground each and every game, but they’re finally making teams work for their points this year. Michigan’s defense starts slow, but plays hot in the latter half of football games. This will be an advantage against Indiana.

Indiana is going to try and keep Michigan’s vaunted read spread option offense off the field with the power run game and a lot of quick out passes and flies from Ben Chappell to his 3 favorite receivers (Doss, Belcher and Evans). Chappell has only been sacked once this season in the season opener versus EKU. With the exception of Chappell’s three interceptions, the Hoosiers have done a very good job of eliminating lost fumbles. Unless the Wolverines found some better linebackers over the last 6 days, the Hoosiers are going to be able to run the ball on Michigan just as EMU and Notre Dame did. Like the Notre Dame game, Chappell’s throwing accuracy and the height and speed of Indiana receivers will be a problem for UM in this game.

That all said Indiana’s offensive line has not yet faced a defensive front like Michigan’s.
They must control Brandon Graham, Mike Martin and Craig Roh, or there will be serious consequences in the Hoosier backfield all game long.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:

As “good” as I believe defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton are, and as talented as Mayberry and Patterson have proven to be at linebacker for the Hoosiers, Indiana’s defense is about to run into a buzz saw on Saturday. Most college football pundits are still doing triple-takes about the Michigan turnaround from 2008 after just three games. Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines are now No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (38 points per game) and No. 2 in total offense (439 yards per game). Michigan has outscored it’s opponents 114 to 58 so far. Unlike the Wolverine defense, the Michigan offensive unit does better early on in football games, having scored 63% of its points in the first half.

For Indiana, nothing done right or well versus Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan or Akron is going to matter much. Do we have to go through the yards per carry statistics and the number of different UM players that have a touchdown to their credit?

OK, then let’s do that. Michigan tailback Carlos Brown? He’s averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Tailback Brandon Minor? 6.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Tate Forcier? 3.7 yards per carry. Six different Wolverines have scored rushing touchdowns. Seven Wolverine receivers have 5 catches or more. The Hoosier front seven will need to apply significant pressure on Tate Forcier early and try tp “force” critical mistakes. Forcier played well below par last week in passing yardage, but has his star receiver Junior Hemingway back at full health from injury this Saturday.

Star tailback Brandon Minor is questionable for Saturday’s game due to injury, but Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith are capable and dangerous backups for Michigan. Second string quarterback Denard Robinson has already scored spectacular touchdowns runs in two of Michigan’s last three games. Indiana doesn’t know this Michigan team at all offensively, and since more of Rodriguez’s playbook is being installed each week, they’ll need to be prepared for just about anything.

The Last Time:
Michigan last played Indiana on November 11, 2006. The Wolverines pounded the Hoosiers 34-3 on ESPN broadcasted nationally. This set up a huge clash of highly ranked unbeaten teams in No.1 Ohio State 11-0 versus No. 2 Michigan 11-0 in Columbus in the “The Game” the following week. Bill Lynch has never coached a game against Michigan before and it’ll be his first visit to the Big House as head coach.

The Indiana-Michigan series has not been particularly exciting mainly due to the one-sidedness. It is interesting to note, however, that just 30 years ago, one of the most exciting Michigan-Indiana games was played in Ann Arbor came down to the last seconds. With the game tied 21-21, Michigan’s junior quarterback John Wangler connected on a highly thrown pass to true freshman wide receiver Anthony Carter, who reached to catch it and then proceeded to rambled past several Hoosier defenders into the endzone as time expired. This win was over one of Lee Corso’s best Indiana football teams.

If I were Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch, I’d keep an watchful eye on any true freshman on the Michigan football team roster who hails from Florida.

Pssst, Bill! Denard Robinson!

What to Expect:
Part of me believes this will be a EMU game redux because the Hoosiers will try to run the ball out of the Pistol I formation, eat clock and keep Tate Forcier and Co. on the sidelines. Another part of me believes this could be a tough challenge for Michigan’s rushing attack, requiring the Wolverines to throw much more than they had to versus Eastern Michigan. Therefore, I do expect a more balanced offensive attack by both teams offensively in the ratio of passing yards to rushing yards.

Hoosier quarterback Ben Chappell is just too good not to connect on at least one TD strike or two to those tall wide outs of his in this football game. By now we all know just how cooperative the Michigan defensive secondary will be on that one. Likewise, because of Kirlew’s and Middleton’s aggressive play and Indiana’s 9 sacks over the last three games at defensive end, Forcier is going to roll out frequently and exploit the over pursuit. With proven run threat like Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw and Brandon Minor, Forcier should have a great day throwing against Indiana’s rag tag secondary players. One should not be at all surprised to see some touchdown runs by Michigan’s quarterbacks in this game from the read option play.

Then there are the rushing attacks to consider. The Hoosiers should be able to move the ball on the ground against Michigan in much the same way as the Irish and Hurons (Eagles) did: right up the middle on delays, draws and traps. The play action of the Pistol offense is going to easily confuse Michigan’s linebackers, and open up some nice running lanes for Demetrius McCray. However, I do expect Robinson to make some good adjustments yet again at halftime to shut this down for the latter half of the game. Despite the loss of center Dave Molk to injury, Michigan should be able to pound the Hoosiers into submission with the read spread option attack this Saturday. If Minor doesn’t play, then expect Carlos Brown to have a 100+ yard day. We can expect 100 additional yards rushing split between the two quarterbacks (Forcier and Robinson) and one other running back (likely Michael Shaw).

As predicted for the EMU game, Mr. Denard Robinson’s appearance in the upcoming Indiana game will again prove to be electrifying.

WCA Prediction: Michigan 38, Indiana 17


BlueBulls said...

Nitpick, sorry.

"From here on out Michigan faces 9 straight Big Ten opponents with no bye week."

We play Delaware State October 17.

Lance said...

Great read. Slight oversight on the 9 straight Big Ten opponents (8 + Delaware St.). Go Blue!

Markusr2007 said...

Thanks! I've updated the post with a correction!