ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team is in a valley between two peak emotional matchups this weekend, but it can’t afford to look past perhaps the best team Indiana has had in 25 years.
Jim Harbaugh’s team put together a masterful performance last week against in-state rival Michigan State. That’s always a heated, emotional matchup, and Michigan was dominant in every facet.
With the anticipated battle against Ohio State just a week away, it would be easy for the Wolverines to overlook a matchup with an Indiana team that hasn’t had a winning record in more than a decade. But that would be playing with fire.
Indiana has already clinched a winning record. It has a chance to win its eighth game for the first time since 1993. Wins over Michigan and Purdue to end the season would give Indiana only its third nine-win season ever and its first since 1967.
The Hoosiers were ranked in the AP poll last week for the first time since 1994.
To summarize: Indiana has its best team since any of Michigan’s players were born, and the Hoosiers are motivated to make 2019 a special season in school history.
A win over Michigan would put a stamp on what Tom Allen has done this season. Indiana came up just short against Penn State last week and has now lost to both of its opponents with winning records.
Michigan has won 23 straight in the series and 38 of the last 39 dating back to 1968. Indiana fans and players are probably as sick of hearing that as Michigan fans are of hearing about Harbaugh’s record against Ohio State.
Indiana would love nothing more than to upset Michigan. This year, it actually has the players to do so. Harbaugh’s teams needed three overtimes to win in Bloomington in 2015 and 2017, and neither of those Indiana teams were any good.
In the preseason, this looked like a classic trap game. Now Indiana should have Michigan’s full attention.
High stakes for Michigan
There’s still plenty to play for in the final two weeks of the regular season. If Michigan could somehow beat Indiana and Ohio State, it would likely be ranked within the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings and go to its first Rose Bowl in 13 years.
After everyone wrote the team off in September, that would be a massive achievement. But to have a chance, Michigan has to survive its last road game.
Indiana has played five home games this season, losing to Ohio State and beating its other four opponents -- Eastern Illinois, Connecticut, Rutgers and Northwestern -- by a combined score of 159-6. Before last week, Indiana looked like a team that was way too strong for lesser opponents but couldn’t hang with the big boys.
But Indiana went into University Park and outplayed Penn State, scoring 27 points and out-gaining the Nittany Lions by nearly 100 yards. The Hoosiers lost the game by a touchdown, but it was the first time they really hung with a top-tier Big Ten opponent this year.
Indiana’s offense vs. Michigan’s defense
Peyton Ramsey has been excellent since taking over for injured Michael Penix Jr. Ramsey is completing 72.7% of his passes for 8.4 yards per attempt and has 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He’s also a threat with his legs, rushing for 213 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries, excluding sacks.
Ramsey has the benefit to throwing to a loaded receiving corps, led by Whop Philyor’s 61 catches for 863 yards. Ty Fryfogle, Peyton Hendershot and Nick Westbrook have all surpassed 30 catches. That foursome has combined for 14 touchdown catches this season.
The Hoosiers are most formidable through the air, but Stevie Scott III is a solid option in the running game. He’s racked up 791 yards and nine rushing touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He’ll test a Michigan interior that’s been hot and cold this season.
Recently, though, Don Brown’s unit has been stingy. Notre Dame, Maryland and Michigan State combined to score 31 points the last three games. One touchdown came on a kick return and another came against the second-string defense in garbage time.
Since the first half against Penn State, the defense has been much more consistent, and suddenly, the Wolverines are No. 3 nationally in terms of yards allowed per play. Who would have thought that possible after Wisconsin put up 35 points without breaking a sweat?
Indiana has the type of offense that typically gives Brown fits: talented receivers and a mobile quarterback. Luckily for Brown, he now has Cam McGrone at middle linebacker to spy on Ramsey and a wealth of capable defensive backs.
Brown has been more adept at making adjustments to cover up his unit’s deficiencies this season. If that trend continues, Indiana will have a hard time topping 30 points for the ninth time this season.
Michigan’s offense vs. Indiana’s defense
Shea Patterson and the Michigan offense are looking to build on their most complete offensive performance of the year. After dominating Notre Dame on the ground and overpowering Maryland on special teams, the passing attack took the reins last weekend against Michigan State.
Patterson had the best game of his college career, completing 24 of 33 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Nine of those completions went to Ronnie Bell, who finished with 150 yards.
Josh Gattis is finally using his full arsenal of weapons to open up the offense, whether it’s downfield passes to Nico Collins, jet sweeps to Giles Jackson or bubble screens to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Bell.
Indiana has a top 20 defense in terms of yards allowed per game, so Patterson and Gattis will have to be at their best once again.
Most importantly, Patterson needs to continue taking care of the football. He’s gone three games without a turnover and only has one pick in the last five games.
Last season, Patterson torched Indiana with his legs, rushing for 68 yards on nine carries. He might have to be a weapon on the ground once again.
Streaking into The Game
Right now, Michigan is on a steep upward trajectory. The first three games of the season were ugly. The next four were a tenuous step in the right direction. The last three have been downright dominant.
Michigan lost its two toughest road tests this season. No matter what’s written on the front of Indiana’s jerseys, this is one final chance for an impressive road win.
If the Wolverines can ride a four-game winning streak into the matchup with Ohio State, there’s no telling what can happen. Ohio State hasn’t faced any adversity this season, which could be an advantage for a Michigan that’s starting to gain confidence.
This could still be remembered as a successful season. But it’s hard to see that happening with a loss to Indiana.
Everyone wants to look ahead to the Ohio State game. You’d better hold off just one more day.