Indiana football: 3 big keys for the Hoosiers against Michigan
Indiana has another huge opportunity Saturday: the chance to knock off Michigan at Memorial Stadium.
It’d keep the Hoosiers undefeated in the Big Ten East and — most surprisingly — solidify their standing as the most likely team to challenge Ohio State.
But IU will need to play well, maybe better than they did in Weeks 1 and 2, to get the job done.
Here are three keys for Indiana vs. Michigan.
1. Stay in the moment
Sure, it has been 33 years since IU last beat Michigan, but what does that matter to the current group of Hoosiers?
Charles Woodson won’t be on the field Saturday, nor will Tom Brady or anyone else from a bygone era. Michigan, No. 23 in the latest AP poll, might be solid in their own right this season, but they’re doing so with quarterback Joe Milton, defensive end Kwity Paye and others.
The Hoosiers could get caught up in the hoopla of the moment, with a chance — perhaps their most legitimate chance — to get win No. 10 in what has been an incredibly lopsided series. Maybe it’ll be one of the rare instances in 2020 in which not having your home crowd will be beneficial; there will be no nervous fan energy at Memorial Stadium, only team vs. team, and Indiana can win that matchup this season.
Michigan will undoubtedly be hungry. They’re coming off one of the worst losses in the Jim Harbaugh era, a hard-to-explain 3-point loss to rival Michigan State. In an upside-down is right-side-up, left-is-right Big Ten so far — aside from front-runner Ohio State — the MSU upset of UM was the biggest head scratcher. And it might mean the Wolverines are ready to attack the Hoosiers.
And so IU must stay grounded in the now, because all the series talk, that stuff in the past, is only extra noise.
2. Keeping winning in the secondary
For Michigan, Milton’s statistics through two games have been as impressive as one might expect: He has thrown for 525 yards without an interception — but with only 1 TD — and rushed for another 111 yards and a score.
He’s the Wolverines’ A1 man on offense.
But he hasn’t been infallible, either, and the Hoosiers might be best equipped to make him ordinary (or at least somewhat). If there has been a weakness to Milton’s game, it’s that he hasn’t been accurate passing deep. His long — only 35 yards — is evidence of that. But also, he has missed receivers.
Indiana could take advantage. They have maybe the Big Ten’s best cornerback trio, with Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor all capable of turning Milton over.
Michigan’s offense has been solid, averaging 466.5 yards (second in the Big Ten) and 36.5 points (tied with Indiana for third), but only its running game has shown big-play potential. If Indiana can limit those opportunities, much like Michigan State did Saturday, it’ll go a long way toward a win.
3. Keep cashing in
Indiana has an offensive disparity.
They’re third in the Big Ten in scoring, having put up 36 points in the victory over Penn State in the opener then 37 Saturday at Rutgers. But the Hoosiers are doing so with putting up gaudy yardage totals, a category where they rank only 13th in the conference at 279 per game, and their third-down conversion rate, of 26.1 percent (6-of-23), is dead last.
But there are a couple of reasons for their success. One, Indiana has been highly successful with their chances inside the red zone, scoring on all 12 of their trips, including 8 touchdowns. Charles Campbell, the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, has made all 6 of his field-goal attempts. And two, the defense has been greedy, with 5 interceptions that rank behind only Northwestern for the Big Ten lead and a fumble recovery. The Hoosiers are plus-4 in turnovers, a ratio that will lead to many more wins this season if it continues, and they’ve scored 27 points off the extra possessions.