Michigan football: Why Indiana is a must-win for the Wolverines
They’re 1-1, going through some suffering after stumbling 27-24 at home to Michigan State. The Michigan Wolverines need to buck-up and pull themselves out of the proverbial gutter.
Like TE Nick Eubanks said during Monday’s Zoom call: “The only way is to go up. It makes no sense for us, you know, to stay down and droop about this loss. Just keep our heads up, you know?”
Eubanks later dropped a line that has rung so true during the past 5 seasons in Ann Arbor — all 5 of which Eubanks has been at UM.
“We’ve lost a ton of games in the way of us being challenged. But it’s adversity. … Adversity is the best teacher, and the best thing for us to do is to move forward and move through it. That’s what we’ve decided to do.”
Bowl losses, road losses and big-game losses — all have been hallmarks during the past 5 seasons.
This Saturday, Michigan has to avoid another gut-punch. Despite beating Indiana every season since 1988, long before its current players were born, Michigan has to be on alert prior to heading to Bloomington to squabble with the Hoosiers, who stunned Penn State in overtime 36-35 in Week 1 of the B1G season and bypassed Rutgers, 37-21, just this past week.
Remember Iowa in 2016? Remember Ohio State in … well … every year? Those were must-win scenarios. Had Michigan defeated Iowa in 2016, it would have likely been a College Football Playoff participant, despite losing to the Buckeyes — like clockwork — during the final game of the season.
Michigan State was a must-win, just because of the rivalry and the fact that the Spartans are rebuilding with a new coaching staff.
Well, go ahead and stick No. 13 Indiana into that conversation. Yes, Indiana — once a doormat of the Big Ten but now a team that nobody really wants to face. Led by redshirt sophomore QB Michael Penix, Jr. — the hero of the Penn State victory, IU’s second vs. PSU in 24 meetings — the Hoosiers are in prime position to score another program-boosting win, snap a decades-long losing streak to Michigan and gain some major respect within the college football world.
Indiana’s lack of success against big-brand programs is on the mind of everyone right now. But history doesn’t have to repeat itself.
“It’s definitely sports writer talk,” Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said during his Zoom press conference with reporters. “The record is what it is. We talk about things pretty openly and honestly within our program. (During) this fall camp, we’ve been challenging guys on the way they think. I’m always a big believer in mindset — we talk about that all of the time. Just more specifically, talking about the past not being predictive.
“I don’t believe that it is, unless you don’t change what you do on a daily basis — (or else) it will become predictive. But just to assume it’s going to be predictive, just because it’s always been that way, is what people will talk about … and they’ll give the stats. The past is real, but it’s not predictive unless you don’t do something to change it. So to me, it’s what you do next.”
Allen later said: “The bottom line is about us playing our best football.”
That’s something the Hoosiers have yet to do, he added.
“We’re in a position, here, that I expect us to be in it — and we’ve talked about being in it (vs. UM) the last couple of years,” Allen said. “Now it’s here and we have to continue to elevate our focus.”
Those are determined, clear and to-the-point words from a coach who knows his program has worked hard to compete with the upper-echelon teams in the B1G.
Since taking over in 2017, Allen has done a tremendous job of pushing his team into contention. Sure, the Hoosiers started with two very-Hoosiers-like 5-7 seasons under Allen, but they rebounded with an 8-5 campaign in 2019, the most wins since coach Bill Mallory went 8-4 in 1993.
Beating No. 23 Michigan would be a monumental accomplishment for Indiana. It would probably be sweeter if the Wolverines had beaten Michigan State, likely vaulting them from No. 13 to possibly No. 10 or better, but still monumental nonetheless. At No. 13, Indiana is at its highest ranked position since 1988.
Two of the past three games have needed overtime to decide: Michigan won 27-20 in 2017 and needed two extra frames to walk away with a 48-40 win over the Hoosiers last year.
Indiana is riding higher than it has in more than 30 years. This game is, of course, extremely important.
It had better be for the Wolverines as well. A loss to the Hoosiers would extinguish any hopes of winning the Big Ten, and possibly even exterminate dreams of a bowl game.
And it’d put that much more pressure on coach Jim Harbaugh, who’s had knack of losing critical, season-defining football games. Indiana’s story is one to appreciate, but the Wolverines simply can’t afford to be a chapter in the Hoosiers’ book chronicling their ascent under Allen.