Michigan (10-1, 7-1) defeated Indiana (5-6, 3-5) 20-10 on a cold and blustery Saturday afternoon filled with snow and relief.
The snow — and the relief — came toward the end of the game when the outcome was finally no longer in doubt.
Michigan was without quarterback Wilton Speight, who reportedly has a broken collarbone. Despite the reports, Jim Harbaugh hasn’t confirmed anything. Speight dressed and pretended to warm up in order to give the Wolverine offense some type of an advantage.
In his place, Michigan started John O’Korn at quarterback. O’Korn has played in a handful of games this year, and has plenty of starts under his belt from his freshman and sophomore seasons at Houston.
O’Korn did what he could, but it was the Michigan running game and defense that secured the victory for the Wolverines. The most important outcome of this game — aside from the score — is that Michigan made it through without any significant injuries.
This was a trap week for both Michigan and Ohio State, and neither team had an easy time of things, but they were each able to remain focused long enough to walk into this week as winners, which keeps the luster on an already gleaming matchup.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Let’s first start by saying that almost no quarterback was going to look good in the weather that Michigan and Indiana were playing in. The weather all over the Midwest was pretty terrible. Of the 10 FBS quarterbacks who played a game in the state of Michigan this past week, only three completed 50% of their passes. Three of those games took place on Saturday, and only the Buffalo and Western Michigan passing games were hitting that mark. They combined to complete 41 of 59 passes.
Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State, meanwhile, completed just 39 of 89 pass attempts.
So I said all of that to say this: John O’Korn did not play well at all against Indiana and because of the weather it may be the most inaccurate portrait of a quarterback’s abilities we will see this season. Or it may not. Basically, who the hell knows?
O’Korn completed 7-of-16 passes for 59 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked twice and rushed for 19 yards, which included a 30-yard scramble down the sideline.
Weather or not, a few things stood out for me. First, he has a tendency to hold the ball way too long. Second, when he scrambles, he will sometimes turn his back to the defense in an effort to reverse field and avoid a sack, which can then lose him even more yards. He’s a good athlete, but he still thinks he can get away with things he got away with in high school and at Houston. Third, Jake Butt was only targeted once.
If these three items repeat themselves against Ohio State, then the Buckeyes shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Also, the Wolverines were just 3-of-15 on third downs, and only once in nine dropbacks did O’Korn complete a pass for a first down. He did scramble 30 yards for another, which is going to have to happen a couple of times on Saturday for this offense.
Amara Darboh (1-12) and Jehu Chesson (2-12) had their quietest games of the season, through no fault of their own. Darboh now has just two receptions for 17 yards the last two weeks. Chesson has four receptions for 42 yards in that same span.
November is always tough on the passing game, but Michigan will obviously need better production from their receivers if they are going to score enough to win on Saturday.
The star of the game for the Wolverines was running back De’Veon Smith, who rushed for 158 yards on 23 carries, scoring on runs of 34 and 39 yards late in the third quarter. It was a career-high yardage total, as well as his third 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Smith was as brutish as he has been all season. Indiana wasn’t able to stop him at the point of attack, which is where Smith is vulnerable. Watching Ohio State’s defense this past weekend, Jim Harbaugh is going to come up with some similar schemes to what Michigan State did in order to give Smith some room before the defense gets to him.
It will take a fairly big breakdown for Smith to hit a home run against the Buckeyes, but as we saw last week, there are breakdowns available. I don’t envision him having a great day running into the Ohio State defense, but I never really envision him having a great day running into any defense.
There weren’t too many other carries available for running backs, though Chris Evans did rush for 39 yards on nine carries. I’m looking forward to seeing him when he’s stronger and able to break more tackles. With his speed and wiggle, he could be a very versatile and dynamic runner.
The most glaring issue with the offensive line in this one was freshman left guard Ben Bredeson who had a few rough plays both pass blocking and not being quick enough to pull on a run play. Still, the offensive line paved the way for 225 yards on 50 carries (4.5 ypc), which isn’t a bad number when you consider how impossible it was to throw the ball. It only got worse as the game went on — O’Korn completed just 2-of-6 passes in the second half.
Jabrill Peppers was used again on offense, which is the norm now. A halfback option pass was called for him while he lined up at running back, but it was the fourth-most obvious pass play called in recorded human history, so it was defended well enough that Peppers had to keep the ball and run out of bounds. He finished the game with two rushes for two yards.
Michigan did not have a great deal of success running wide as Indiana has fast linebackers who were able to snake through blockers who can’t get outside as well as the staff would like. Ohio State has similar speed with their linebackers.
When Michigan Was On Defense
The Wolverines held Indiana to 255 yards of total offense on 66 plays (3.9 avg). The Hoosiers rushed for just 64 yards on 36 attempts (1.8 ypc) and passed for 191 yards on 14-of-30 attempts in rough conditions.
It wasn’t the best day for cornerback Channing Stribling, who had his eyes in the wrong places at times, but he still had two pass breakups.
Michigan defended slot receiver Mitchell Paige mostly with safety Dymonte Thomas and Peppers, but I do not expect the Wolverines to do the same thing when it comes to defending Curtis Samuel in the slot. I would expect more of Jourdan Lewis in that role.
The Hoosiers’ starting receivers — Ricky Jones (4-40), Paige (4-41), and Nick Westbrook (4-78) — combined for 12 receptions and 159 yards receiving. This was one of the more successful days for opposing receivers against the Wolverines. It was not a great day, however, but it should certainly provide the Buckeyes with a glimmer of hope.
Michigan’s defense contained the Indiana running game, but it was interesting to see the Hoosiers have a little bit of success with the wildcat when the mini-blizzard hit, running into a loaded box full of Wolverine defenders who knew that passing the ball was no longer an option.
I haven’t talked much about defensive end Chase Winovich this year, but he is a guy who excels at taking the absolute shortest route to the quarterback. He will fight constantly with the offensive lineman in front of him, but he’s not looking to go super-wide and take himself out of the play like some guys. He has five sacks on the season as part of Michigan’s four-man rotation at defensive end.
While Chris Wormley, Rashan Gary, and Taco Charlton get more pub, Winovich is the guy who runs around your tackle when he thinks he can take a breather.
Defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow had another very good game, finishing with seven tackles and three tackles for loss. He didn’t get into the backfield much against Iowa, but he was back with a vengeance against Indiana. Ohio State’s guards will have their hands full with Glasgow. How he goes, so goes the Michigan run defense.
Jabrill Peppers finished with five tackles and two tackles for loss. Both tackles for loss came on quarterback runs. Indiana didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary to try and avoid him, though they did throw a couple of linemen at him on a handful of plays.
The Michigan Special Teams
The Wolverines blocked two punts. No, they didn’t return either of them, but they have been fantastic this season at blocking punts. They haven’t been great at blocking them backwards, however, but I’ve pretty much just guaranteed that they will do it against Ohio State by typing this sentence.
Peppers averaged seven yards on his four punt returns and picked up 18 yards on his one kickoff return. I don’t see Ohio State doing anything differently this weekend in their kicking game. They will either kick into the end zone for the touchback, or try to land the kickoff inside the five in the corner to limit the room to run.
Punter Kenny Allen had a good day, averaging 41.2 yards per punt and putting four of his six kicks inside the 20-yard line. Those are winning numbers when you’re talking about field position.
Not to be outdone, placekicker Kenny Allen hit both of his field goal attempts (28, 33). He has kicked at least one field goal in his last five games.
Not to be outdone, kickoff specialist Kenny Allen put all five of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. I assume that plan will continue on Saturday.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that we saw John O’Korn for an entire game and we may not have learned a damn thing.
Granted, I think I know what to expect from O’Korn — and it’s not great, but when you have one of the best offensive coaches in the sport preparing you, then you’re already going to have one leg up.
The other leg, however, is entirely up to O’Korn.
It also means absolutely nothing. Nothing up to this point means anything. Yeah, the rankings will look nice on the television graphics, but Ohio State being No. 2 or Michigan being No. 3 doesn’t make the other team want to win more.
Sure, it will be fun for either team to end the playoff hopes of their most bitter rival, but bragging rights only get decided once a year, and they never want to be on the wrong side of that outcome.
Ohio State vs. Michigan is the best thing sports has ever given us, and it’s going to give us even more on Saturday. New heroes, new goats, new hits to the head on third downs that keep drives alive, new poses — either the Heisman or the Byesman (see: Marcus Hall, 2013).
This rivalry gives and takes from every fan, and yet they all come back every single year with the hope that this will be the year with more giving and less taking.
Ohio State has done their share of taking over the last 20 years, but Michigan is more than capable of ending their own giving ways.
I can’t wait for Saturday, and I know I’m not alone. To the Ohio State fans, enjoy the day, be kind to those dressed in blue. To the Michigan fans, enjoy the day, and try not to think ahead to the rivalry game against Rutgers next year while this one is going on.
The Road to The Game
Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3
Michigan 51 – UCF 14
Michigan 45 – Colorado 28
Michigan 49 – Penn State 10
Michigan 14 – Wisconsin 7
Michigan 78 – Rutgers 0
Michigan 41 – Illinois 8
Michigan 32 – Michigan State 23
Michigan 59 – Maryland 3
Michigan 13 – Iowa 14
Michigan 20 – Indiana 10
Michigan at Ohio State