Oh wait, they did play last week. 42-7 over Rutgers. There’s not much we can take from this that we didn’t already know but any thoughts you want to get out?
Evan: They played an FCS level team so it’s hard to draw any real conclusions, but Shea Patterson looked really, really good. Also, I can’t help but think that if Oklahoma had Michigan’s defense they would be one of the best teams in college football history. That’s about it though.
Alex: Patterson played his best game as a Wolverine, making a lot of very tough throws and doing just about everything Harbaugh asked of him. The team played it pretty conservatively, not wanting Shea to do much running and obviously, they didn’t need to. They were also very precautionary in terms of trying to avoid injuries. Which is also, obviously, the smart thing to do given the certain game that is coming up very soon.
I think this game did showcase the value of Josh Metellus, which should be noted by some of his detractors, like say, you.
Evan: I’ve been pretty bullish on Metellus since the Wisconsin game. I think he’s improved a lot. He still plays a little too high-risk, high-reward for me considering the way the rest of Don Brown’s defense is set up, but it is clear Hawkins is a major downgrade. But like you said, he didn’t play because of how precautionary the staff was with injuries, which I expect to see again this week.
Alex: Brad Hawkins still has a ways to go in his development, which in understandable. And yes, I wouldn’t expect Metellus to play this week, but if he does that’s good news for Michigan since we have to think that the coaching staff is going to be taking 0 risks against a team like if Indiana. Any player that’s playing significant minutes this week would mean that they are basically 100%.
Which is why it was so big that Rashan Gary played nearly the entire game last week against Rutgers.
Evan: It was nice to see Gary back. You have to think the happiest person is Chase Winovich, who will certainly get held and double teamed less with Gary back and getting doubled/tripled on the other side. If this pass rush is at full strength the next two weeks, Peyton Ramsey and Dwayne Haskins are going to get to know Winovich, Gary, Uche, and the rest of the crew really well, as neither of their offensive lines have looked particularly strong in pass protection recently.
Alex: It was interesting how Rutgers really schemed around Michigan’s pass rush last week, calling a lot of screens and short passes. It didn’t get them anywhere offensively, but it did keep their QB, Artur Sitkowski, upright. It also hurt Michigan’s obscene passing down sack rate. It was a game plan that I can imagine we’ll see a fair bit of in Columbus, given how Ohio State has called their offense this year.
Evan: Yep, OSU loves their bubble screens and slants. The problem for them in theory is that they haven’t played a secondary with close to the speed of Michigan’s. Anyways, that’s for next week. Any other thoughts on Rutgers before we move on to Indiana?
Alex: Just that a Michigan win over Indiana would mean that it is the longest winning streak (10 games) for the Wolverines since 2006, when they started that year 11-0.
Evan: It’d be the longest win streak by Michigan within one season since 2006, but they won 10 games in a row from the bowl win against Florida in January 2016 up until that treacherous night in Iowa in November 2016.
Anyways, Indiana is very meh. Average or below average across the board. Peyton Ramsey isn’t the worst QB in the world, but this Michigan defense will probably make him look like it for a few hours on Saturday. The Hoosiers sit at 5-5 and will likely need a week 13 win against Purdue to save bowl eligibility. They nearly upset Penn State three weeks ago before Trace McSorley scored a late touchdown to win 33-28. They have an early season win against Virginia who was briefly ranked later in the year. But they also only beat Rutgers by 7 and have lost a lot of blowout games. I don’t see much cause for concern or any real strengths from this group.
Alex: The only real concern with Indiana is the ghosts of Indiana games past. Of course, all of the previous JH-Indiana games have had uncomfortable moments, with the two in Bloomington (2015, 2017) going to overtime and the one previous affair in the Big House being close throughout most of the game before De’Veon Smith put the team on his back and Michigan finally pulled away. The Wolverines were a significantly better team than the Hoosiers in all of those games but it didn’t seem that way on the field.
But if we’re simply looking at the on-paper matchup, this should be an easy win for the Wolverines. Indiana is 81st in S&P+ to Michigan’s 4th. On offense, IU is 82nd to Michigan’s 21st and on defense, IU is 75th to Michigan’s #2 ranking. Vegas currently has the line at Michigan -28.5. Again, this shouldn’t be close. But it’s also hard to forget those other games.
Evan: Some of those recent games were definitely uncomfortably close for sure. I do think this Michigan team is Harbaugh’s best, and this Indiana team feels a little worse than they were in recent years. The most important thing for Michigan is to convert in the red zone early and build a lead so that the game isn’t in question and they can rest the starters.
The only way I see this game being even remotely close is if Michigan turns the ball over and doesn’t convert their scoring opportunities. There is no way that Indiana can keep pace in the yardage or field position battles.
Alex: Also worth noting that this is Senior Day at the Big House and while this is not the world’s biggest senior class (certainly not 2016), it is always a motivational day and the team will want to come out with a lot of fire. It’s gonna be chilly as well, with the high for the day being in the mid-30s and with a kick of 4:00 pm, the sun will set in a hurry and it could get real cold. Bundle up!
Evan: It definitely will be chilly. And you’re right, at this time of year, a 4:00 pm kick is basically a night game. One interesting dynamic to note: while this isn’t a large senior class and the only true senior starters are DE Winovich, OT JBB, S Kinnell, and RB Higdon (WR Perry, DT Marshall, and DT Mone also play quite a bit but don’t typically start), this could be the last home game for a handful of juniors who are draft eligible. Devin Bush and Rashan Gary both have top 10 grades right now and are essentially locks to enter the draft. Shea Patterson’s name will certainly be in the mix with a weak quarterback class. Every starting defender besides Devin Gil and Kwity Paye will at least think twice about testing draft waters. Michigan could be replacing 10-15 starters next year. It’ll be hard to say goodbye to these guys.
Alex: The defensive side could certainly take a hit. Offense probably won’t lose many starters due to youth on the offensive line and WR, but with the talent on the defense, there will be a number of players who will have tough decisions to make in the offseason about their futures. One other fun tidbit: the farewell to this senior class also means a farewell to the last players who ever experienced the Brady Hoke regime. There’s only a few left as you’d have to be a RS Sr. to be in that group, but JBB, Winovich, Mone, Watson, Marshall, and Furbush, as well as a few walk-ons like Wangler are in that exclusive club.
Anyway, onto predictions?
Evan: Sure, let’s do it. You lead 6-4 now, so I need to convert on the next 2 for us to be tied at the end of the regular season. Sticking with the rule I established two weeks ago that hasn’t really helped me, I’ll let you go first.
Alex: Let’s go with Michigan 35, Indiana 10. MVP is Higdon on Senior Day. Thing to watch is injuries vs. KEEPING SHEA PATTERSON HEALTHY ONE MORE WEEK.
Evan: I’ll take Michigan 34 - Indiana 7. MVP is Devin Bush on his de facto senior day. Thing to watch is if Quinn Nordin gets a chance to build his confidence before OSU.