Confidence key for Hoosiers vs. Wolverines

Tom Allen studies his history.

So the Indiana coach is well aware of how long it’s been since his football program last defeated Michigan.

“We haven’t beaten Michigan in 30 years,” Allen said, “and we have beaten them (only) twice in the past 50 years. So I understand the history. … The bottom line is how do you break through that from our perspective? We have laid that out.”

The Hoosiers’ plan begins with one word: confidence.

Never mind the past three decades of defeat, the blowouts and near misses that have dotted the timeline in that span. Allen wants his players to be confident that they can be the ones to end the skid.

Here’s how he’s going about it as the Hoosiers march toward Saturday’s homecoming showdown against the No. 17 Wolverines.

Prior to each game this season, Allen holds up a word of the week. Last Saturday, it was “dominate.” In a 27-0 thrashing of Football Championship Subdivision opponent Charleston Southern, Indiana did just that.

This weekend, against the nation’s top-ranked defense, Allen is preaching about the need to be confident through the expected crests and troughs of a Big Ten football game.

“To me, preparation creates confidence,” Allen said, “and I’ve said that ever since I got here. That’s not going to change. It’s about us doing the little things that we’re supposed to do in film study, in the weight room, after practice, pre-practice, during practice, to prepare to have that confidence to make those competitive plays when the game comes down to it.”

Indiana has made competitive plays against Michigan during recent meetings, but not nearly enough of them.

Last season, IU held a 7-3 halftime lead in Ann Arbor, before getting outscored 17-3 during the third quarter. The Michigan win hinged on a third-quarter third-down conversion by quarterback John O’Korn, who broke free from a would-be sack by linebackers Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver and ran 30 yards into Indiana territory.

The next play was a Wolverines touchdown.

Two years ago in Bloomington, the Hoosiers failed to defend a 34-27 lead in the fourth quarter, yielding one of several easy passing touchdowns that day to Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock on the final play of regulation. Indiana lost that game, 48-41, in double overtime.

“Those are kind of things that you talk about, you see,” Allen said about the lopsided Michigan series. “You want to change the outcome and you change the outcome not by talking about it over and over, but by changing the way you prepare. (It’s) a tremendous challenge and opportunity wrapped up into one. But that to me is what this is about. I told our team, the breakthrough is going to happen. When, is up to them.”

Michigan, which has enjoyed a surge of momentum since former star quarterback Jim Harbaugh returned to become coach in 2015, enters its latest trip to Memorial Stadium full of questions, almost all of them centered on its under-performing offense.

The Wolverines lead the nation in total defense (213.0 yards per game) and third-down defense (18.3 percent conversion rate), but their offense is a mess.

O’Korn hasn’t been sharp since taking over for injured starter Wilton Speight, the offensive line — particularly at right tackle — has been inadequate in former Hoosier position coach Greg Frey’s first year on Harbaugh’s staff and the offense as a whole ranks 85th nationally with 5.43 yards per play.

Michigan’s offense struggled throughout last week’s 14-10 loss to Michigan State, a game that included five Wolverine turnovers.

“But it’s a Big Ten football game and we expect to get their very best,” Allen said. “You want to win them (all) and when you don’t, you sometimes have a tendency to be more detailed and less overlooking the little things when you do fall short. So I think it will probably make them even sharper, to be honest with you.”

Which means, from their perspective, the Hoosiers need to be just as sharp.

And even more confident.

“This is our biggest game of the year,” IU linebacker Tegray Scales said. “Not because it’s Michigan, but because it’s the next game. We just embrace the process and we’re looking forward to Saturday.”