Hoosiers go for coveted top 25 win

Several accomplishments have already been attained by Indiana’s football team this season, but they aren’t the ones the Hoosiers have been looking for.

When they clinched a bowl bid, Tom Allen and his players reiterated they didn’t just want to go to a bowl game. They wanted to go there and win. That’s down the road.

When they reached the top 25 for the first time since 1994, Allen admitted he told his team in the preseason that a ranking would come at some point, because he believed they were that good. That was something they expected.

But when No. 12 Michigan arrives at Memorial Stadium today for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, the Hoosiers can begin checking off some goals.

They can beat a top 25 team, which IU aimed to do at least twice this season. The bowl game will hopefully offer a second chance at a top 25 squad, but the Hoosiers can’t accomplish that goal with a loss today.

Their other goal comes next week, when they try to get the Oaken Bucket back from Purdue.

“Coach Allen says it every week, we have yet to accomplish our three goals for the season,” senior guard Simon Stepaniak said, listing top 25 victories, a bowl win, and beating Purdue. “We haven’t changed anything for our goals. We are just trying to attack the ones we have still.”

Stepaniak and 15 of his senior teammates will be honored before kickoff as part of the Hoosiers’ last home game, acknowledging their role in the last four or five years of growth within the program. If it wasn’t for the leadership of this class, Allen can’t be sure the Hoosiers (7-3) would have been bowl eligible in October, clinching their first winning season since 2007 in early November.

But attaining one of the Hoosiers’ big three goals would be truly historic, because it requires a break in a long skid. IU hasn’t beaten Michigan since 1987. It’s longer than the drought to Ohio State, which reaches back to a 1988 win.

Allen is reaching into the past for some inspiration. On his radio show Thursday, the coach announced that alums Ted Smith (1957-59), Doug Crusan (1965-67), and Joe Huff (1984-88) will be honorary game captains.

The one thing they all have in common?

“All three of them have beaten Michigan,” Allen said. “We want to bring those guys with us on the sideline and let them walk out there on the coin toss and let them relive those memories.”

The ’87 contest brought back memories for IU radio man Don Fischer, who recalled Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler stopping play multiple times because Memorial Stadium’s crowd of 51,240 was too loud.

The wind was blowing from the north for three quarters, Fischer added, and in the final portion of a 14-10 win, with the Hoosiers traveling south to north, the wind suddenly reversed and was at their backs.

More recent iterations of IU-Michigan have been close but just haven’t gone the Hoosiers’ way. The last two matchups in Bloomington have gone to overtime, including a double-overtime contest in 2015.

“We do address things in the past, when I think it’s appropriate … knowing how we’ve played these guys when they come here, and the expectations we have for that,” Allen said. “Bottom line is you go through and talk about the goals you have for a season, and opportunities like this are one of our goals. We want to be able to play our best football. It has to be consistent. It has to be start to finish, and it has to be high-level execution.”

IU had a chance to beat a top 25 team last week, battling No. 9 Penn State to a 34-27 result which, if the Hoosiers had executed on special teams, could have been much different.

Michigan will be a tall task, in all three phases. The Wolverines (8-2) have won their last three games by a combined score of 127-31, including a 45-14 drubbing of No. 15 Notre Dame. They are far different from the team that squeezed out a win over Army, 24-21, in Week 2.

“They look like a completely different team, especially on offense. … Part of it is a new system,” Allen said. “You go through your season and you kind of figure out what we really do well, within that new system, and then you start trying to maximize those and guys get more confident.

“So I just think that they’re just playing with a high level of confidence and they’re executing their scheme better and guys are getting open and getting the ball to open receivers and protecting the ball better.”

The Wolverines are also implementing new schemes defensively, Allen said. He noted that Michigan, predominantly a man-to-man coverage team under d-coordinator Dom Brown, is mixing its coverages more than ever. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer will have to be ready to counter, as well as quarterback Peyton Ramsey.

Ramsey is aware of what’s at stake — not only for himself but for this team and the seniors it seeks to honor with a coveted top 25 victory.

“It’s one of our season goals ahead of us, but it’s also just another chance to go play, go compete,” Ramsey said, “and show what we are capable of doing.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Keeping an eye on Shea.

Shea Patterson is boom or bust on the ground. He has just 81 yards on 69 attempts, but that includes 170 negative yards. Patterson has gained 251 forward yards, so he can make plays with his feet, when needed. At the same time, Patterson is more likely to scramble behind the line of scrimmage, looking downfield in search of a passing target. For an IU defense that has struggled at times to contain mobile quarterbacks, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound senior will be a handful. The Hoosiers’ blitzes have to get home. If they don’t, IU’s pass-rushers have to be disciplined and not allow lanes of escape.

2. Winning third downs.

IU’s defense actually performed well versus Penn State on first and second downs last week. It was on third downs, where the Lions were able to convert 7-of-14, that the Hoosiers struggled. That was a disappointment because IU has excelled on the “get off the field” down for most of the season, ranking fourth (32.6 percent) in the Big Ten in third-down defense. Michigan ranks third (28.3) in that category. Neither rush offense has been exceptional: Michigan, at 162 yards per game, ranks eighth in the Big Ten, and IU, at 134 yards per, ranks 12th. But the team that can best stay on schedule — and the defense that can get off the field on third down — will give itself a good chance at pulling this one out.

3. The special teams game.

Coaches preach the importance of field position, and the Wolverines truly have the means to affect a game in that phase. Michigan punter Will Hart leads the Big Ten in average distance at 46.1 yards per boot. The Wolverines have the No. 1 kick return unit in the conference by average, as well, which is led by Giles Jackson, who has a 97-yard touchdown return this season. If the Hoosier offense does score, or the defense comes up with stops, their job doesn’t end there. Punt return, in particular, is a question for IU going into Saturday because Whop Philyor (concussion) was still in protocol as of Thursday morning.

4. Keeping IU’s offense rolling.

IU tied a program record with six straight games of 30-plus points, a streak that ended last weekend with a 27-point outing at Penn State. The level of difficulty only increases with linebackers Khaleke Hudson (fifth in the Big Ten in tackles) and Josh Uche (fourth in sacks) and cornerback Lavert Hill (third in passes defensed, second in INTs). Can the Hoosiers overcome the size, speed, and athleticism of the third-ranked defense in the conference? Michigan has held its last two opponents, Maryland Michigan State, to seven and 10 points, respectively. IU has the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten, but the Wolverines have held their last two opponents to an average of 135 passing yards.

By the numbers

3: Combined overtimes in the 2017 and ‘15 IU-Michigan matchups in Bloomington. The latter contest went double overtime.

5: Eight-win campaigns in IU history (1993, 1988, 1987, 1979, 1905).

8.5: Average yards per pass for IU this season, tied for 17th nationally. The Hoosiers ranked 107th last year (6.4).

16: Seniors to be recognized in IU’s 2019 home finale.

72.7: Peyton Ramsey’s completion percentage, which ranks fourth in the country.

11 comments

  1. Proud of how hard IU fought in the first half. Just our luck Michigan now has the best QB they’ve had in at least a decade. Perfect passes are impossible to defend.

  2. What are you watching? I don’t recall seeing receivers so wide open. Unless Shelby and Inge are replaced with noticeable upgrades this program will unfortunately continue to struggle. I called this game 42-23. Pretty much on target. As for Inge’s respectability; When teams think it’s better to run from the endzone rather than take it at the 25, there’s a real problem. Nothing personal, but some of your pie eyed observations are incredible.

  3. What a joke. Typical.

    Should call Indiana football the porn stars. They always choke on the big ones.

  4. I don’t think IU choked at all, really. Two games this year where IU there was a huge difference in physicality and talented players making plays. Ohio State and Michigan. Penn State had talent but IU the difference in physicality in that game wasn’t noticeable and got beat for other reasons.
    IU had better be really physical against Purdue or IU will get beat. Purdue is going to be a tough game for IU to win because Purdue is improving and Purdue will pass downfield and Purdue defense will come after IU offense.
    Second half of season Michigan highly talented players are hitting there potential and it shows.
    Another classic next week Ohio State vs Michigan. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan wins. Often the lesser team wins that game.

  5. No, I didn’t see any evidence of IU choking. IU played hard, but they were simply outmanned by bigger, faster, stronger and more experienced players. It was obvious. Michigan has a lot of players that will be playing in the NFL, IU has a few. MI’s starting roster was full of upperclassmen. IU is still a very young team, and it showed.

    I wish the refs would call the obvious PI penalties. IU’s receivers were getting mugged on every pass play, but only a few PI penalties were called against MI.

    Good to see Tuttle get into the game in garbage time, but why not let him throw passes (he threw one pass). I don’t get it. The outcome is already determined, why not let the kid throw passes? Why not try to score another TD? Was TA afraid he’d throw an INT? Who cares? He needs experience throwing passes. Can anyone help me understand why they won’t let Tuttle throw passes in garbage time?

    I watched a bit of the Purdue game today. They will be tough to beat next week, especially if some of our best playmakers are out.

  6. You go back and watch the game on replay, and you’ll see numerous MI completions where the IU defender had excellent coverage, and was right on the receiver, but the MI receiver caught the pass anyway. No, the biggest problem IU’s defense had today was the lack of a pass rush. MI’s QB was way too comfortable all day long. I don’t think he took a hard hit once today.

    1. Lack of a potent pass rush was #1 IU weakness in todays game. Not nearly enough power or speed on the DL to successfully thwart 1st down plays. PUke won’t be Meatchicken like.

  7. I think in this one the reason that JT didn’t try to throw ball is IU wanted game to be over without any more injuries.
    However, earlier in year JT could have thrown a couple times. For IU it is a good thing that Ramsey has been durable.

  8. PR’s average yards per attempt was 7.48 today. MI’s QB had an average of 11.44 per attempt. IU had more rushing yards than Michigan, but MI’s passing game was the story of this game.

  9. Michigan game wasn’t winnable for IU as game went on as early as quarter two. It wouldn’t have mattered unless Michigan players were sick.
    As needed Michigan just raised level of play when needed, especially in both offensive line and defensive line trenches.

  10. Michigan players like Ohio State players just make plays that other players throughout game just don’t make like they do.

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