ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Following their first loss of the season, Michigan players and coaches insist they are going to regroup and respond.
The Wolverines host Indiana at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Michigan Stadium. Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) is in a must-win situation if it wants to win the Big Ten East, earn a berth in the Big Ten championship game and keep its playoff hopes alive.
That pursuit begins this week against the Hoosiers (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten), and Michigan may face Indiana without quarterback Wilton Speight, who sustained an undisclosed injury in last Saturday’s loss at Iowa. Multiple reports state that Speight sustained a broken collarbone, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh refuted those reports Monday night and remained vague on Speight’s condition Tuesday.
“He remains questionable for Saturday, and we’ll re-evaluate after that,” Harbaugh said during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference.
Here’s are five things Michigan will need to focus on in preparation for Indiana:
Trust in your new quarterback
With the news that Speight is questionable for Saturday — and reports circulating that he could be out for the remainder of the regular season — expect John O’Korn to take the reins of the offense. O’Korn has been Speight’s backup this season, but had a stellar freshman year at Houston in 2013, throwing for 3,117 yards and being named the American Athletic Conference’s rookie of the year. He’s primarily been Speight’s understudy this year, but his previous in-game experience will be valuable.
Don’t look ahead to Nov. 26, although it could be tempting
Michigan needs to win out to maintain its goal of making the College Football Playoff, and it could be a two- or a three-game stretch, depending on how things unfold. That stretch starts Saturday against Indiana, a team that many could overlook, given that two of its three Big Ten wins are against Rutgers and Michigan State, two of the conference’s more hapless programs this season. But to do this, Michigan cannot overlook Indiana before its annual rivalry game Nov. 26 at Ohio State.
Don’t dwell on Saturday’s loss at Iowa
Learn from it, instead. The tackling was awful. The passing game was pedestrian. The penalties stacked up at inopportune times and the special teams play was inconsistent — a very un-Michigan performance against a team that, essentially, had nothing to lose. If Michigan is, in fact, a quality team, it evaluates where things went wrong, repairs its mistakes, builds upon those and uses them constructively. The Wolverines can’t let the loss at Iowa affect them at a key juncture in the season.
Ramp up the run game
Michigan has four running backs it can choose from, but no one rose above the other at Iowa. The Wolverines had a season-low 98 rushing yards Saturday night, and only one running back had more than 50 yards — freshman Chris Evans, who had 52 yards on eight carries. Now that the season’s stakes have gotten higher, Michigan can’t afford another poor performance in its run game, even against Indiana, whose rush defense has allowed an average of 156.2 yards in its first 10 games.
Stay disciplined on special teams
Special teams were less-than-special against the Hawkeyes. Michigan lost freshman linebacker Devin Bush to a targeting penalty during punt coverage in the first quarter. With less than 90 seconds left in regulation, linebacker Mike McCray was called for a facemask penalty while on Michigan’s punt team, which moved the start of Iowa’s game-winning drive from the Iowa 49 to the Michigan 36. Then, on Iowa’s game-winning field goal, Michigan only had 10 men on the field — a breakdown by both the field-goal coverage unit and the coaching staff.
“You’ve got to win two out of the three phases of a football game,” Harbaugh said. “I thought our defense won that phase, but offensively and special teams, we did not feel like we won those two phases.”