ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan faces a must-win situation in its final two games of the regular season if it wants to achieve its goals of winning championships.
Indiana, meanwhile, looks to gain bowl eligibility with a win Saturday.
The last time Michigan faced a team shooting for bowl eligibility? Last Saturday — and Iowa beat Michigan 14-13 in Iowa City, Iowa, on a last-second field goal by Keith Duncan.
No. 3 Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten Conference) hosts Indiana (5-5, 3-4) at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
Mike Miller, who covers Indiana football for the Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times, offers some insight on the Hoosiers. You can read Mike’s work and coverage of the Hoosiers here, and you can follow Mike and his coverage on Twitter: @MikeMillerHT.
Q: How is Indiana preparing for the possibility that it may not face Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight this weekend?
Miller: Although we’re not privy to practice during the season, I imagine that backup Zander Diamont is functioning as John O’Korn this week behind the scenes. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has gone out of his way to praise Diamont for his work on the scout team during prep for teams like Ohio State and Nebraska. Of course, I don’t think O’Korn is as dynamic a player as Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett or Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong, but it seems he, too, can make things happen with his legs. That’s how Diamont helps Indiana prepare.
Q: Indiana is always perceived as a game in which the team that scores last wins, but the offense has dipped this season. Save for its 42-36 win at Maryland, Indiana has scored no more than 36 points in a game this season. Why is that?
Miller: I start with the offensive line. Indiana’s line had been earning a reputation as one of the better units in the country. The Hoosiers had two All-Americans up front last season, with left tackle Jason Spriggs — now with the Green Bay Packers — and right guard Dan Feeney. But Feeney missed four games earlier this fall due to a concussion, and talented right tackle Dimitric Camiel has also been sidelined with a back injury. Indiana simply hasn’t blocked consistently at an adequate level. The running lanes aren’t always there and quarterback Richard Lagow hasn’t always received the protection he requires. Surprisingly, the offensive line, I believe, has been at the root of the offensive stumbles.
Q: If a team has to defend against the high-tempo offense — and against this offense, in particular — what’s the best advice for that team and those players?
Miller: I think you need to have defensive players capable of thinking on their feet. So much of what Indiana does offensively is based off of quick throws — hitches, screens, etc. — not to mention the run-pass option it uses at the line of scrimmage. You just have to be aware of the personnel Indiana lines up with. Also, it may be obvious, but tackling in space is key. Indiana has a couple of receivers — especially slot guy Mitchell Paige — who excel in finding openings in a defense. That’s how Kevin Wilson likes to think, in terms of finding the holes. Bringing guys down before they spring free is equal parts elementary and important.
Q: Who is one player to watch on offense, and one on defense for Indiana?
Miller: Offensively, the aforementioned Mitchell Paige is a guy who can burn teams. He’s a great story, too. A former walk-on, Paige seized control of a starting job last year during fall camp after highly regarded slot receiver J-Shun Harris injured his knee. Paige is so good at finding the creases and getting open for his quarterback. He gives Indiana a true jolt. Defensively, linebacker Tegray Scales has been awesome this year. He’s the kind of defensive difference-maker that IU has needed for some time. This year, as a junior, he’s coming into his own. Scales leads the league with six double-digit tackle games, and he’s first among Power 5 schools with 71 solo stops. He’s quick and heady, giving an improving defense an anchor to rally around.
Q: Everybody knows Indiana for basketball, but what holds the football team back from similar recognition or success — is it player development, or playing in a stacked conference, or is there something else that’s overlooked?
Miller: For a time, it seemed, IU football was underfunded. It wasn’t recruiting well and, yeah, just not developing enough quality players. Generally speaking, things have changed under Kevin Wilson. He’s done a better job recruiting and his hiring of defensive coordinator Tom Allen this past January has given Indiana one of the better defensive units this program has seen in recent memory. I doubt Indiana football will ever reach the level of interest the basketball program holds, but there’s room for it to do some special things in the coming season. Allen has this defense playing at a strong level, and only one current starter is expected to graduate after the season. Combine that with an offense that should continue to grow and it has a shot at seven — or eight (!) — wins next year. It’ll always be a tough schedule in the Big Ten East, but this isn’t the Indiana of old. The Hoosiers are inconsistent and they frustrate the die-hards, but they possess a capacity to beat great teams. That’s because they’re a pretty good team themselves. They’ve often come close to capturing that signature win. While I’m not expecting a win this weekend, as we’ve seen previously, Indiana seldom rolls over. That’s a credit to the direction of the program.