ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This could become another high-scoring affair in the fashion of many recent Indiana-Michigan football games.
And this could become a statement game for Michigan, which aims to keep its championship hopes alive with two wins in its final two games of the regular season.
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. In four of Michigan’s last five meetings with Indiana, the two teams have combined for at least 69 points. But Michigan may have to create offense without starting quarterback Wilton Speight.
Michigan is 55-9 against Indiana all-time and 20-0 in the last 20 meetings dating back to 1988.
When Michigan has the ball
Michigan has to play fast, work the passing game and score points against a team that also has a penchant for scoring points. Of course, there’s the question of who will pass the ball Saturday. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday that quarterback Wilton Speight is day-to-day with an unspecified injury to his left shoulder, and disputed reports that Speight is out for the season with a broken collarbone. John O’Korn could make his first start in more than two years — he previously played at Houston, where he passed for 3,117 yards as a freshman in 2013.
Michigan also needs to find a better rhythm in its run game after a season-low 98 rushing yards last week at Iowa.
When Indiana has the ball
Indiana has an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that’s certainly productive. Steered by quarterback Richard Lagow, the Hoosiers are second in the Big Ten in passing (302.7 yards). Indiana has averaged 467.3 yards a game, and averages about 77 plays a game. In its last four games (two wins, two losses), Indiana has at least 400 yards of offense, including last week’s 454 yards in a 45-31 loss to Penn State. However, Indiana has turned the ball over nine times in its last two games — seven fumbles and two interceptions.
Even in its loss at Iowa, Michigan allowed just 230 yards, including only 66 passing yards. Michigan has the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (11 points per game) and No. 1 passing defense (131.6 yards)
Michigan’s special teams unit committed two glaring penalties in the loss at Iowa. Linebacker Devin Bush was ejected in the first quarter for targeting when he hit Hawkeyes punter Ron Coluzzi, and linebacker Mike McCray was called for a facemask in punt coverage in the fourth quarter. McCray’s penaly moved Iowa from its 49-yard-line to the Michigan 36, helping set up Iowa’s game-winning field goal. Michigan needs to be disciplined on special teams.
While Michigan kicker Kenny Allen has been consistent in punting, kicking and field goals in the last five games, production of Michigan’s kickoff return and punt return units has dipped. Indiana is 12 for 21 on field goals this season but is third in the Big Ten on punt-return yardage.
What will Michigan do when it’s faced with a must-win game? This is where we’ll find out how the Hoosiers adjust their game plan, and how the Wolverines respond following last weekend’s upset by Iowa. Michigan will have to prepare for one of the faster offenses it’s seen (joining no-huddle opponents such as Central Florida, Colorado and Penn State). Michigan’s offense may have to adjust to having a quarterback who hasn’t made a collegiate start in more than two years.
Michigan faces a must-win situation, not just Saturday, but in its next two games if it wants to remain in contention for the Big Ten East title and for a berth in the College Football Playoff. It will face a team that, like Iowa, is in pursuit of bowl eligibility, and could relish playing the spoiler role in the Big Ten. Don’t anticipate this to be a clean game, at least statistically. If previous history dictates, it could be a high-scoring affair that could resemble an Indiana-Michigan basketball game — or a recent Indiana-Michigan football game.
Rachel Lenzi’s prediction: Michigan 39, Indiana 27
Brandon Justice’s prediction: Michigan 28, Indiana 24