Saturday, September 25, 2010
Unbeaten Indiana Sets Sights On Unbeaten Michigan
Okay, Indiana has finished with its football preliminaries. It has whipped Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron. Those teams have combined to win one game. They remind no one -- and we’re being charitable here -- of Ohio State.
Now Big Ten play begins and No. 21 Michigan (4-0) comes to Memorial Stadium and here’s the deal -- the Hoosiers (3-0) are defensively vulnerable. They continue to struggle with tackling. They can't stop the run. They give up big pass plays. They do not make the stops they need to make. All that was evident in their 35-20 win over Akron Saturday night.
Case in point -- Zips quarterback Patrick Nicely had done nothing via the air all season. Against the Hoosiers, he was dangerous (15-for-27 175 yards). If not for a couple of dropped passes, he might have led them to a victory.
Another case in point -- Arkon rushed for 160 yards. It entered the game averaging 115.
Yes, linebacking standout and leading tackler Tyler Replogle (pictured) was out with a concussion, but the Hoosiers should have enough linebacking depth to overcome that against the likes of Akron.
Why are we dwelling on that when so much went right for IU in that game? Because if Indiana can’t solve these defensive issues, it will be in a world of hurt. There will be more October-November misery.
Indiana dominated Akron, which is what it should have done. It was far superior to a winless opponent. But superiority is over. Now it's about execution and heart.
Big Ten play has arrived, the competition ratchets up, and how IU handles that will determine if it goes to a bowl.
Yes Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson tweaked his knee during the Wolverines’ blowout of Bowling Green, but expect him to be ready for IU. He’s a dual threat guy who could beat the Hoosiers by himself if they allow it.
The goal, of course, is that they don’t allow it. That means playing like they haven’t all season. It’s time to show all that preseason talk of an improved defense was legit and not hot air.
It helps that IU has an offense that can match, if not surpass, Michigan’s. If the running game gets a little more productive, it might be the best offense in the Big Ten.
Yeah, that's not an exaggeration.
The Wolverines, by the way, have their own defensive flaws. The Hoosiers have the firepower to exploit that.
What does that mean? Heck, you might see a 55-50 thriller next Saturday. You might see Robinson with his versatility and Ben Chappell with his arm put on the kind of entertainment Memorial Stadium hasn’t seen in, well, maybe ever.
Still, the bottom line is winning. The Hoosiers need to beat Michigan, and at least they go in on a roll. They were never seriously threatened in non-conference play. They did almost anything they wanted on offense against Akron. They made the Zips pay for their strategy of selling out to stop the run and turn IU into a pass-only attack by burying them via the air.
Chappell threw for more than 300 yards for the second straight game. He found every open receiver and there were a ton of them Saturday night.
Indiana was so secure in its ability to hurt Akron in the air that even a fourth-and-10 situation wasn’t enough to stop the Hoosiers from going for it. They made it, by the way, thanks to a 20-yard strike from Chappell to a wide-open Damarlo Belcher.
IU scored one play later to clinch the victory.
So now it’s about Michigan. It’s about getting the kind of marquee victory that can jump start the program. Chappell said he’s excited about the opportunity as he should be. Now it’s time to take advantage of it.