No. 4 Michigan hopes to crank up pressure against Hoosiers
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh remembers it all so vividly.
The last time his team visited Indiana, its 24-game winning streak ended with a dismal 17-point loss. Even before that, though, the Hoosiers had given the Wolverines headaches.
Now, with No. 4 Michigan pursuing a second straight Big Ten crown and possibly a second consecutive playoff berth, Harbaugh & Co. hope to avoid a potential trap Saturday in Bloomington.
“All the teams we play — this week, next week, every week after — (if) we play good, we’ve got a really good chance of winning,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “If we don’t play good, we’ve got a really good chance to get beat.”
The problem, as usual in this lopsided series, is Michigan (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) seems to be chugging along nicely.
It’s ranked sixth nationally in scoring offense (45.4 points per game) and scoring defense (11.6). Running back Blake Corum leads the FBS with 10 rushing touchdowns and quarterback J.J. McCarthy has made a smooth transition from splitting snaps with Cade McNown to becoming the full-time starter.
Plus, the Wolverines have six takeaways and a stout run defense allowing 94.0 yards per game.
But with the Wolverines seeking their first back-to-back 6-0 starts since 1976-77 and Indiana (3-2, 1-1) sandwiched between last weekend’s big win at Iowa and next week’s showdown with No. 10 Penn State, the danger becomes clear: overlooking an opponent reeling from two straight losses.
“We know it’ll be a big, big challenge,” Harbaugh said. “We consider them a blue-collar team that always has a lot of talented guys, and is really well-coached. So we’re going to have to play good.”
Indiana still has not had a halftime lead, winning its first three with late comebacks before falling short in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati and Nebraska.
While the defense has been consistently solid, new quarterback Connor Bazelak has had an up-and-down season and struggled last week without Cam Camper or D.J. Matthews Jr. The Hoosiers top two receivers both sat out.
But this week, they return home where they’re undefeated in 2022 and yet again a heavy underdog against the Wolverines.
“It’s about playing together and executing to the best of your ability,” Indiana defensive coordinator Chad Wilt said. “Nobody has to be Superman. Yes, we’re playing the No. 4 team in the country. Great, they’re a great team. But you don’t have to make every play, be a man and do your job.”
DOING IT ALL
In addition to averaging two touchdowns per game, Corum is sixth nationally in yards rushing (611) and has at least one 19-yard game in all five games. He’s also produced nine of the team’s 27 plays of 20 or more yards and he’s delivered in short-yardage situations, too.
It’s an impressive combination, even to Harbaugh.
“He’s a five-tool running back,” he said.
Bazelak wanted a fresh start when he transferred from Missouri to Indiana following last season. The Hoosiers certainly have given him that opportunity.
Through five games, no FBS player has thrown more passes than Bazelak at 246. He’s also ranked 10th in completions (130) and 25th in yards passing (278.8). While the Wolverines have the conference’s No. 3 pass defense, it’s a concern for Harbaugh.
“Throwing the ball really well,” he said, referring to Bazelak. “Throwing it a lot.”
FINDING A RUSH
One way to hold Bazelak in check would be taking advantage of Indiana’s inconsistent offensive line, which includes Zach Carpenter, a former Wolverine.
And Michigan might have the perfect one-two combination.
Defensive end Eyabi Anoma, a transfer from Alabama, is quickly emerging as a regular pass-rushing threat and with Mike Morris having his best season coming from the opposite side, it could be a major problem for Bazelak.
Anoma and Morris pressured Iowa’s quarterback on four straight snaps last week and it’s a concern for Indiana coach Tom Allen, too.
“I would say we played better this past week than we did the week before (against Cincinnati),” Allen said. “But we changed some guys around and I think it needs to get better.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit also contributed to this report.