Indiana coach Tom Allen acknowledges he is a numbers cruncher.
Last year, he took over the nation’s 121st-ranked defense and led it to a No. 45 finish. This season, he expects it to crack the top 25 and while the Hoosiers still have some ground to make up overall, Allen knows they’ve already hit that target in four defensive categories.
So, of course, Allen understands how lopsided Indiana’s series with No. 17 Michigan has been over the years. He figures it’s time to toss out those old numbers and start creating some new ones when the Wolverines come to town Saturday.
“I’m a guy that goes back and studies history, and we haven’t beaten Michigan in 30 years and we have beaten them twice in the past 50 years. So I understand the history,” Allen said. “There’s no question if I’m on the other side of the table I would expect to win. The bottom line is how do you break through that?”
The Hoosiers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) have been getting closer to that monumental moment.
They lost 20-10 in Ann Arbor last fall. Two years ago, Michigan (4-1, 1-1) barely kept its winning streak intact by converting fourth-and-goal with 2 seconds left in regulation. The Wolverines went on to win in double overtime.
Now Allen thinks he may finally have the solution.
For most of the past two decades, Indiana has relied largely on an offense that wins shootouts. This time, the steadily improving defense has been the Hoosiers’ stabilizing force.
Indiana hopes a large homecoming crowd and their revamped defense will make things difficult on Michigan offense that is producing 27.2 points per game, just 10th in the Big Ten. Senior quarterback Wilton Speight is still out with a neck injury and his replacement, John O’Korn, threw three interceptions in the rain during last week’s loss to Michigan State.
But, Harbaugh knows how to play the numbers, too.
One loss won’t necessarily eliminate anyone from the College Football Playoff or the Big Ten title chases. Two probably will, and history favors the Wolverines.
“We’re well aware of what the record is against Michigan State and Ohio State, we’re 1-4,” Harbaugh said. “The record against all other opponents is 23-3. So we’re aware what the records are. We want to them all, especially this one.”
Here are some other things to watch this weekend:
The oddest sight Saturday might be seeing Mike Hart, Michigan’s career rushing leader and a former Indianapolis Colts’ player, wearing crimson and cream. Hart is an assistant on Indiana’s staff and won’t let old allegiances get in the way of doing his job.
“It’s not my first time playing against them as a coach. I know my first coaching job at Eastern Michigan, we played against them,” Hart said. “You know, I think it affects everyone else on the outside more than it actually affects us.”
Two other Hoosiers assistants — Mike DeBord and Nick Sheridan — also worked previously at Michigan. DeBord is best known for tutoring Tom Brady in college.
Indiana’s defense might be good. On paper, the Wolverines are better. Michigan leads the nation in total defense (213.0 yards), is No. 3 in scoring defense (13.6 points) and is the only team averaging more three-and-outs per game than Indiana. The Hoosiers know it’s going to be a challenge.
“They’re really, really good and they mix it up,” Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “They don’t do a whole lot in coverage but mixing it up where guys play, trying to confuse us that way.”
Neither Ramsey nor O’Korn began the season as starters. O’Korn took over when Speight injured his neck against Purdue and has had mixed results. He rallied Michigan for a come-from-behind win against the Boilermakers before last week’s struggles. Ramsey, a redshirt freshman, replaced Richard Lagow as the starter after Indiana’s blowout loss at Penn State two weeks ago. He performed well on Saturday, but this will be his toughest test as the starter.
In 110 years of football, Michigan has achieved a lot. The Wolverines’ 939 wins are the most of any program in the Football Bowl Subdivision. And a win Saturday would give the Wolverines win No. 500 in Big Ten play. Not that the Wolverines are thinking about it.
“We’ve already said the next game is the most important game,” Harbaugh said.
Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll