Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the Michigan-Indiana and Michigan State-Nebraska games this weekend. The Detroit News
Indiana at Michigan
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Indiana 5-5, 2-5 Big Ten; No. 4 Michigan 9-1, 7-0
Line: Michigan by 28
View from the other side
Mike Miller covers Indiana athletics for the Herald-Times. He breaks down the Hoosiers for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan-Indiana game at Michigan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeMillerHT.
►Question: Indiana is one game from bowl eligibility. Where is the program under Tom Allen?
►Miller: At best, Indiana seems to be in a place of stasis. The Hoosiers tend to play up to the level of the Big Ten's best teams before ultimately falling short. That doesn't seem to have changed. Then, against comparable competition, they're sloppy. It's a very inconsistent program, with a level of play that swings wildly across the spectrum. Recruiting-wise, IU has maintained — if not improved upon — the level established by Tom Allen's predecessor, Kevin Wilson. Depending on where you look, Indiana has two or three four-star commits lined up for 2019, including a local running back it flipped from Ohio State. Overall, IU's class is hovering around the top-40 range, which is very good by Indiana standards. Although, when you're in the Big Ten East, it seems a program of Indiana's level really needs to strive for landing closer to the top-30. Nonetheless, there's optimism for the future. Allen is still very much learning on the job, with this being his first head-coaching position at the college level. He appears to be a willing and eager learner, who's not averse to changing methods that haven't worked for him. I think he bit off more than he can chew when he decided to be both defensive coordinator and head coach at the time of his December 2016 promotion, but that's just me. He has a fantastic defensive mind, though he's still trying to prove that he can coach the entire team on an upward trajectory.
►Question: Do the Hoosiers look at Michigan as the big bad Wolverines, or are they encouraged by the fact they’ve taken them to two overtime games the last three years?
►Miller: I don't sense that this team fears those above it in the East hierarchy. The past few seasons have furthered Indiana's confidence that it can play with the Big Ten's best, Michigan included. Keeping up, of course, is the hurdle that the Hoosiers have yet to cross. Not only has it put repeated scares into Michigan, Indiana played Ohio State close at the 'Shoe last month and it could've (should've?) beaten Penn State in Bloomington a few weeks ago. Ultimately, Indiana falls short in those matchups because it is not crisp enough offensively, or because of defensive breakdowns or special teams shortcomings. It's the little things — and probably even the mental side — that IU has yet to master.
►Question: The Indiana staff has a Michigan flavor — offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, running backs coach Mike Hart and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan. On that note, how has the Indiana offense evolved this season?
►Miller: Offense is a concern for Indiana. As currently constituted, it simply doesn't have the capacity to consistently win games in the Big Ten East. Until last week, IU seemed either unwilling or incapable of stretching a defense downfield, and the offensive mantra of "taking what the defense is giving" seems self-defeating. This is nothing like the offense IU fielded from 2013 to 2015, the offense you may have become used to. Indiana, which averages merely 3.9 points per trip inside the 40-yard line, is also one of the least explosive offenses in the country. With big receivers on the outside, the potential for an explosive strike is there. It just doesn't feel like the offense has the kind of aggressive mindset needed to mix things up in this division. Last week's game against Maryland seemed to be a positive development, with IU intent on throwing downfield and maximizing the talents of Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale on the outside.
►Question: Hart has been nominated for the Broyles Award. How has he developed the running backs, especially Stevie Scott?
►Miller: Hart has done a very nice job with this group, especially considering he lost top returning back, Morgan Ellison, to a suspension — and eventual dismissal — prior to the season. He then lost his next best option, Cole Gest, to an ACL injury in the opener. The initial plan for Scott, a freshman from Hart's hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., was to play him in four games and keep his redshirt. He had a very intriguing fall camp, powering his way to big gains in practice. Then, when it was clear Indiana wouldn't be able to redshirt him, Scott stepped up as the featured back the team needed. Not to be forgotten is former four-star recruit Ronnie Walker, who has carved a niche as Scott's change-of-pace backup. While Scott is a battering ram between the tackles, Walker has a good dash of burst to complement Scott. Indiana's backfield has been better this season, even with a pair of freshmen carrying the load. That, I believe, is a tribute to Hart's coaching. He's been a great fit for Indiana, both in terms of development and recruiting.
►Question: How would you evaluate quarterbacks Peyton Ramsey? How will he fare against the Michigan defense?
►Miller: Ramsey's an admirable player, a tough and athletic dual-threat quarterback with a solid knowledge base to draw from. You can trust him to run the offense in tough environments. Overall, he's the kind of player and person you want on your roster. The knock continues to be Ramsey's ability to consistently stretch a defense. He won the three-way race for the job in fall camp because he was the most consistent of IU's options. Coming out of August, that was the smart decision for Tom Allen to make. At the same time, Indiana knew it needed to be more explosive offensively. That just hasn't happened with Ramsey in the backfield. This weekend is likely to be a tough one for everyone within IU's offense, not just Ramsey. They key will be bouncing back in the Old Oaken Bucket Game and beating Purdue to clinch bowl eligibility.
Players to watch
►Stevie Scott, RB: Scott is second among true freshmen nationally in rushing yardage (894), 100-yard games (four) and carries (178), and is tied for third in rushing touchdowns (eight). When Cole Gest was injured, Scott stepped in and is now third in the Big Ten in carries (178, tied for 21st nationally). He averages 5.0 yards per carry, 89.4 yards per game and has lost just 14 yards. He also has 14 catches for 72 yards with one touchdown. Scott reached the 100-yard mark in the Maryland win last weekend with 103 yards on 19 attempts (5.4) and one TD. The 6-2, 236-pounder from Syracuse is the 15th player in program history to reach the 200-yard mark.
►Peyton Ramsey, QB: The redshirt sophomore quarterback was named the starter after competing for the job with true freshman Michael Penix Jr. and graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins during fall camp. In 10 starts, Ramsey is 243-of-361 (67.3 percent) for 2,335 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and has rushed for 266 rushing yards (second on the team) and four touchdowns. He is fifth nationally in completions, sixth in attempts and 14th in completion percentage. Ramsey has completed 67.5 percent in 7-of-10 games and has recorded multi-touchdowns through the air six times (nine career), including a career-high three for the second time in 2018 at No. 3 Ohio State.
►Jonathan Crawford, S: Indiana’s senior safety has started all 48 games. He is the Hoosiers leader with 264 tackles, 175 solos, 17 pass breakups, nine interceptions (tied for 8th in program history), seven fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 19 takeaways and two blocked kicks. Crawford’s nine interceptions share first in the Big Ten and eighth nationally among active players. In the season opener at FIU, Crawford accounted for two turnovers in the first quarter, his fifth career multi-turnover game. He forced a fumble on the opening drive and posted his first career pick-6 two drives later.
By the numbers
►Turnovers the norm: The Hoosiers earned their second straight four-takeaway game and third of the season last week against Maryland. They last had four takeaways in back-to-back games in 1996. Indiana leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally with 24 takeaways, and is second in the country with 13 fumble recoveries. Twelve defenders have forced a fumble, 12 have recovered a fumble and nine have an interception.
►Lots of youngsters: Indiana is the 19th-youngest team in the country and the fourth youngest in the Big Ten. Seventy-five of the 114 (65.8 percent) Hoosiers are underclassmen (54 freshmen — 31 true freshmen, 21 sophomores).
►Long drive contest: The Hoosiers have 16 scoring drives of 10 plays or more that have produced nine touchdowns and seven field goals this year. That ties Indiana for ninth nationally.