Wednesday, September 29, 2010
All signs point to shootout in Bloomington
By Adam Rittenberg
Fact No. 1: Michigan brings the nation's leading rusher and the nation's No. 2 rush offense to Bloomington to face an Indiana defense ranked 92nd nationally against the run.
Fact. No. 2: The Hoosiers counter with the nation's No. 11 pass offense against a Michigan team ranked 105th nationally in pass defense.
Saturday's matchup at Memorial Stadium pairs both teams' greatest strengths against their most glaring weaknesses.
Are you ready for some touchdowns?
Michigan QB Denard Robinson leads the country in rushing.
Bloomington remains one of the Meccas for college hoops, and all signs point to Indiana and Michigan putting up a basketball score a few hundred feet away from Assembly Hall.
"Both defenses on both teams would rather not," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said with a laugh. "They would like to think they would be able to step up and make a few stops. They're talented enough defensively to do that, and we think our defense can play better as well. That being said, nobody's really stopped them.
"They've got outstanding offensive players, they're executing really well and they're scoring a lot of points."
Indiana comes in averaging 41.3 points per game, albeit against two Bottom 10 regulars (Western Kentucky and Akron) and an FCS team (Towson). Senior quarterback Ben Chappell leads the Big Ten in passing (296.7 ypg) and ranks sixth nationally in efficiency, tossing nine touchdowns and no interceptions in 98 attempts.
The Hoosiers have received plenty of production from receivers Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner, and freshman tight end Ted Bolser already boasts four touchdown receptions. Plus, All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss has been quiet so far but is certainly capable of doing major damage.
"We've been efficient," Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch said. "A lot of that goes to Ben; he's been a real good decision-maker. We've been able to throw the ball with some effectiveness. I feel better about our run game than our numbers show."
The numbers certainly show how explosive Michigan's run game has been.
Quarterback Denard Robinson still leads the nation in rushing (172 ypg) despite playing less than a quarter Saturday because of a knee injury. Michigan eclipsed 280 rushing yards in its first three games before exploding for 466 last week against Bowling Green.
Three different Wolverines already have runs of 50 yards or longer this fall.
"It's a great compliment to their football program ... that in the last game, you can bring in three different quarterbacks and it doesn't slow down a bit.," Lynch said. "You've got a Heisman Trophy guy [Robinson], and then the next two guys [Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner] come in and run it the same way. Our defense is going to be challenged.
"Certainly we know we're going to need to score some points to keep up with them."
Michigan receiver Darryl Stonum admitted "everybody lost their breath for a minute" when Robinson went down along the sideline late in the first quarter. The players were relieved to see No. 16 get up relatively unscathed, and the offense didn't miss a beat with Forcier and Gardner calling signals.
"It’s a bunch of guys’ third year in the offense, so we’re real comfortable," Stonum said. "We're very confident in what we can do this year."
Robinson's hot start has motivated his teammates.
"It makes everybody want to elevate their game," Stonum said. "Me and Roy [Roundtree] talk about we want to be Biletnikoff [Award] finalists. It makes the O-line excel, it makes the defense, the wide receivers, the running backs, we all want to do very well."
Michigan and Indiana combined for 69 points last year in Ann Arbor, as Michigan rallied for a 36-33 win. Both offenses have improved, while both defenses have looked shaky against less-than stellar competition so far.
Is a shootout inevitable?
"We could sit here and look at it and the numbers think that’s what it’s going to be and it may end up being a defensive shootout," Lynch said. "You never know."