“What do we do when we fall off the horse? ... We get back on.” -- Maury Ballstein
“Sorry, Maury. I’m not a gymnast.” -- Derek Zoolander
Michigan fell off the horse last weekend. It needs to get back on and has a chance to do so this Saturday against Indiana. Here are five things to keep your eyes on as they take the field.
1. Not letting Penn State beat them twice: We’ve heard teams say this so much, but it’ll be especially interesting to see how Michigan responds this weekend. With a young team, the big fear is they’ll let it affect them mentally or they’ll come into this game and want to overcompensate for last weekend’s loss -- that can lead to risky plays or penalties. The senior leadership responded well by getting the team back on track after the Akron and Connecticut games, so we’ll see what they did with this team a week after its first loss of the season.
2. Can Michigan get a running game going? If ever there were a time, it is now (or maybe, it was last weekend, but let’s not dwell on the past). The Hoosiers have the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten. If the Wolverines can’t get yardage on the ground against Indiana, they have some problems that are even more serious than we thought. Michigan has been getting yardage, but it has been mainly from quarterback Devin Gardner. The Wolverines need to see some kind of production out of Fitzgerald Toussaint or Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith ... or someone, anyone really. But Michigan can’t keep relying on Gardner to pick up the majority of the rushing yards, because then Michigan will face the exact same issues it faced with Denard Robinson.
3. The offensive line … yes, again. Always the offensive line. Michigan is playing its seventh game this season and it still hasn’t figured out its offensive line yet. Against Indiana, the Wolverines will be going with redshirt junior Joey Burzynski and redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson as the starting guards. The two will both be picking up their first career starts for Michigan as the Wolverines still work to figure out this puzzle on their offensive line. With Indiana’s defense, the Wolverines’ front line won’t face quite as big of a challenge as it has in the past but it really needs to find some kind of continuity and consistency on the offensive line going forward.
4. Bunches of Funchess: Indiana has given up 239.5 yards in the air per game this season, which means Gardner will be able to take his shots down field, especially at his favorite target of late -- Devin Funchess. The sophomore is still learning the position after his move from tight end, but he said he has spent extra time in the film room, as well as creating mental notecards for play calls and routes, but he has already shown growth in his two games as a wide receiver.
5. SAM's club: Last weekend the Wolverines went with a rotation of Jake Ryan, Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer at the SAM linebacker position. Ryan said he thought it worked well and kept each guy fresh, but none of the players registered more than three tackles on the day. That position, in particular with Greg Mattison, has been a highly efficient position for getting to the quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Wolverines continue with that rotation, or if they’ll try to settle into something that gives one of the guys a better chance to really find a rhythm on the field.