Defense, Defense, Defense
Just as real estate is about "location, location, location" so is this game about "defense, defense, defense." For there is a chasm between the two programs in the national defensive statistics. Indiana is 69 spots worse than Michigan in total defense, 78 spots lower in scoring defense, 73 spots lower in sacks, and 84 spots lower in pass efficiency defense. If both teams merely play to their season averages on the defensive side of the ball, there's no way Indiana can win the game. Heck, the Hoosiers might not even be able to hang around. It appears all the progress Indiana has made on defense the past two years (Hoosiers were a solid 27th nationally in total defense a year ago) has been lost.
Run to Win
The biggest matchup advantage is in the running game and it's overwhelmingly in Michigan's favor. The Wolverines are the nation's 25th-best rushing offense, and they're facing Indiana's 79th-ranked rush defense. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers' 73rd-ranked running game goes up against Michigan's stingy No. 13 rush defense. Translation: Indiana is definitely out-manned up front on both sides of the ball. That hasn't been the case in recent years, which is why the Hoosiers have been a pesky opponent for Michigan, despite not winning a game in this series since 1987. Indiana surrendered a whopping 353 yards rushing to Maryland last week at home.
Put it on the quarterbacks
Only five teams in the country have a worst yards-per-completion than Indiana does. On the other hand, the Wolverines are a respectable 39th. Not only do the Hoosiers struggle to push the ball down the field through the air, they're not very efficient when they try. Indiana is only 70th in the nation in pass efficiency, and six of its opponents are top 40 in pass efficiency defense. Michigan is tops in the country in that category. Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey had only his second conference game with a QBR above 80 last week, with his only other such outing coming against lowly Rutgers. Obviously, this will be a more difficult opponent for him. Michigan's Shea Patterson was just named a finalist for the Unitas Award this week, and has seven games this season with a QBR of 80 or better.
Make Quinn Nordin Great Again
Michigan was so efficient offensively last week at lowly Rutgers it had no need for field goals. However, Michigan has also suffered 10 empty trips into plus territory in recent weeks, and that can definitely spell doom in Columbus next week. So this is the week to get the Wolverines enigmatic field goal his groove back. He's simply too talented to linger below 70% conversions for the season, but with just two games to go in the regular season here we are. Jim Harbaugh should look for ways to contrive a confidence-boosting outcome for Nordin, especially at home.
Two of the last three games in this series required overtime, and the one that didn't was way too close for comfort in one of the biggest Big House snow events in recent memory. So Indiana's upperclassmen should come in here unintimidated by the Wolverines and their lofty ranking. But based on personnel, this game shouldn't be close. If there's drama this time it's because Michigan didn't come to play. Once I delved deeper into the numbers, I became less convinced Indiana can even compete, but I still expect the Hoosiers to cover the 28-point spread. If for no other reason than Michigan will look to empty the bench and rest some guys if it can, with arguably the biggest game of the Harbaugh era on deck.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Indiana 17