Indiana quarterback Donaven McCulley set an Indiana record for most passing yards by a true freshman, but it wasn’t enough to overcome defensive struggles in Indiana’s 38-35 loss at Maryland. The Hoosiers will now need to win four consecutive games to end the season in order to become bowl-eligible.
Next up are the No. 9 Michigan Wolverines, who rank first in the Big Ten in rushing offense and second in points scored. It’s another prime time matchup for the Hoosiers, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. ET under the lights at The Big House. The Hoosier Network’s football crew Jack Ankony, Tyler Tachman and William McDermott got together to discuss the most important questions heading into this matchup.
Indiana’s defense had one of its worst performances of the season at Maryland, allowing 419 yards through the air. How concerned are you with the defense moving forward?
Jack: All of a sudden, Indiana’s defense ranks dead last in the Big Ten, allowing 31.6 points per game. Some of that is due to a variety of injuries in the secondary and a difficult schedule, but it looks like a totally different unit from the dominance it showed in 2020. Without Tiawan Mullen at full health – and against the Big Ten’s top rushing offense in Michigan – it’s hard to envision the defense showing drastic improvements on Saturday.
Tyler: The secondary has been through its share of adversity this season. Reserve defensive back Chris Keys tore his ACL earlier this year and Larry Tracy entered the transfer portal. Plus, starters Devon Matthews, Mullen, Reese Taylor and Jaylin Williams have also missed varying amounts of time. It’s uncertain whether Mullen and Taylor will be good to go Saturday. It’s hard to imagine Indiana’s defense getting back on track if its secondary doesn’t step up, despite the injuries.
William: It didn’t seem as if Mullen played healthy last weekend. Indiana needs him to be the All-Big Ten corner he is. He was just picked on last weekend. Having Taylor would also be huge. Indiana faces more injuries now as defensive back Josh Sanguinetti is doubtful for Saturday.
No team in the Big Ten has been more successful running the ball than Michigan this season. Pick a player – who can step up on Indiana’s defense to stop the run?
Tyler: Ryder Anderson. The Ole Miss graduate transfer has been one of Indiana’s biggest leaders on and off the field this season. Indiana hasn’t gotten much production from the defensive line in the past few games and Anderson can lead a push into the backfield. Also, someone needs to take the pressure off Micah McFadden.
Indiana DE Ryder Anderson came from Ole Miss. 6’6″/266lbs. 3.0 sacks in 5 games. pic.twitter.com/YJ6sre5Uuk
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) October 16, 2021
William: Cam Jones. Jones played the best game of his season against Michigan State and needs to have another big game clogging the middle. I would love to see Jones get in the backfield and make some plays.
Jack: Weston Kramer. He transferred to Indiana this offseason after four seasons at Northern Illinois and has made an immediate impact, starting all eight games. Michigan wants to run the ball 30 times each game, and a run stuffer like Kramer will be challenged to stop the two-man ground attack of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. McFadden is the obvious choice as Indiana’s standout defensive player, but look for Kramer to be in on a lot of tackles Saturday.
Donaven McCulley took big strides from his performance against Ohio State to last week at Maryland. Is he the answer for Indiana this season and beyond?
William: It’s hard to say but he played the best game of any IU quarterback this season at Maryland. I think he should be the starter the rest of the way. McCulley did show some decision-making issues against the Terps but I think that’s fair for a freshman. The most important thing for a young quarterback is week-to-week improvement and not being stagnant. He has to show growth every time he suits up under center.
“He’s a really talented player that has a big upside.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) November 1, 2021
Jack: Regardless of the health of Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle, I think Indiana should start McCulley the rest of the season. He’s already going to lose his redshirt eligibility by playing against Michigan, so why not let him work out his problems and evaluate if he’s the right fit for next season? He’s already showing improvements in limited snaps this season, and I think that will only continue.
Tyler: I think so. The amount of growth he’s shown since he arrived on campus just a few months ago is impressive. He’s been thrown into difficult situations time after time, including under the lights against Ohio State, but has handled them with the poise that isn’t usually displayed from a true freshman quarterback. I think he’ll be Indiana’s guy the rest of the season and will continue to display growth.
Stephen Carr had his best game against Maryland last week, rushing for a season-high 136 yards. Will he and the offensive line be able to produce against Michigan?
Jack: We probably won’t see a long touchdown run like Carr had against Maryland, but a consistent running game would definitely help McCulley settle in. Michigan’s run defense ranks middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but with potential first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson leading Michigan’s defensive line, it will take the offensive line’s best performance of the season to get the run game going.
Michael Penix Jr. & Stephen Carr put the Hoosiers up 14-0 against #8 Cincy 😯 pic.twitter.com/jrrgatm91O
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2021
Tyler: Michigan’s defense is really good, so I think that it’ll be difficult to replicate the production that Indiana put up against Maryland. Regardless, any consistent ground game for Indiana will be huge in taking pressure off McCulley in what will be another high pressure situation. If the ground game gets going early, it’ll open up some play action opportunities and potential shots down the field.
William: Carr and the run game helped out McCulley greatly last weekend. You have to take some of the pressure off of a young quarterback’s shoulders. Any replication of that performance would be monumental against a top-10 team in Michigan. Although, I think it is unlikely. Michigan is holding teams to 126.9 yards a game on the ground. That number was skewed heavily after Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker’s 200-yard performance last weekend.
Indiana comes into Saturday’s matchup as 19-point underdogs. If the Hoosiers have any chance at winning, it will be because __ had a big game.
Tyler: McCulley. He’s the obvious catalyst to the offense and can open a dynamic element, with both his arm and legs, that Indiana has lacked for most of the season. If he can get into a groove, it will not only allow the offense to gain confidence, but also take pressure off of the defense, in hopes that it can bounce back from disappointing performances the past two games.
William: Peyton Hendershot. Hendershot has easily been Indiana’s best and most consistent player on the offensive side of the ball. His size and speed are very difficult to cover and after a two-touchdown, 100-yard performance last week he has to be one of the most confident players on the team.
Despite a 38-35 loss at Maryland, @pey_hendy formed a strong connection with Donaven McCulley for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
— Jack Ankony (@ankony_jack) October 31, 2021
Jack: Ty Fryfogle. It’s been a really disappointing season for the 2020 Big Ten Receiver of the Year, and it feels like we have been asking every week if he can return to that form. Michigan has allowed the third-fewest yards through the air of any Big Ten team this season, which sets up a tough matchup for Fryfogle. But if the Hoosiers pull of an upset, the unexpected needs to happen.
It’s must-win time for Indiana regarding bowl game hopes. What is your score prediction for Saturday’s matchup?
William: Michigan 31, Indiana 10. Ann Arbor and a 7:30 ET kickoff? Yikes. I just don’t see much going Indiana’s way on Saturday night. Michigan’s run game is going to be too much for Indiana’s defense to handle.
Jack: Michigan 38, Indiana 16. Much like the Iowa and Penn State games, Indiana enters one of college football’s loudest stadiums this week. And pulling off a road win over the nation’s ninth-ranked team is a lot to ask of McCulley. With the way Indiana’s defense has been playing, I don’t see this one being close for too long.
Tyler: Michigan 28, Indiana 13. The Hoosiers have yet to put together a full game on both sides of the ball and it’s difficult to see it happening against No. 9 Michigan in a daunting environment.