Michigan football sloppy, but outlasts overmatched Indiana, 31-10
He did his best to convince others of as much, going through the list of tight games Michigan has played against Indiana, including a loss in its last trip to Bloomington in 2020. But few listened to his warnings about the potential trap game, which Michigan opened as a 22½-point favorite before its top-10 showdown with Penn State.
Turned out, he was right.
The Wolverines got everything they could handle — plus some scary adversity when running backs coach Mike Hart collapsed on the sideline in the first half — but despite playing their sloppiest game of the season, U-M outlasted an Indiana squad spurred by its homecoming crowd and pulled away in the fourth quarter, 31-10, to remain undefeated.
Scripted drives the saving grace
When Michigan got to set up its drives, it was all but impossible to stop. It's those nonscripted possessions that remain a concern for Michigan's co-offensive coordinators, Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss.
J.J. McCarthy opened the game with three consecutive completions resulting in two first downs before Michigan gave the ball to star tailback Blake Corum for the first time.
On a run designed to the left, Corum was surrounded by Hoosiers when he planted his left foot in the ground and cut up field. Five yards later, as another Hoosier approached him, he made the same move, juking to the right.
He scampered up the right sideline 50 yards before he was tackled just inches shy of the goal line. He ran the ball in on the next play to put Michigan up, 7-0, less than three minutes into the game.
"I just saw a lot of red," Corum joked after the game. "I didn't expect it to hit like that just because of what I saw, but you know it looked like they over-pursued and gave me a cut-back lane."
But the Wolverines couldn't get the running game going after that.
On the next 16 rushing attempts in the first half, Michigan netted just 27 yards. The passing game wasn't much better, with McCarthy completing 13 of 18 first-half passes for 134 yards. The Wolverines would manage just a field goal over the remaining 27 minutes in the first two quarters.
Michigan's offense did the same thing in the second half with a fast start. Starting the drive from its own 2-yard line, the Wolverines started to march. Cornelius Johnson dropped a wide-open pass that would've gained 25 yards on second down, but McCarthy salvaged the drive when he found Ronnie Bell for a gain of 14 to move the sticks.
Bell finished with a game-high 11 catches for 121 yards.
Later Johnson made up for his mistake as he caught a crossing route and took it 29 yards into the end zone for the score to take the lead, 17-10.
"Everything just started clicking for us," McCarthy said. "We felt like we could move the ball on them the whole game, but especially the first half it wasn't clicking...once we got into a rhythm in the second half it was over."
Michigan had a chance to put the game away after starting with the ball at the Indiana 33 on its next possession, but McCarthy threw his first interception of the season when he forced a ball into double coverage looking for Bell in the end zone.
Still, the defense got the ball back and the Wolverines offense opened the floodgates in the fourth quarter. Michigan put together its first nonscripted touchdown drive of the day with 9:47 to play on a Schoonmaker catch and dive into the end zone.
Michigan, which was able to start running downhill against a gassed Indiana front, found the end zone one final time on its last drive.
McCarthy finished the game 28-for-36 with a career-high 304 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
"Put the ball in J.J. McCarthy's hands, let him throw the ball and the receivers really responded," Harbaugh said. "I loved the way J.J. responded, he was so cool and calm back there. Picked up a few first downs with his legs, he was pretty much on the money."
Need to clean it up
The Wolverines were flagged for an average of fewer than three penalties and 27 yards per game, their 14 total was the fewest in the nation entering play.
Michigan had more than that in the first half, racking up five flags for 54 yards. One of the more costly penalties early came late in the first quarter when Michael Barrett dropped Indiana's Connor Bazelak for a sack. As he motioned across his face to celebrate, the flag came out and he was dinged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Instead of third-and-20, the Hoosiers got an automatic first down and later connected on a field goal to tie the game at 10 early in the second quarter.
"I guess the ref thought I slit, went across my throat," Harrell said after the game. "I don't know, we can't have those penalties so I won't do it again, but Matt Judon does a celebration where he goes across his nose, that was the intent, but can't have penalties like that."
In total, the Wolverines were flagged a season-high 10 times for 85 yards.
Special teams was another area the Wolverines consistently won earlier this season, but seemed out of sorts Saturday.
Michigan forced a punt on the Hoosiers' opening drive and AJ Henning had what appeared to be a nice 20-yard return, but the Wolverines were flagged for a block in the back which resulted in a 30-yard swing.
"I didn't see a block in the back," Harbaugh said. "I think that was a bad call."
A second-quarter field-goal attempt was also blocked.
Defense ultimately holds strong
The Hoosiers marched 75 yards on a 10-play drive their second time with the ball, including a perfectly thrown 33-yard pass by Bazelak over the head of DJ Turner as the pass rush slammed him to the turf.
Indiana scored when Bazelak found Josh Henderson on an out-route from the backfield, as he beat Michael Barrett in man coverage.
The next drive looked like the Hoosiers would score again. On the ninth play of the drive, Bazelak connected with Aaron Steinfeldt who ran into the end zone untouched from 10 yards out. After the refs convened for about two minutes, they called offensive pass interference, which took the points off the board. They'd ultimately settle for a field goal.
Two possessions later, Indiana marched again. Jaylin Lucas started the drive with a 39-yard rush up the middle. The Hoosiers would gain yards on their next six plays to set up first-and-goal at the five, but two incompletions sandwiched a rush that lost 2 yards and Indiana would have to settle for a short field goal attempt.
Mike Morris returned the favor of Indiana's blocked field goal and got his hand on the attempt, keeping the score tied at 10.
"Made some great adjustments (at the half)," Harbaugh said. "Coach (and co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale) was coaching them hard, a lot of coaching going on, but I felt like the pass rush really started getting home."
From there, the Wolverines defense found its form. Junior Colson came up with a big sack on Indiana's opening drive of the second half to stop it. The Wolverines forced a three-and-out on the next possession. Turner made a big hit on what would've been a first-down catch over the middle on Indiana's third drive of the half.
On the fourth drive of the half, Michigan transfer Ayobi Okie got home on a bull rush and slammed Bazelak to the turf on third-and-10 to force the Hoosiers' fourth punt in as many possessions.
The nail in the coffin came after Michigan had gone up two scores and Indiana had one last chance to move the ball. After two incompletions, Bazelak was dropped by Derrick Moore for a sack, the defense's sixth of the game.
Braiden McGregor sacked Bazelak on Indiana's final series, on fourth down, to seal the game.
"When we were at halftime we said we have to have the best half of football of the season, get locked in," Harbaugh said. "I thought our defense did a tremendous job of that, totaling seven sacks, all by a different guy, I think I'm right on that.
"Ten tackles for loss, the pressure really came, tight coverage came along with it."