Simmie Cobbs Jr. has 33 catches for 370 yards in Indiana's first five games. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow, left, tries to get past Ohio State’s Nick Bosa. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Five questions with the Bloomington Herald-Times’ Indiana beat writer Mike Miller.
Indiana's turned the corner on its defensive woes. Now, they're facing a Michigan team that's seen struggles from its offensive line and quarterback. What do you see in that matchup?
This could be a game where Indiana's top two linebackers, Tegray Scales and Chris Covington, create some havoc. Scales, a senior, is among the very best linebackers in the Big Ten, while Covington complements him well as another quick, athletic defender who can make plays in space. I fully expect IU to commit to stopping the run, while keeping an eye on O'Korn and forcing him to beat the Hoosiers downfield. Indiana's secondary has demonstrated impressive growth during the past year and a half, but it's banged up at the moment. Indiana is hoping to have hybrid safety Marcelino Ball back soon.
Michigan ranks No. 1 nationally in total defense. The Hoosiers will probably have to get creative — or force turnovers — to pile up points. How vital is wide receiver Simmie Cobbs, Jr., in the game plan?
No doubt, Indiana needs some takeaways to pull this one off. But in terms of offense, this will be a real test for redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who has played in each game this season, but made his first career start only last week. Ramsey has performed adequately with shorter timing routes, but I think he's really going to have to open the playbook and test Michigan downfield to be successful. I don't expect many of the same shorter routes to be available against this defense. Cobbs is a huge factor. Literally. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound redshirt junior is extremely difficult to defend when IU is consistently sending jump balls and back-shoulder throws his way.
Which IU special teams player do you think could play a significant role in the game's outcome?
Kicker Griffin Oakes struggled through a forgettable 2016 season after earning conference kicker of the year honors in 2015. Through five games, he looks like the 2015 version of himself. He has a big leg and is riding a ton of confidence into this game. I expect this to be a low-scoring contest, meaning it could be an important day for IU's kicker.
Indiana's been so close the past few years at beating some of the Big Ten's top-tier programs. What must the Hoosiers do to finally get over that hump?
Better alignment between their offense and defense. For years, it was the best offense in the league, coupled with the Big Ten's worst defense. Last year, the Hoosiers turned in a really, really impressive defensive season, but paired it with a middling offense. I think this year's defense, when healthy, could be better than last year's and the potential is certainly there for improvement on offense, though I still question the offensive line, Ramsey's arm strength in taking advantage of a deep receiving corps, and the Indiana running game. So, basically the entire offense is still full of questions. Depth is also not great, which hurt Indiana in the second half against Ohio State. Even so, this program continues to attract bigger and better Big Ten-caliber athletes that have allowed the Hoosiers to hang in the Big Ten East. They're arguably the scariest 6-6 team in the country just because of the offensive potential that's there each week and the defense, which has vastly improved at tackling and covering in space. I see 7-5 potential still on the table for this year's team. To get there, a win during the next two weeks is probably necessary. If the Hoosiers can play clean football late in a close game, they just might get the breakthrough win that's eluded them.
What type of game do you envision unfolding?
I think this is close and Indiana puts another scare into Michigan. Whether the Hoosiers finish, I'm not sure. Just as Michigan's quarterback play and offensive line are questionable, I'm not sure what to expect from IU's offense against the nation's best defense. We still haven't really seen everything Indiana is willing to do with Ramsey at quarterback. Can he throw it deep and take advantage of receivers like Cobbs, Taysir Mack, and Donavan Hale? I'm still not sure. The Hoosiers have to get takeaways, which have been hard to come by. A pick-six or the like would go a long way. Two weeks after the worst IU special teams performance in recent memory derailed the Hoosiers' trip to Penn State, Indiana can't afford any hiccups in return coverage or in the kicking game.