Michigan has more talent than Michigan State, but that didn't matter last weekend because the game plan was off and execution was poor at inopportune times. Michigan is also more talented than Indiana, but it won't matter again unless some adjustments are made.
1. Change up the man coverage approach
This was probably the most frustrating part of last Saturday's game. Don Brown routinely put Vincent Gray and Gemon Green on an island and, way more often than not, it resulted in positive plays for Michigan State in the form of long completions, pass interference calls or defensive holding calls.
At the end of the day, true freshman wide receiver Ricky White had eight catches for 196 yards and a score, and quarterback Rocky Lombardi looked like an All-American. That approach needs to change, or it's going to be more of the same on Saturday.
Indiana's leading receiver is senior Whop Philyor. The 5-11, 180-pounder is better than any of Michigan State's receivers, but he works mostly from the slot. Because of that, we may see Daxton Hill on him, which actually worked well against Jayden Reed of Michigan State. Reed had 11 catches for 128 yards and two scores against Rutgers, but only had one grab for 18 yards against Michigan and Hill. If Hill does end up shadowing Philyor, Michigan's corners need to be much better, or asked to defend differently against Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall of Indiana. Hoosiersnow.com's Tom Brew explained what Indiana will try against Michigan and thinks some big plays could be in the cards.
"Attacking the cornerbacks is absolutely the plan," Brew said. "Whop Philyor has a lot of speed. They like to push him deep whenever they can. Ty Fryfogle had a Rutgers defender beat last week that was just overthrown that would've been a long touchdown. They definitely want to throw it deep and they definitely want to take their shots. They watched the Michigan State film too."
2. Scrap the inside zone
I realize it can't be scrapped completely because it has to be part of the offense in order for the zone read and RPO game to work, but the repeated gives into an eight-man box needs to disappear forever.
What I'd like to see, is little to no straight gives and more true reads for Joe Milton. Just because it looks like Milton is "reading" the defensive end while in the mesh point, doesn't mean it's an actual read. We saw that over and over with Shea Patterson last year. Some of those are designed that way for appearance while being a hand off all the way. If a defense is going to sell out to stop runs between the tackles, don't run between the tackles. Simple right? It wasn't last week. If Michigan tries that again, they're going to have a hard time per Brew.
"Against the run, at least stopping running backs, Indiana has been pretty good," Brew said. "[Penn State quarterback] Sean Clifford ran all over the place but a lot of that was on broken plays where he took off. They've been really good on stopping third and fourth and shorts.
"Their interior guys are very talented. Jerome Johnson is in All-Big Ten conversations. Demarcus Elliott and Sio Nofoagatoto'a rotate at nose guard and are both excellent. The defensive ends have also been effective against the run."
Michigan has speed to burn and lots of dudes who can wiggle in space at the skill positions — Chris Evans, Blake Corum, Ronnie Bell, Giles Jackson, Mike Sainristil, AJ Henning and Roman Wilson can all go, so let them go. If I saw zero inside zone runs and instead saw a plethora of bubble screens, tunnel screens, jet sweeps, flat throws, traditional screens, stacks, outside zones, sweeps, tosses and stretch plays, I'd be happy. Throw in Milton's ability to run on keepers, draws, RPOs and zone reads, and Michigan's offense would finally look like it was designed in 2020.
3. Turn Joe Milton loose
Now this one does come with some risk, but as we see week in and week out, both in college and the NFL, deep shots are often a positive play for the the offense. With all of Michigan's speed at receiver, there are plays to be made and penalties to be drawn. Let Milton use that Howitzer to challenge defenses vertically in order to open up the rest of the field underneath and horizontally. As we saw against Michigan State, if you don't nothing else works.
Per Brew, Indiana does have some solid cornerbacks, but I think they need to be challenged. See just how good they are and see if they can hold up against U-M's speedy pass catchers.
"Indiana's corners are very good," Brew said. "Taiwan Mullen, Reece Taylor and Jaylin Williams are all playing well. Mullen even had 2.5 sacks on blitzes last week."
Michigan is speedy and versatile at wide receiver and Milton is built to chuck it deep. There could be some battles, but Michigan has to have explosive plays in order to beat decent teams. Michigan's longest play against Michigan State was 26 yards. That didn't get it done on Saturday and never will in today's college football.