Published November 20, 2014
Indiana's players and coaches have seen the highlight shows and the game tapes. They know Denard Robinson is a handful to take down.
Just ask No. 19 Michigan's first four opponents — or the Hoosiers, who get the next crack at knocking Robinson off stride on Saturday.
"He's been unbelievable, and he's gotten a lot of attention and deservedly so," Indiana defensive ends coach George Ricumstrict said. "And he's definitely got our attention."
Robinson should have everyone's attention with his gaudy numbers — 172 yards rushing per game, No. 1 in the nation, and an amazing 8.7 yards per carry. Michigan is off to a 4-0 start, back in the national rankings and the sophomore has jumped right into the middle of the Heisman Trophy conversation.
The Michigan quarterback was slowed in practice this week with a bruised left knee, and the Wolverines must open Big Ten play on the road against the one conference foe they beat last season, Indiana (3-0). A year ago, Michigan needed a late fourth-quarter rally in front of a home crowd to extend its winning streak over the Hoosiers to 16 in a game that, like this one, featured two unbeaten teams.
Last year's close call gave the Hoosiers their rallying cry for this season — finish! — and has fans dubbing this the most important game of the season outside of archrival Purdue.
Ticket sales have soared and it could be the first game since 1992 that a Memorial Stadium crowd tops 50,000 for an opponent other than Purdue or Ohio State.
The Wolverines understand what they're up against.
"This is a huge game for both teams. They're undefeated and we're undefeated," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I'm sure the crowd will be into it from the first play."
Indiana would love a signature win, but it will be a challenge.
The defense has already given up a handful of big plays to mobile quarterbacks this season, and ranks 10th in the Big Ten against the run. The Hoosiers' first three opponents — Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron — averaged 177 yards per game rushing and 5.2 yards per carry.
None of those teams featured anyone like the speedy, shifty Robinson, either.
"He (Robinson) adds another dimension on offense," safety Mitchell Evans said. "Look, he's going to make some plays against us, but we've got to rally and make our own plays."
Indiana players have seen promising signs this week. Practices, they said, have been crisper and more intense. Players have remained loose.
So just how far would the Hoosiers go to get a little insight on how to stop Robinson?
Well, defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. spent the week trying to pry some trade secrets out of his brother, Jibreel, a freshman defensive end at Michigan.
"I've been trying, but it's not working," Larry Black Jr. said as he tried to stop laughing.
The good news for Indiana is that its high-scoring offense is every bit as potent as Michigan's. Both teams are averaging more than 41 points per game and both defenses rank among the Big Ten's bottom four in points allowed per game.
Instead of an overpowering ground game, though, Indiana relies primarily on the most dangerous passing offense in the Big Ten.
Quarterback Ben Chappell is completing 72 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Ted Bolser has already tied the school's single-season record for TD receptions by a tight end, and Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten in receptions per game.
The game will likely be dictated by whichever defense does its job better.
"We've got to tackle well and get more than one person on the tackles because, look, he (Robinson) is going to make us miss some tackles," Ricumstrict said. "So we've got to get two, three, four guys around him and rely on fundamentals to get him down."