|Drake Johnson (image via CBS Detroit)|
Move De'Veon Smith to the bottom of the depth chart. Michigan has been struggling to get big plays all season, and Smith is not the guy who offers big-play potential. You can see that he is either coached to get upfield, or he just doesn't trust his speed - which he shouldn't, because he's slow. Smith is a between-the-tackles runner who isn't quick enough to get through the generally small cracks that the offensive line is opening up inside. If Michigan wants a more diverse attack - one that can attack both inside and outside - the coaches have to use Johnson and Justice Hayes more.
Devin Gardner played like Northwestern 2013. Gardner threw just one interception in this game, but it was an ugly one where he missed the free safety sitting in the middle of the field and tried to soft-toss a post into the arms of Devin Funchess. The ball never even came close. Gardner had several other throws that could have or should have been intercepted. He did enough to win the game, but if Indiana had capitalized on some of the mistakes, it could have been another ugly outcome. His mechanics are all over the place, and his decision-making has been questionable for a while. He has lost trust in his offensive line to keep him healthy, and he has lost trust in his body after being so beaten up. Gardner (22/29 for 220 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) still looks gimpy after spraining his ankle three weeks ago, so he may not be fully healthy for the rest of the year.
Michigan needs safety help. Safety is a position that does require experience, in my opinion, so you can't rush success. However, I am deeply concerned about the safeties here in 2014 and going forward. Jarrod Wilson has been pretty solid as an in-the-box safety, but Michigan's free safety position continues to leak yardage. I thought Delano Hill's angles and tackling were once again lacking in this one. He has taken over for Jeremy Clark, who had some of the same issues. Other options include freshman Brandon Watson (who is redshirting), sophomore Dymonte Thomas (who is injured), and 2015 commit Tyree Kinnel. With Wilson graduating after next season, I don't know which one of those guys will step up, but those two spots have been big question marks for a good chunk of the past 15 years or so. You would think Michigan could develop a star safety at some point, even if just by accident. Any discussion of the best safeties in that time probably includes names like Thomas Gordon, Jordan Kovacs, Jamar Adams, and Ernest Shazor. That's a solid group, but nobody stands out.
Indiana is kind of just bad. I wanted to watch this game, see Michigan win, and come to the conclusion that the Wolverines just put it all together and demolished a decent team after realizing the error of their ways in a 35-11 loss to Michigan State. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The defense is pretty good, the special teams are mediocre, and the offense is bad. Indiana is essentially on its fourth-string quarterback (Nate Sudfeld and Chris Covington are injured; Tre Roberson transferred to an FCS school before the season) and played the fifth-string guy for a stretch in this one. The offensive line is decent, slot receiver Shane Wynn is pretty good, and running back Tevin Coleman is very good - when not fumbling the ball - but the rest of the team is bad. Glen Mason kept saying that Indiana's defense looks more aggressive, but it didn't add up to much. I think head coach Kevin Wilson is a great offensive mind, but he doesn't have much to work with.
It's fun to watch Jake Ryan. Ryan had 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles in this one. He's as fun to watch as any Michigan linebacker in my memory. The guy is now up to 79 tackles (#5 in the conference) and 12.5 tackles for loss (tied for #2) on the year.
What does this mean going forward? Nothing. Michigan has a pretty good defense, no consistent offensive playmakers, and lots of injuries and issues to sort through. They need to win two of their last three against Northwestern, Maryland, and Ohio State to be bowl eligible. They have at least a good chance against the Wildcats and Terrapins, and I guess anything can happen against the Buckeyes. I still don't think Brady Hoke can save his job at this point, but it would be great to see him - and the program - save some dignity by earning bowl eligibility.