With Penn State looming, Michigan football won't get suckered by trap game with Indiana

The cadence of every Michigan football schedule includes crescendos and decrescendos that coincide with various points in time.

In September, the season opener drips with anticipation regardless of the opponent. In early October, the appetite for Big Ten opponents swells. In late November, anticipation for the rivalry game with Ohio State could, in some cases, trump the Thanksgiving spread two days prior.

Between those high points are obvious lulls against lesser opponents U-M is expected to throttle. Discussion about the proverbial trap game(s) rightly follows.

A year ago, coach Jim Harbaugh’s team had to get through Rutgers before a high-profile matchup with Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Then the Wolverines had to dispatch Northwestern before an undefeated showdown with Michigan State. Easier games against Indiana and Maryland preceded hard-fought clashes with Penn State and the Buckeyes, respectively.

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Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines during first half action against the Connecticut Huskies at Michigan Stadium, Saturday, September 17, 2022.
Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines during first half action against the Connecticut Huskies at Michigan Stadium, Saturday, September 17, 2022.

By taking care of Iowa over the weekend, Michigan has reached its first lull in this year’s Big Ten slate. There is nothing particularly imposing about an Indiana team that yielded at least 30 points to each of its last three opponents, but the trip to Bloomington is all that separates U-M from a top-10 matchup with Penn State the following weekend.

“IU is a darn-good football team,” Harbaugh said in his weekly news conference on Monday. “Always played us tough and good. Similar to Iowa. I mean, ton of respect for how they play. I consider them a blue-collar team that always has a lot of talented guys and is really well-coached. We’re going to have to play good. It’s always going to have to come down to that.

“Whatever tag you put on a game, it comes down to if you play good and coach good and make sure that we’re prepared good. All the teams we play: this week, next week, every week after — we play good, we’ve got a really good chance of winning. We don’t play good, we’ve got a really good chance of getting beat.”

Harbaugh and the players who spoke to reporters Monday dug out the usual platitudes about taking things one day at a time, one week at a time and dedicating the same amount of preparation from Monday to Friday regardless of the opponent. The phrase “nameless, faceless opponents” became something of a mantra last season when the Wolverines’ stacked win after win to climb the Top 25 polls. It was a way of reminding themselves that their approach was working and shouldn’t be changed as U-M's national profile grew.

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This week’s date with the Hoosiers, who are three-touchdown underdogs, is the first of several potential trap games for Harbaugh’s team. The rivalry game with Michigan State on Oct. 29, gives way to three consecutive subpar opponents before what could be a battle of undefeated teams in Columbus to finish the regular season. Then and now, Michigan’s concentration will be tested.

“We don’t care who we play,” nose tackle Mazi Smith said. “We’re going to play them hard and we’re going to do what we do. It’s about us. Ain’t about nobody else.”

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, right, during the 51-7 win against the Colorado State Rams, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.
Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, right, during the 51-7 win against the Colorado State Rams, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.

A group effort

Michigan’s opening drive against Iowa laid the foundation for the blowout to come.

The Wolverines received the opening kickoff and uncorked an 11-play, 75-yard drive that featured one incompletion and no tackles for loss. They moved the chains five times en route to the end zone and faced just a single third down, which tailback Blake Corum converted with a two-yard run. Wideout Ronnie Bell punctuated the possession with a 16-yard score on an end around.

Most teams script their opening possession or the first 15 plays ahead of time, and Michigan is no exception. Harbaugh spoke gleefully about his team's efficiency on that drive and pulled back the curtain to reveal just how many people were involved in outlining that possession during the week.

His list included co-offensive coordinators Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss, running backs coach Mike Hart, wide receivers coach Ron Bellamy, tight ends coach Grant Newsome and a trio of analysts in Kirk Campbell, Bret Ingalls and John Morookian.

“Took a deep, long bow and honored them,” Harbaugh said. “That was really good, really good. It was well-prepared, it was well thought-out, it was well-practiced. That’s how we want to start a football game.”

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Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson makes a diving attempt to catch a pass that fell incomplete ahead of Iowa defensive back Sebastian Castro during the first half Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson makes a diving attempt to catch a pass that fell incomplete ahead of Iowa defensive back Sebastian Castro during the first half Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Injury report

Harbaugh made vague references to an injury for wideout Roman Wilson during his postgame news conference by telling reporters the player had taken a “head shot” from Iowa.

He provided no additional updates Monday when asked to clarify Wilson's health or the circumstances surrounding the injury.

“Talk about everybody’s health status, I mean, that’s not my job to do,” Harbaugh said.

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football: Opening drive against Iowa was a group effort