By Larry Lage, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner said the Wolverines aren’t discouraged about losing their first game of the season.
“That doesn’t determine how our season is going to end and how we’re going to finish,” Gardner said. “That’s up to us, whether we finish strong or let this loss be a cloud over our head.”
Michigan (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) fell out of The Associated Press rankings for the first time this year after losing 43-40 in four overtimes at Penn State. The Wolverines’ first chance to bounce back comes Saturday at home against Indiana (3-3, 1-1).
Here are five things to watch:
PRIMED TO RUN: Michigan desperately wants to improve its running game without Gardner carrying the load. The Wolverines might be playing the perfect team to gain confidence on the ground. In all three of this season’s losses, the Hoosiers have allowed more than 200 yards rushing. Last week, the Spartans ran for 238 yards and almost had two players over the 100-yard mark.
“It’s obvious from last game, we’ve got to keep making defensive strides,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said.
Michigan’s Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged only 1 yard on 27 carries against Penn State, leading to Gardner running a career-high 24 times for a career-high 121 yards. “I pretty much knew what would have to happen,” Gardner said. “We weren’t getting many yards on first down. We weren’t running the ball well. If they need me to run, that’s fine, I’ll do it.”
STREAKS AND SUCH: Michigan has beaten the Hoosiers 17 straight times and hasn’t lost to them at home since 1967, when they earned the school’s only trip to the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines haven’t lost to anyone at home since Nov. 10, 2010, when they got beat by Wisconsin. They’ve won 18 straight at the Big House since then, stringing together the longest, active home winning streak by a BCS-conference team. Indiana is playing back-to-back games in what might be its most dreaded state in the Midwest because the program has won just twice in East Lansing since 1970. The Hoosiers lost at Michigan State by two touchdowns last week, failing to maintain momentum after beating the Nittany Lions at home by 20 points.
KEEPING THE FAITH: Brendan Gibbons set a Michigan record earlier this season, making a 16th consecutive field goal. Last week, however, Gibbons missed a 52-yarder with 2 seconds left in regulation, and couldn’t convert on two chances to make field goals during the overtimes at Penn State. Hoke, though, isn’t ready to open up the competition at kicker because he still believes in Gibbons.
“He won the Sugar Bowl for us,” he said, referring to the 2011 bowl. “He made a kick here at home to beat Michigan State.”
RYAN’S RETURN: Wolverines linebacker Jake Ryan played last week, completing a comeback that started when he tore a knee ligament in March during spring practice. The second-team All-Big Ten player said he drew inspiration during his rehabilitation from Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who appeared to recover seamlessly from the same injury.
FAST-BREAK OFFENSE: Michigan’s defense gave up 311 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air against Akron’s spread last month in a 28-24 win, which was sealed by a goal-line stand in the final seconds. The Wolverines might have a hard time slowing down Indiana’s offense under Wilson, whose previous stops include Oklahoma and Northwestern.
“Wilson’s done a nice job offensively,” Hoke said. “They’ve got a lot of skill sets that they use. Tempo this week will be as high as it’s going to be all year, between them and Northwestern. We’re going to need bodies to come in and out.”
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