MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has seen this script enough times.
A stout defense, a solid offense and a potential NFL quarterback have put their teams in position to win a Big Ten title.
So far, the opponents have lived up to the hype. This weekend, the Hoosiers get one more chance to rewrite the ending when No. 15 Michigan comes to town.
“They’re similar to Iowa,” Wilson said. “They’re good in many areas, but the defensive strength, it was a really good defense, now it’s being complemented by the way the offense is playing.”
It sounds familiar.
Over the previous six weeks, the Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5 Big Ten) have played three teams ranked in the top 10. All three were unbeaten, all three were built around the same philosophy and all three featured quarterbacks with NFL aspirations. Despite going into the fourth quarter either with the lead or within striking distance of it, Indiana lost all three games.
Next up is Michigan (7-2, 4-1).
The Wolverines rely on a defense that has allowed the nation’s fewest points (11.9 per game), second-fewest yards (240.0) and second-fewest yards passing (159.0) as well as the third-fewest yards rushing (80.6). They also have an experienced quarterback, Jake Rudock, who has blossomed under coach Jim Harbaugh.
And, like the previous three games, this one has high stakes. A Wolverines win Saturday would keep them in the running for the Big Ten East title.
Harbaugh has other concerns, though.
“This team is dangerous,” he said. “They’ve played all the good teams (in the conference) and they’ve played them all really good, with chances to win every time they take the field. We understand the task there.”
As does Indiana, which is trying to snap a five-game losing streak with one memorable final scene.
“You’re getting down to a play or two,” Wilson said when talking about the difference between winning these games and losing game. “We’re going to keep fighting. We need to get more of those plays or two. We don’t like losing close, we don’t like winning close. We like winning big.”
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
SAYONARA SUDFELD: Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld leads the Big Ten with 278.6 yards passing per game. This weekend, in his home finale, the senior could crack the top three on Indiana’s career list for completions and yards. If Sudfeld averages 312 yards over the last three games, he’ll also become Indiana’s career passing leader — quite an achievement for someone who spent two seasons in quarterback derbies and missed half of the 2014 season with an injury.
PASSING THE TEST: Michigan leads the nation in defensive pass efficiency (87.2). But facing Sudfeld will be the first of three straight major tests. Next week Michigan faces one of the NFL’s top quarterback prospects, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. Then they have Ohio State’s dynamic duo, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. First, they must find a way to slow Sudfeld.
HOWARD’S END?: Running back Jordan Howard, a transfer from UAB, has been sensational when he’s been healthy. He topped 140 yards rushing in each of the first four games, but then injured his left ankle. After getting healthy, he ran for 174 yards last week against Iowa. Could he go pro after this season? Maybe. But he’ll need a strong finish to convince the scouts he’s ready.
UNDER PRESSURE: If the Hoosiers intend to turn around their fortunes, they must first fix three glaring problems from last week’s loss to Iowa: No sacks, no turnovers and no third-quarter points. Wilson spent the early part of this week challenging his team to fix all three.
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