A clash between the top two teams in the Big Ten takes center stage Sunday afternoon as No. 4 IU welcomes Michigan to Bill Armstrong Stadium.
With the Wolverines entering Yeagley field on a seven-match unbeaten streak that dates back over a month since their last loss, the Hoosiers will have to dig deep to pull out a victory and defend their home turf.
“It’s a big challenge,” head coach Tod Yeagley said. “But we’re getting our bodies ready and we’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”
The two high-powered offenses like to play calculated, methodical and relentless. This head-to-head has all the makings for an offensive fireworks show.
Currently, the only Big Ten team that leads Michigan in total shots taken is IU, whose 164 shots in 11 games greatly outpaces Michigan’s 145 shots. The Wolverines also trail only the Hoosiers in shots per game in the Big Ten, the latter of which is generating 14.91 shots per game, 26th most in the country.
It’s likely that whichever offense is able to get itself going first and control the tempo will inevitably find itself in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.
“It’s a talented team in the attack no doubt, and they return quite a few players,” Yeagley said. “It’s one of the games you circle on your schedule.”
However, it’s the notable playmaking advantage that Michigan holds over IU and the rest of the conference that makes it unlike any other team IU has faced this season. Through 11 games, Michigan has already recorded 30 assists, while IU has 17 assists, good for second-most in the Big Ten.
The experience and veteranship of the Wolverines’ front line is as good as any in the conference, and it has shown this season.
When Michigan is running at peak form, very few defenses can successfully stop its give-and-go style. This is due in large part to Michigan head coach Chaka Daley’s pass-first philosophy, in which almost every player touches the ball at least once in a given possession.
For the inexperienced Hoosiers to neutralize the Wolverines aerial attack, it’s going to have to start with IU sophomore defender Jack Maher and IU senior defender Simon Waever. The back line duo has done a stellar job at minimizing the mistakes of IU’s youth thus far, and they will be counted on to do so once again.
That will be no easy task, however, as Michigan brings a hard-nosed, physical squad to match up against IU. With a conference-leading 144 fouls and 18 yellow cards called against Michigan this season, it will be imperative for IU to match that same level of physicality without deterring from its own game plan.
“Both teams have some really good individual talent,” Yeagley said. “And yet, at the same time play collectively tough and are disciplined.”
The one player IU needs to keep tabs on all match is Michigan fifth-year senior forward Nebojsa Popovic. Having netted a conference-leading six goals and 15 points, Popovic’s skill set can single-handedly defeat teams. Not allowing him to find his stride is key to IU’s success.
The impending battle between two conference heavyweights is sure to bring excitement and frenetic action, just as it did last season when then-No. 2 IU took down then-No. 14 Michigan in 1-0 thriller.
If the Hoosiers can find a way to limit mistakes and force turnovers, then their chances of pulling away in the Big Ten standings vastly improve come Sunday evening.
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