WHAT'S CLICKING: The defense. The Wolverines have been suffocating opposing offenses all season, so all those uncharacteristic mistakes against Ball State didn't sit well. Michigan went into Bloomington last weekend looking to make amends, and it did, holding the offensively potent Hoosiers to just 131 total yards. Indiana's opening series was emblematic of the game. QB Kellen Lewis tried to go deep to Jahkeen Gilmore on the first snap, but likely All-America CB Leon Hall was there to break it up. Chased on the next play, Lewis threw it away. And on third down, another likely All-America, DT Alan Branch, sacked Lewis for a 6-yard loss.
Michigan's D is stacked from front to back, but its success starts with a dominating front line (ends LaMarr Woodley, Rondell Biggs and Tim Jamison, tackles Branch and Terrance Taylor and hybrid LB Shawn Crable). Lewis, Indiana's freshman sensation, is extremely quick on his feet, but even he couldn't elude the Wolverines' pass-rushers but for a few plays.
"They've been telling us how good [Michigan's front seven] are, but until you get on the field between the lines with them, you really realize that's the case," said Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner.
That front seven makes Michigan better equipped than any team in the country -- and certainly better suited than they were the past two years -- to contain Ohio State star QB Troy Smith.
PRIMARY CONCERN: Mario Manningham's health. Michigan's star receiver, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery following the Michigan State game on Oct. 7, returned to the starting lineup for the first time against Indiana and caught his first two passes (for 11 yards) since before the injury. "I told him it's about time he caught a ball," joked Carr. The state of Manningham's health has been kept under strict wraps, but Carr said he expects the receiver "will be at full speed as we go into this week."
Just having their big-play threat on the field clearly opened up the Wolverines' previously struggling offense against Indiana. Early in the second quarter, quarterback Chad Henne stared down Manningham as he streaked down the left sideline, goading the Hoosiers' safeties, then turned and fired a 62-yard strike to Steve Breaston down the other sideline. "The safeties have to worry about him," said Hart. "They can't come into the box to get me." Still, it would greatly benefit Michigan if they can use the sophomore -- who had nine touchdowns of 20 or more yards in his first six games -- as more than just a decoy.
X-FACTOR: Breaston. Despite the fact he'd never eclipsed even 500 receiving yards in any of his first three seasons, Michigan's senior receiver entered this year on the watch lists for the Biletnikoff, Maxwell and Walter Camp awards. Because of his supreme playmaking abilities as a return man, it was always assumed he would eventually emerge as the Wolverines' go-to receiver, but it never happened, not even in his first 10 games this season.
Last weekend, however, Breaston finally channeled the sophomore version of himself, that budding star who once posted 315 all-purpose yards in the Rose Bowl. He scored his first two touchdowns of the season, one on the 62-yard catch from Henne, the other on an electrifying 83-yard punt return. Michigan already had no shortage of weapons at its disposal, but there's no question they're a more dangerous team when Breaston makes his presence felt. "I like Steve Breaston," said Carr. "I think he's a had a great year all year, doing some things that maybe aren't appreciated." Another touchdown or two against the Buckeyes would certainly be appreciated.
MOMENTUM METER: Coming off the unnecessarily close call against Ball State and sluggish offensive outputs against Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern before that, the Indiana game was exactly the kind of confidence-builder Michigan needed headed into the Ohio State game. The Wolverines had a nearly flawless performance in all three areas of the game. "Some of the mistakes we made against Ball State proved to be very helpful to us because they really focused us," said Carr. "We came into the game with great intensity."
Carr doesn't have to worry about intensity this week. The Wolverines will certainly bring their "A game" to Columbus -- the question is will it be enough. Michigan's defense has yet to exhibit the slightest sign of weakness, but Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Antonio Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez will be the most athletic group they've faced. And while Michigan's offense isn't meant to be flashy, it is slightly alarming that Henne hasn't thrown for 200 yards just once in his past six games. Overall, however, this is without question the most complete Michigan team since that 1997 squad which won the national championship.
To get a shot at another one, the Wolverines will need a consistent, businesslike effort.