A year ago Zach Carpenter looked across the field to the Indiana sideline and admired the culture that had been built in Bloomington.
Now he’ll be looking across the field from the IU sideline, back at his old teammates.
In fact, Carpenter will get a much closer look at Michigan when the Hoosiers travel to Ann Arbor for a 7:30 p.m. Eastern primetime tilt on Saturday. The former Wolverine will be lining up for his second straight start after cracking the first five on the offensive line against Maryland. Carpenter was plugged in at right guard against the Terrapins, a move that resulted in Matthew Bedford shifting to left guard and bumped Mike Katic out of the lineup, in part due to an injury.
Head coach Tom Allen had hinted that personnel changes were coming going into the Maryland game. With Indiana struggling both to run the football and protect the quarterback, something had to give. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise that Carpenter was part of what the staff hoped was a solution for its poor play up front.
A 20-year-old Cincinnati product, Carpenter started two games for Michigan last year, the final two games of their season, and very soon thereafter he put his name in the transfer portal, ultimately landing in Bloomington. With the starts for the Wolverines on his resume, many believed he would find a starting role somewhere on the interior of the IU line to open the season. That didn’t happen right away, but as the season progressed Carpenter got healthier, and with Katic dinged up, the move became obvious.
“I really felt that based on play the last few weeks and Zach was getting healthier — he had something he had to deal with physically earlier in the season, so just getting him to where he was healthy enough to be able to be a guy in there, just felt like that he needed to be one of those spots,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said on Monday.
“I think Zach is a really good football player,” Allen continued. “And I wanted to get him in there. And it just worked out that way because of Michael’s (Katic) injury. But at the same time, Zach was going to be in there somewhere. Basically, I just felt that was just what needed to happen. And that’s the way — direction that we went.”
Indiana had its best day of the season running the football on Saturday against Maryland, something that was essential with true freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley making his first start. The Hoosiers amassed a season-high 204 yards on 42 carries, did a better job of generating positive plays, and also broke their longest running play of the season — right through Carpenter’s lane.
“You look at eliminating negative plays (in the running game), which we did a better job of, there was more solid production of 3,4,5,6,7 yard runs, and then in order to have big production, you need to have a big run, you need some explosiveness,” offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “Stephen (Carr) provided that and the guys did a good job blocking up front.”
Indiana didn’t have that kind of day last year in their 38-21 win over Michigan, but they did generate 118 rushing yards and seemed to be able to move the sticks via the ground game at key moments in the second half.
This year they will be facing a Wolverine run defense ranked No. 35 overall while allowing 127 yards per contest, but that gave up 197 yards and five touchdowns to Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker on Saturday.
Indiana will hope to be able to find the holes in the Michigan defense Michigan State discovered, with a former Wolverine leading the way.
Allen likes Carpenter’s versatility. He can play any of three spots on the interior. But for now the plan is to go with what worked. As a team Indiana had its best ratings of the season against Power Five competition against Maryland for both pass and run blocking according to PFF.
And for Carpenter that should mean another start at right guard, this time against his former teammates.
“Once we went with that combination and liked the results, we’ll just continue it with that,” Allen said.
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