Michigan Transfer Zach Carpenter returns to Ann Arbor as an IU starter against Michigan
BLOOMINGTON – Zach Carpenter doesn’t want to say much about what Saturday’s game will mean for him. At least nobody with a microphone, notepad or recording device.
Ask the offensive Indiana lineman what it will be like for him to return to the Big House at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday to play Michigan, his former school, and he will answer the question in as few words as possible.
“I just stay focused,” said Carpenter on Wednesday. “It’s about us. Not about them.”
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But Carpenter’s teammates on the offensive know exactly how important this is to him. The former three-star recruit from Cincinnati’s Moeller High School left Michigan after last season despite earning an entry-level job at the center for the Wolverines late in the season, and he’d really like to show up before the program he left . He got the opportunity after finally earning a spot for the Hoosiers as a right-shooter after an injury in spring training hampered his ability to compete in the preseason.
“He started a fire about this week,” said left guard Matthew Bedford. “He’s ready to go to work and see his old pals.”
Carpenter did the job even though his path to the entry-level job wasn’t as clean as he expected it to be when he arrived. The Hoosiers had a need at the center after 2020 starter Harry Crider left for the NFL, and Carpenter appeared to be meeting that need. The Hoosiers had players with starting experience in the remaining positions and it seemed obvious that he could fill in directly.
But Carpenter was physically out of order – neither he, coach Tom Allen, nor Darren Hiller specified the injury – so he had to work his way back while the Hoosiers shuffled the line to find a suitable group, moving sixth-year-old Dylan Powell off the line Stand in the center and move Bedford from tackle to watch to fill the line.
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Carpenter held back, got well and waited for his turn, worked on both sentries and in the middle, making it clear that he would be ready when called at one of the three positions.
Carpenter finally got his chance last week when left guard Mike Katic went down with an injury and the Hoosiers had to shuffle the line-up again.
Everyone already believed that the Hoosiers needed to make a change on the fighting offensive front. Indiana has allowed in 21 sacks this season, the fourth highest total in the Big Ten, and the Hoosiers have struggled to block running, ranking 10th in rushing yards per game and ranked 10th in yards per try in the Big Ten 11.
Allen believed that adjustments were needed and that Carpenter had to be part of those adjustments. It seemed to work pretty well as the Hoosiers had their best offensive performance of the season against a Big Ten team, Maryland, with 35 points, 446 yards all-off, and 204 rushing yards.
“I think Zack is a really good football player,” said Allen. “And I wanted to get him in there. And it just worked out because of Michael’s injury. But at the same time, Zack would be in there somewhere. Basically, I just had the feeling that this had to happen.”
The 6-foot-5,320-pound carpenter has a good grasp of how the entire line works, having moved around the interior throughout his entire time playing soccer. He can deal with pass blockades, but also enjoys the opportunity to get out at the edge and play the running game.
“He’s strong,” said offensive coach Darren Hiller. “He’s a big physical, strong guy. We hired him hard from high school. … He’s probably one of the tallest, most physical, strongest linemen and he’s still a young guy.”
The Hoosiers recruited Carpenter in the 2019 class of high school and said in January that he ultimately wished he had picked Indiana because he was impressed with the culture around the program and that the players seemed to really be there be. However, he has also been recruited by more historically respected football programs, including Clemson. He felt he had to pick a school with clout given his options, so he went with the Wolverines.
However, Carpenter decided he wanted to be closer to his Cincinnati home after his mother, who suffered from lupus, had some health issues and Indiana was a natural fit.
Carpenter and the Hoosiers encounter a team from Michigan that was better than the one he left. The Wolverines went 2-4 in 2020, losing to Indiana for the first time since 1987 and only for the second time since 1967. This year’s Michigan team is ranked 9th nationwide and lost their first loss of the season 7-1. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are 2-6 overall, 0-5 in the Big Ten and one loss away from any guarantee they will miss a bowl spot.
However, he still believes the move was worth it for an improved overall experience.
“I have no regrets,” said Carpenter. “LION.”
Carpenter said he wasn’t sure what to expect from his first trip back to the Big House. He said he hadn’t thought about which former teammates he would like to see or how he might be greeted by Michigan believers.
“It’s going to be strange,” said Carpenter. “I may see a bit of hostility, but that’s the game of football.”
This article originally appeared in The Herald-Times: Indiana Football: Michigan Transfer Zach Carpenter Returns to Ann Arbor