It was only a week off, but it feels like forever since Michigan last played a game. The sting of defeat still looms on the mind, and if it does for me, I can assure you it’s magnified tenfold for the players and coaches. Fortunately, the bye week is over and Purdue comes to town for Michigan’s homecoming weekend.
Unfortunately, it’s not the Purdue we all expected. The Boilermakers began the season as the Purdue of old, barely surviving Middle Tennessee, losing to Rice, and getting throttled by Notre Dame, but since then has been playing better. Last week, the Boilers upset 23rd-ranked Illinois, and the week before that, went toe-to-toe with Penn State in Happy Valley.
Is Purdue really enough to give Michigan fits on Saturday, or will it be the same old Purdue that Michigan fans usually take for granted? Let’s break down the matchpus.
Caleb TerBush has grabbed firm control of the quarterback position after not really even being a factor heading into the season. Last year’s starter Rob Henry tore his ACL in August and Robert Marve has played sparingly after recovering from his own torn ACL in 2010.
TerBush has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,127 yards (161/game), eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He also averages about eight rushes per game, but just 2.4 yards per carry. He had perhaps his best performance of the season in last week’s win, throwing for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Denard Robinson struggled two weeks ago against Michigan State, completing just 9-of-24 passes and rushing for just 42 yards on 18 carries, but he’s still the most dangerous player on the field. As I profiled at the beginning of the week, he’s on pace to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in Michigan history and should be able to add to that total this week.
Ralph Bolden is Purdue’s go-to back with 398 yards on 4.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He’s had just one 100-yard rushing game, and ran well against Penn State two weeks ago, but gained just 28 yards on 12 carries last week and has three games with a less than three yards per carry average. Fellow junior Akeem Shavers hasn’t gotten as many carries but has scored five touchdowns.
Michigan’s running game has been uninspiring the past couple of weeks after showing signs of promise at the beginning of the season. Fitz Toussaint seemed to be becoming the every down back, but got just two carries for seven yards against Michigan State, while Vincent Smith got just eight for 37 yards.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges handle the gameplan this week after abandoning the run game with the running backs against State. Purdue’s rush defense ranks 55th nationally, but shut down a pretty good Illinois rushing attack last week. Penn State, however, got 131 yards out of Silas Redd and Notre Dame got 191 from Cierre Wood and 94 from Jonas Gray.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
Antavian Edison is the leading receiver for the Boilers, averaging 15.6 yards per catch and two touchdowns. He had a big game against Notre Dame, catching seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, but hasn’t done much outside of that.
The other go-to guy is Mr. Do-it-all Justin Siller. The former three-star quarterback moved to running back in 2008, was suspended for 2009, and returned as a wide receiver in 2010 before missing most of the season with an injury. He was actually Purdue’s starting quarterback in last year’s matchup with Michigan, but hurt his foot on the first play of the game. This season, he has 28 receptions for 284 yards and a touchdown.
For Michigan, receiver production can only go as far as Denard goes. Junior Hemingway is the obvious leader with 17 receptions for 397 yards and a touchdown. Though not a speedster, he’s a deep threat who has made his living on jump balls with big games against Notre Dame and Northwestern. Jeremy Gallon emerged as the second guy and leads the team in receptions with 18. Roy Roundtree and tight end Kevin Koger also have double-digit receptions and a pair of touchdowns each.
Michigan has the better stable of receivers, but how the offense is run will determine the kind of production they have.
Purdue has allowed 16 sacks, which ranks 80th nationally, but the offensive line has seemingly fixed the problems it was having at the beginning of the season. Against Middle Tennessee and Rice to open the season, the Boilers allowed eight sacks. In the last five games, it has given up eight combined, including just one to Illinois’ very good pass rush last week.
In addition, the line has paved the way for the nation’s 26th-ranked rush offense. The Boilers have a good left tackle in Dennis Kelly and a solid and experienced guard in Peters Drey, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer last season.
Michigan’s offensive line has struggled against more physical defensive lines the past few seasons and that was no different against Michigan State two weeks ago. After allowing just two sacks through the first six games, it allowed seven against the Spartans, and managed just 82 yards rushing.
Purdue’s defensive line hasn’t been quite as good after losing First-Team All-American Ryan Kerrigan to the Washington Redskins, but it’s not a bad unit by any stretch. The Boilers have recorded 10 sacks, which ranks 93rd nationally, and allow 145 yards rushing per game, the same as Michigan allows. Tackle Kawann Short leads the team in sacks with 3.5 and tackles-for-loss with 9.5. He’s a guy who shifted to the end position against Penn State but is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher.
Michigan’s line has struggled to pressure the quarterback against good offensive lines, recording no sacks against Notre Dame and Michigan State. Bigger offensive lines tend to neutralize Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Craig Roh simply because of a lack of size. Personnel wise, Michigan’s and Purdue’s lines are probably pretty even, but the Wolverines will have trouble getting to TerBush and getting much push against Purdue’s bigger offensive line.
Dwayne Beckford and Joe Holland are two fairly talented linebackers for the Boilers and are the team’s leading tacklers. The pair combined for 22 tackles against Illinois last week and helped keep Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in check.
Michigan’s linebackers haven’t progressed as much as expected throughout the season. Kenny Demens and Brandin Hawthorne have been slow to react and freshman Jake Ryan continues to struggle containing the edge.
Corner Ricardo Allen is just a sophomore but he already has six career interceptions for the Boilers, including one last week. The other, Josh Johnson is bigger and more physical, but neither was able to stop Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd in Week 4. But then again, who can? Purdue is allowing 206 passing yards per game, which is a respectable 36th nationally.
Michigan’s secondary has been much better than the past couple of seasons. Freshman Blake Countess has basically taken Troy Woolfolk’s spot due to nagging injuries and has fared well. Safety Jordan Kovacs is the leader while fellow safety Thomas Gordon has a knack for making big plays. Michigan gives up just 192 yards through the air.
Purdue has the nation’s fourth-best net punt average. Sophomore punter Cody Webster averages 46.6 yards per punt. Kicker Carson Wiggs has hit 9-of-14 field goals with a long of 53. The Boilers also have the nation’s 15th-best kick return game, giving the offense good starting field position.
Michigan’s punting has been pretty poor, with a net average of 33.1, which is near the bottom nationally. Some of that is attributed to a series of field position punts in the Michigan State game. Kicker Brendon Gibbons has hit 4-of-6 field goals with a long of just 38.
Purdue Head Coach Danny Hope is 1-1 against Michigan since taking over for Joe Tiller. In 2009, he took advantage of Michigan’s decline and captured Purdue’s first win in Ann Arbor in 43 years. Last year, Purdue kept it close in an ugly game. He seems to be a good fit at a school like Purdue where he’s going to get the most out of the talent he has and keep them playing hard.
Brady Hoke suffered his first loss at Michigan two weeks ago, effectively ending his honeymoon. Now he can get down to coaching and staying out of the spotlight. For all the praise we gave Al Borges through the first six games, his gameplan was subpar at best against MSU. I’m wiling to bet he gets back to running the football against Purdue. Greg Mattison has Michigan’s defense ranked eighth nationally in points allowed and 36th in total defense. Those are dramatic improvements from the past few years.
Saturday will be homecoming in Ann Arbor but unfortunately Mother Nature thinks she went to Michigan. The current forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s with a rain or snow shower, meaning the game could come down to which team can run the ball the best.
Michigan lost to Purdue last time the Boilers visited Ann Arbor and you can be sure that Hoke has declared that unacceptable. It’s a must-win for Michigan if it wants any shot of climbing back into the Big Ten race. A home game in poor weather conditions should favor Michigan.
This game does scare me a little bit. Purdue is playing well and looked good against Illinois last week. The Boilers run an offense somewhat similar to Northwestern and try to control the tempo early with some no-huddle. That worked for Northwestern in the first half against Michigan. It’s a shotgun spread offense with lots of zone read and receiver screens that could keep Michigan’s defense on its heels for the first half or so. Hope likes to mix around running backs and receivers and use Justin Siller in the Wildcat every now and then.
However, depending on what the weather brings, that could be neutralized a bit, either forcing Purdue into a more conservative rushing attack or causing turnovers.
The Purdue defense did a great job of stopping Illinois’ powerful offense last week. The Illini are about as similar to Michigan as any team in the Big Ten, so that doesn’t bode well. But Denard Robinson is better than Scheelhaase and Michigan will look to establish a rushing game early.
I look for Purdue to hang around for a half and into the third quarter before Mattison adjusts to stop the Boiler offense and Michigan wins a closer than wanted game.
Prediction: Michigan 33 – Purdue 24
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