We all know what happened in the second half of the season the past two years and it wasn’t pretty. Both times, it was Michigan State who gave Michigan its first loss that sent the Wolverines into a downward spiral.
I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of everyone telling me it’s going to happen again (I live in Ohio, so all I get is “Michigan sucks” every day, all day). But, unfortunately for the Michigan haters out there, this is not the same team as the past two years, and Saturday they went out to prove it. And prove it they did – big time.
The defense stepped up and showed it’s for real, and so did running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, whose 170 yards and 2 touchdown performance should have him as the solid number one back for the rest of the year.
With Jordan Kovacs out with an injury, Michigan moved Troy Woolfolk to safety and gave true freshman Blake Countess his first career start at cornerback. Purdue took the opening drive of the game and marched down the field for seven. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, they wouldn’t see the end zone again until the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, as Michigan rattled off 36 straight, including its first safety since 2003.
Purdue came out with Caleb Terbush at quarterback and ran an end around for about eight yards. A screen pass to O.J. Price a play later gained 12 and it began to look like the Boilermakers were for real. Mike Martin bull-rushed his man and stuffed Bolden on the next play, in what would be a familiar move all afternoon. A couple plays later Purdue found the end zone from 48 yards out on a jail break screen – a big play that looked to expose Michigan’s secondary. But, as I stated earlier, Purdue wouldn’t add any more points until the final seconds of the game. 7-0 Boilers.
Michigan’s first play was a 14-yard gain by Fitz Toussaint. After a 5-yard gain on a run, the “2″ formation came out with Denard in the slot. Gardner gave him the ball but he lost his footing. On 3rd-and-6, Denard threw a strike to Junior Hemingway for 10 yards and the first down and into Purdue territory. After a near interception the “2″ came out again. Gardner gave the ball to Denard and the defense flew to him, but he flipped it to Jeremy Gallon on the reverse for a first down run. However, a personal foul on Taylor Lewan moved the ball back 15 yards. A few plays later, Gallon took a screen pass to bring the ball down to the 11. Toussaint took a pitch and ran it to just shy of the goal line and Denard punched it in a few plays later to tie it up at seven.
Purdue couldn’t get anything going on its next drive, or any of them really, and Michigan was swarming to the ball very well. Jake Ryan made a stop on 3rd-and-5 to force the punt.
A trick play out of the “2″ formation threw Purdue off, but Vincent Smith failed to connect on his pass to Jeremy Gallon. On 3rd-and-8 Denard stood strong in the pocket and delivered another good pass, despite being tipped, to Roy Roundtree. On the next third down, Denard forced a throw to a well-covered Kevin Koger, but it was picked off by linebacker Joe Holland.
After a three-and-out by Purdue, Michigan took over at its own 20. A 2-yard loss by Toussaint and an 8-yard sack put Michigan in a 3rd-and-20 to start the second quarter. Denard rolled out to his left and threw a bomb to Roundtree, who had gotten behind the defense, for a 49-yard gain. Denard moved to the slot for the next play, and after a fake end-around, Gardner threw for the end zone, but it looked like there was a miscommunication and the pass was easily picked off.
Purdue took over on its own five and in one of the most beautiful and rare plays for a defense, Mike Martin bowled over his man and brought down Terbush for the safety. The replay showed he may have snagged a little facemask, but the official was right behind the play and didn’t call anything. Two points good guys to put Michigan ahead for good.
After a 15-yard penalty on Purdue, Michigan took over at the Purdue 45. Toussaint took the first play for 17 yards, but the Michigan offense fizzled and had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Brendan Gibbons. 12-7 Michigan.
Purdue brought in Miami Hurricane transfer Robert Marve on its next drive and moved the ball down to the Michigan 16 in five plays, aided in part by a 15-yard penalty on Michigan and some nifty escapery by Marve. But back-to-back incompletions put them in 3rd-and-10. While being pressured by Jake Ryan, Marve tried to throw a strike to Justin Siller on a wide receiver screen, but the ball was bobbled and picked off by Courtney Avery.
Michigan took over, and after Toussaint took a couple of hand offs and ran for 16 yards on each one, Denard threw a beautiful pass to Jeremy Gallon that went for 42 yards down to the 2-yard line. Fitz punched it on the next play to put Michigan ahead 19-7.
Purdue was forced into another three-and-out as Marve was sacked by Martin on 3rd-and-long. Michigan marched down the field but failed to punch it in after five tries inside the four-yard line and settled for another field goal. Michigan took a 22-7 lead into the half.
On the first possession of the second half, Michigan nickeled and dimed Purdue down the field, along with a big 26-yarder by Vincent Smith, but failed to convert on a 4th-and-goal at the one-yard line and turned the ball over on downs.
Purdue once again couldn’t get anything going on its next drive, punting it away after doing nothing more than eating up a few minutes of clock.
On the fourth play of Michigan’s drive, Gardner faked a pitch to Denard and pitched it to Toussaint who cut back across the middle and outran everyone for 59 yards and another touchdown. 29-7 Michigan.
Another punt by Purdue put Michigan back inside its own 15. A couple of runs by Denard and Fitz put Michigan at the Purude 37, where Michael Shaw took a pitch to the right and went 37 yards to the house to conclude the scoring – well, at the least all the scoring that mattered in this game. 36-7 Michigan.
With the game in hand, Gardner came in to replace Denard for the remainder, but couldn’t put any more points on the board. Purdue did manage to add a 19-yard touchdown pass from Marve to Ross with 15 seconds left but the game. Regardless, Brady Hoke did not look pleased that his defense gave up the meaningless points.
Michigan put up a whopping 535 yards, 339 of them on the ground, and held the Purdue rushing attack to just 89 yards (the Boilers averaged 195 per game coming in). Michigan flat out dominated in every way, showing Michigan is for real and is not just Denard Robinson and some other guys. Fitz Toussaint was huge, rushing for 170 yards on 20 carries and 2 touchdowns. Michael Shaw added five carries for 56 yards and a touchdown as well.
Denard was less than spectacular on the ground, by his standards, with 15 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown, but he was superb in the passing game, going 9-for-14 for 170 yards. He did throw another pick, however.
The defense got great pressure all afternoon long and looked like a team possessed after getting outmuscled by State two weeks ago.Through eight games, Michigan’s defense has allowed a total of 117 points. Through the first eight games in each of the past three seasons, Michigan’s defense gave up 230 in 2008, 188 in 2009, and 240 in 2010. I think it’s safe to say the defense is back on track to playing Michigan defense. It’s not there yet, but it’s much more like a Michigan defense than we have seen the past three years.
The win, coupled with Michigan State’s 24-3 loss to Nebraska, puts Michigan firmly back in the hunt for the Big Ten Legends Division title. Michigan needs to win out and still needs MSU to lose another one, but it’s not completely out of the question.