I love when I sit down to write this Monday Morning Quarterback segment and there’s not much to say. Usually that means that the Wolverines played well over the weekend and likely won their game rather easily. That’s exactly what happened this past Saturday as Michigan traveled to Purdue and came away with a 44-13 victory.
Before we go any further, I have to say that going into the weekend I was surprised at how many writers and commentators in the media doubted the Wolverines against Purdue. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit not only predicted Purdue to beat the Wolverines, but he’s also calling for Purdue to win the Leaders Division and also the Big Ten Championship! Now, if you have been watching College Gameday as long as I have, you know that sometimes Kirk has a way of making his predictions in a manner that will fire up certain teams to win. For example, he may make a pick on a game one way, but say it in a way that will light a fire under the players on the opposing team. As if he’s trying to give them extra motivation to go out there and play harder. Are the players on that team actually watching Game Day? Maybe, especially if the game is a later afternoon or night game.
As for me, in the two weeks leading up to the Purdue game, I never once thought that Michigan would walk away without a win. It seems that a lot of people had either forgotten about or dismissed the Wolverines as a team that wasn’t that good. Yeah, they’re not going to win a National Championship this year. But who actually thought that was going to happen anyway? Who out there really thought that Michigan would be able to compete with the elite teams like Alabama, Oregon, etc? The truth is, they are exactly where most people who really know Michigan football thought they were going to be. A win against Alabama would have been a miracle, and one against Notre Dame was a question mark at best, especially in South Bend at night. At 3-2, and more importantly 1-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan is still in the hunt for a conference championship and a BCS bowl berth.
Quickly, let’s talk about the Purdue game. Overall, I thought Michigan looked well prepared and ready for this game. It was obvious that the coaches had the players focused to start their Big Ten schedule following their week off. I thought the play-calling was good and took advantage of the skills which Denard possess as a quarterback/athlete. I was happy to see the offense put more emphasis on establishing the run early, which helped open up some of the passing lanes for Denard. His stats line of 8-for-16 for 105 yards and a touchdown is exactly the amount of passing that he should be doing in a game (when they establish the run first). Certainly no more than 25 attempts per game. The receivers did a decent job, although I did see a few poor routes and a couple drops of some catchable passes. Lastly, you want to talk about red zone efficiency? The offense was 6-for-6 in scoring.
Defensively, I really liked the effort. Coming into the game, Purdue looked like world-beaters if one only looked at their stats on paper. Putting up eye-popping stats in wins against the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall wasn’t a challenge. Maybe this is why so many in the media thought there was a chance that Michigan could lose this game? But the defense looked rested, healthy, and ready to stop anything that Purdue threw at them. Had the offense not turned the ball over at its own 36-yard line, I don’t think they would have given up a touchdown all game. Purdue certainly wasn’t going to put any long drives together. Even the kicking game looked good, as Brendan Gibbons missed from 44 yards, but hit field goals of 29, 42, and 27 yards. Also, Matt Wile hit a nice 57-yard punt in the third quarter.
After the game, I am still more than a little concerned about the lack of a productive runner other than Denard. Fitz Toussaint has been ineffective in every game he’s played this season, and I don’t think that this falls on the shoulders of the offensive line. To me, Fitz has looked slow and has lacked the explosiveness which he had last season when he complemented Denard in the read-option. And it’s not like defenses have been coming out to stop him either. Everyone knows the key to beating Michigan is limiting Denard’s ability to make big plays, not keeping Toussaint from racking up yardage on the ground. The coaches are going to need to find a more viable second running threat soon before they start taking on some better defenses later in the season.
So, moving on, here is what I see. Michigan stays home this week against an Illinois team which has not been impressive this year. However, after this weekend, the Wolverines have Michigan State at home and Nebraska on the road. This is a classic look-ahead weekend for Michigan. They can’t get caught looking ahead to those other games before they take care of business against Illinois. Do I think they’ll lose? No. I’m just saying they need to be careful. MSU has looked vulnerable (see last week’s effort against Indiana) and Nebraska hasn’t put together two good halves of football yet this season.
After that, Michigan faces a “let-down game” situation at Minnesota before home contests against Northwestern and Iowa. And then the Big Game in Columbus. If the team and the coaches can maintain their “one game at a time” mentality for the rest of the season, I believe that Michigan can go into the game against Ohio State with only the two losses which they already have. If that happens, we’ll be watching the Wolverines play in the Big Ten championship on the first weekend of December and the team will have accomplished its goal of winning a conference championship and playing in a BCS game.