It has come to this. All of the dreams we have of playing in a bowl this football season come down to winning in Ann Arbor. Doing so would be the first such victory since Griese was at quarterback. I don't mean Brian in the late 90's for the Wolverines either. Our favorite taco-loving announcer was Purdue's quarterback on October 15, 1966 when we won 22-21 in Ann Arbor.
It is a difficult position to be in, but I wouldn't have it any other way. When I was in school, I always tackled the hardest projects first. I knew if I could finish them, everything else would be easy. That is what we face now. Winning at Michigan is the most difficult of our remaining three games. Win, and we have a better chance to win the final two games. Lose, and it is all about building for next year.
Before the season, this was the only loss I had put in sharpie, as the Boiled Sports guys say. I even gave us a chance against Ohio State at home because we play the Buckeyes well and we were at home. Michigan is quite different. In the three victories over Michigan I have personally witnessed (1996, 2000, 2008) we have had to hang on until the final play in each one. Don't even get me started on our visits to Ann Arbor, which have gone as follows:
1969: L 20-31
1972: L 6-9
1974: L 0-51
1975: L 0-28
1978: L 6-24
1980: L 0-26 (This loss cost us the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl that season)
1982: L 21-52
1983: L 10-42
1985: L 0-47
1989: L 27-42
1991: L 0-42
1993: L 10-25
1995: L 0-5
1999: L 12-38 (Our other four losses that season were by a touchdown or less)
2001: L 10-24
2003: L 3-31 (This also cost us the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl)
2007: L 21-48
That is 17 straight losses at the Big House. In six of those games we didn't even score a single point. Kyle Orton, Drew Brees, Mark Herrman, and Jim Everett never even came close to a win. Shoot, Rick Trefzger in 1995 came closer than any of them. This is what we have to look forward to on Saturday. There is good news though: Joey Elliott led a pair of touchdown drives in the last two minutes during our last visit, so he had a better game in half a quarter than most Purdue quarterbacks.
2009 Record: 5-4, 1-4 Big Ten
2008 Record: 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten
Bowl Result: none
Series with Purdue: Michigan leads 41-13-0
Last Purdue win: 11/1/2008 at Purdue 48-42
Last Michigan win: 10/13/2007 at Michigan 48-21
It is hard to believe that Michigan started 4-0, but their one win since came in a D-1AA exhibition against Delaware State. Even more unbelievably, they got drilled by an awful Illinois team last week. I can't figure this team out right now. They haven't even been competitive the last two weeks against two teams (Penn State and Illinois) they have historically dominated.
The key to any victory this time around will be stopping the Wolverines in the first quarter. Michigan has scored 111 points this season it the first quarter of their nine games. By comparison, they have just 28 third quarter points in that time. If we can prevent them from jumping on us early we have a chance. I am also encouraged that they run a similar offensive style to Oregon. Our defense did a good job of stopping the Ducks (remember, 17 of the 38 points given up were because of turnovers) and Oregon has better personnel running it.
We will definitely see two quarterbacks. Tate Forcier (107-193-5) has nine touchdowns and 1,429 yards passing. He is by far the bigger passing threat. Denard Robinson (11-22-4) has two touchdowns and 179 yards passing. With four interceptions in 22 attempts we want him to throw. Make no mistake. This is by far a run first team. Robinson has rushed for 287 yards and five touchdowns while Forcier has 214 and two scores.
Even though we won last year, we couldn't stop an offense that had struggled all year. They have been more successful this season, so we had better hope we have improved in that area. Brandon Minor (332-5) had a field day against us, going for a career high 155 yards and three scores, but he has been battling injuries of late. Carlos Brown (465-4) leads the team in rushing, but Michigan is at its best when it is spreading the ball around in the running game. Vincent Smith (208-1) and Michael Shaw (181-2) have been known to get in on the action too.
While Michigan's passing game isn't highly productive, it is balanced. Martavious Odoms (22-272-1) is the leading receiver, but Greg Mathews (18-204-1), Kevin Koger (15-211-2), Junior Hemingway (13-233-2), and Darryl Stonum (12-189-1) provide balance across the board. Roy Roundtree, yes that Roy Roundtree, has produced 6 catches for 136 yards and a score.
Michigan has had some issues of late with the offensive line. The unit has given up 19 sacks on the season, and has had some trouble opening holes for the running game. This is not a hulking line like Wisconsin's last week. Four of five starters are under 300 pounds, while Stephen Schilling is the biggest guy at 304 pounds. We should have some room to operate and be disruptive with our defensive line this week.
This is where Purdue has struggled historically. They have been unable to generate any points against the Wolverines. In the four games in which Purdue topped 20 points during this streak most of them came after game was well decided. It is not so much that Michigan has had a lights out defense in that time. It has just been that Purdue has been unable to do anything against it.
Our offensive line could have its hands full with Brandon Graham at the end position., Graham has 6.5 sacks on the season, 17.5 tackles for loss, and is generally a disruptive force in the defensive backfield. Defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen (32 tackles, four sacks) can also cause some problems. Michigan typically goes with a 3-4 set as opposed to the 4-3's we have seen most of the year. That means faster linebackers will be on the field, but there could be more room to run.
Obi Ezeh is the most active of those linebackers, leading the team with 63 tackles. Stevie Brown (55 tackles), Jonas Mouton (53 tackles) and Craig Roh the the remaining linebackers. It is an interesting mix of youth and experience as Ezeh, Mouton, and Brown are seniors while Roh is a true freshman.
Michigan has had some problems in the secondary. Donovan Warren is a solid cornerback with three interceptions, but they are hurting from the loss of Boubacar Cissoko, who was dismissed form the team before last week's game against Illinois. Troy Woolfolk and Michael Williams man the safety positions, but neither has an interception this season.
Michigan should be more vulnerable to the running game than Wisconsin. Illinois went nuts on the ground last week, and they had no discernable running game until two weeks ago. Their pass defense has been suspect as well. If we can limit turnovers and get back to moving the ball we might have a chance.
Michigan Special Teams:
Behold Zoltan, destroyer of worlds! Zoltan Mesko, aside from having the coolest name in the Big Ten, is a pretty good punter averaging almost 45 yards per kick. It's not like we have a punt return game anyway, so we should get ready to field deep kicks.
Jason Olesnavage is a decent kicker, hitting on 8 of 9 field goals with a long of 44. Bryan Wright is actually a kickoff specialist apart from Olesnavage and Mesko. He is holding teams to about 22 yards per return. Michigan's return game itself is pretty dangerous. We all know what Odoms did to us last year. Stonum has a kickoff return for a touchdown. Also of note, Graham has a blocked punt returned for a score, but it was against Delaware State.
Do I really need to point it out? The Boiled Sports guys and I discussed how a new coaching staff and new players can make a difference. They do not have the history of the 17 game losing streak on them. The truth is that it hasn't mattered. Every team we have taken up there, with different players, coaches, and philosophies, has gotten drilled for the past 43 years. I gave up two years ago when I went to the game and saw us fall behind 48-7 to a team that got worked by a 1-AA squad. This team has reached a rare level for me. I won't believe we can win there until I see it happen. I held the same attitude toward Notre Dame Stadium until 2004, but even then we had a series of close losses leading up to that win. There is no such history here.
Michigan has ownership over us on their home field rarely seen in college football. It is not that they have won 17 straight. They have done it with just two games being remotely close. Yes we have had some bad teams in this streak, but we have had some very good teams (1999, 2001, and 2003 were all in the top 15 at kickoff) get drilled in Ann Arbor. Technically in 2007 we were ranked at game time, so we have taken a ranked team in our last four trips to the Big House and been outscored 141-46. That is even with two meaningless touchdowns late in our last game.
The numbers are just not there to make me believe we can suddenly turn it around. Right now, I feel more confident about winning in any other venue in the Big Ten, maybe even the country, than I do about winning in Ann Arbor.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Catch the football
- Limit turnovers
- Limit special teams mistakes
- Play against the run like we did against Oregon
- Don't crap ourselves like we always do in Ann Arbor.