ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 29: Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines tip toes up the sideline in front of Joe Holland #30 and Landon Feichter #44 of the Purdue Boilermakers during a fourth quarter run at Michigan Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The last two seasons have seen Purdue get off to a relatively hot start in Big Ten play, mostly because we've had Minnesota at home for the first game of the conference season. We have no such favors this year. We'll open at home in the first two games, but they will be against the prohibitive favorites in the two divisions before going to Ohio State. While I don't believe it is automatic that Urban Meyer is going to turn a 6-7 Buckeye team that wasn't even that good into a juggernaut instantly, our ownership of OSU only extends to the Tippecanoe County line.
Some have tabbed Purdue as a dark horse candidate in the Leaders Division because of OSU ineligibility, the changes at Illinois and Penn State, and the fact that Indiana would probably be better served by converting Memorial Stadium in a shrine to Saint Cody. Honestly, we don't deserve to be discussed as a division title-winning candidate unless we can get at least one of those first two home games.
Purdue should be at least 3-1 when the Wolverines come to town. The bye will already be off the schedule and the nasty four road games in five weeks is still ahead. The friendly confines of Ross-Ade need to be very friendly against a Michigan team that has some swagger back.
2011 Record: 11-2, 6-2 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Beat Virginia Tech 23-20 OT in Sugar Bowl
Series with Purdue: Michigan leads 43-14-0
Last Purdue win: 11/7/2009 at Michigan 38-36
Last Michigan win: 10/29/2011 at Michigan 36-14
Last Season for the Wolverines:
Last season's game with the Wolverines was decided on a couple of plays. Sure, a late Robert Marve touchdown pass only served to cosmetically make the score closer, but Purdue led 7-0 less than two minutes in when Caleb TerBush hit Gary Bush for a 48-yard TD. The Wolverines answered with a 12 play, 70 yard drive for score aided by a third and six pickup early on (COVER THE MIDDLE!). Once Michigan tied it, things got defensive until Michigan went ahead on a safety early in the second quarter that was followed by a field goal on the next possession.
The biggest play was with 8:32 left in the first half. Marve threw an interception at the Michigan 17 on third and 10. Even if he throws it away Purdue stops the bleeding with a field goal on the next play. Instead, Michigan went 83 yards in five plays for another score and had all the momentum. Fitzgeral Toussaint then proceeded to run for approximately 7,000 yards and it was all over from there.
The win over Purdue was sandwiched in between Michigan's only two losses of the year: at Michigan State and Iowa. At Big Ten Media Days last summer coach brady Hoke kept saying "We're Michigan" as if provided the only explanation for anything they did. Well, last season Michigan was finally Michigan again. The defense was pretty good, holding teams to 20 or fewer points in 8 of 13 games. If you can do that, you're going to win a lot of football games, especially when Michigan struggled to hold teams under 20 points in a quarter the previous year.
It begins and ends with Denard Robinson, who could be knocked around by tough games against Alabama and Notre Dame by the time he comes to Ross-Ade. Ryan Kerrigan owned him two seasons ago, but last year he threw for 170 yards and a pick while rushing for 63 and a score against us. Ricardo Allen also pick-sixed him two seasons ago, and with 15 interceptions against 20 passing TD's last season he showed that turnovers can still be an issue.
Still, he is a genuine 20/20 threat (20 rushing and throwing TDs) as he enters his final season. He had 1,176 yards rushing and 16 scores a season ago, so our defense actually did a decent job against him by comparison. He completed passes at a rate of 55%. As long as the ball is in his hands it should be treated as a quarterback run until proven otherwise.
Also bad news for us is that Toussaint returns after running for 1,041 yards and nine scores. Two of his touchdowns and 170 yards came against Purdue, as he followed the Mike Hart plan of torching our defense. For fun, second string running back Vincent Smith is back, giving the Wolverines over 2,500 yard and 27 touchdowns worth of rushing offense.
Purdue has ALWAYS struggled with Michigan wide receivers and recently Roy Roundtree, who spurned Purdue at the last moment, has been our latest tormentor. He only had 19 catches for 355 yards and two scores last year, but he had a 49 yard reception against us and has scored against us twice with close to 300 yards of total receptions in three years. He and Jeremy Gallon (31-453-3) are the top two receivers. Brandon Moore moves into the starting tight end role, but we can expect big, tall receivers to have an advantage because, well, they ALWAYS do in Purdue-Michigan games.
Michigan's offensive line is obviously very good if it paved the way for nearly 3,000 yards rushing a season ago. Tackles Tyler Lewan and Michael Schofield are both at least 6'7" and lean. Guard Patrick Omameh and center Ricky Barnum as solid anchors in the middle.
The crazy thing about the Michigan defense last year is that it was very young. Four freshmen saw significant time, as did two sophomores. It should be better this year as the second season of Hoke's defensive philosophy (read: he actually has one instead of RichRod) takes effect.
Michigan had 30 sacks last season but lost most of its pass rush. Brennan Beyer and Craig Roh will play the end positions. Roh had four sack, while Beyer was one of those freshmen that saw action in 11 games. Jibreel Black and William Campbell are new starters up front after being reserves last year.
The secondary was vastly improved last season. It gave up 3,404 yards through the air in 2010 but only 2,476 in 2011. That was with Michigan leading in most games and teams being forced to pass to catch up. J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess played well as young corners, while Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon were second and third on the team in tackles. Kovacs also got to the quarterback four times from his safety position.
The full secondary should help the linebackers of Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, and Kenny Demens get better. Demens led the team with 94 tackles as a sophomore last year. Morgan had 63 tackles and a sack as a freshman, while Ryan had 37 tackles and three sacks. Michigan will get by on its entirely intact back seven, which is a huge advantage.
Michigan Special Teams
Brendan Gibbons had a decent year as a freshman kicker, hitting on 13 of 17 field goals and missing just on in 55 extra point attempts. He doesn't have a huge leg, however, with a long of 43 and only being 2 of 4 beyond 40 yards.
Matt Wile stole the starting punter's job as a freshman from Will Hagerup and averaged over 41 yards per kick. Gallon handled punt return duties and was dangerous with over 10 yards per return in 19 chances.
Michigan struggled in the kick return game, and with the new kickoff rules that likely won't get better. Raheem Mostert can be a huge asset in this game since Michigan averaged less than 19 yards per return.
If it wasn't for the running back attrition I would like our chances a lot better in this one. Rob Henry could have some nice running lanes against an inexperienced defensive line as well as Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers. Considering that our passing game has not had much of a rhythm of late I don't expect much against the back seven. Purdue had just 196 yards passing against Michigan last season, 60 of which came on the first drive when we jumped ahead 7-0. After that Michigan gave up nothing through the air until the game was decided.
Obviously, much of this game comes down to how well our defense can hold Toussaint and Robinson on the ground. The Michigan passing game is not great, but it serves as a nice compliment to a fantastic ground game. I can see us struggling to move and exhausting our defense with three and outs while Michigan steadily moves the chains on the ground. When you give up 339 yards rushing and four touchdowns I think it is safe to say that Purdue needs to work on stopping their ground game.
Fortunately, I like our defense going into the year. The front four has the potential to be stout and both Will Lucas and Dwayne Beckford started really coming on late. This could be a game where the new 3-4 elements can make a difference. Robinson is the most elusive quarterback we will see all season. To have even a chance at a victory we must contain him.
This honestly feels like a game that Purdue keeps close for a half before Michigan pulls away. I don't trust our offense yet to match them in scoring, and they have an offense that can simply wear us down. If we settle on a quarterback and get in sync during the first few games I'll happily change my tune, but Michigan should take this. Michigan 31, Purdue 20