How much does Purdue need this game? There is little question that next week's Wisconsin game is absolutely critical to Purdue Divisional title dreams, but what about Michigan? Does Purdue absolutely have to win in order to win the Leaders Division? I don't think so, but a victory would at least have people taking the Boilers a little more seriously.
A few weeks ago I stated that the Notre Dame game would be a great litmus test for Purdue. If the Boilers got blown out in South Bend much like last season it would show there isn't a lot of hope for a turnaround, while a close game or a win would signify that Purdue is ready to be competitive in the Big Ten.
Here we are a few weeks later. We're facing a Michigan team that is favored, but not by much, on our home field. It is the first of three straight games against the traditional powers of the league. It is extremely rare that a Big Ten champion emerges without going through Michigan or Ohio State. They are still name programs, and beating them is big no matter the year. Purdue can definitely win the Big Ten if it loses to those two, but beating at least one eases the margin of error greatly because it is a valuable conference win in the opener that Wisconsin did not get.
There is no question that the Big Ten is down this year. Michigan has whiffed greatly in its two showcase games, but they are still Michigan. They are a very good team and nothing on Saturday is going to be easy.
2011 Record: 11-2, 6-2 Big Ten
2012 Record: 2-2, 0-0 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
Time & TV: 4pm ET on Big Ten Network
Line: Michigan by 3
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As you can see from the overall record history has not been kind to the Boilermakers. In 2008 and 2009 Purdue enjoyed a very rare two-game winning streak that would have been three games if we had any kind of offense against one of the nation's worst defenses in 2009. Last season was a return to form in terms of games in Ann Arbor. Purdue went up, showed some fight early, then everything snowballed against it.
The 36-14 final score looks bad, but Purdue only trailed 12-7 with the ball at the Michigan 17 when Robert Marve threw a backbreaking interception. If Purdue gets in the end zone on that drive it takes a late second quarter lead and has momentum. Instead, everything pretty much fell apart from there.
Michigan Offense Vs. The Purdue Defense:
The Notre Dame game showed the benefits and the drawbacks of the "Denard Robinson does virtually everything" offense. There is little question that the senior quarterback is an electrifying talent. He has rushed for 441 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for 837 yards and six more. Calling his performance against the Fighting irish awful would be a compliment.
Denard threw four interceptions and only had 138 yards passing in a game where even a D-minus effort would have been enough to win. He also lost a fumble. On the year he has thrown eight interceptions, which is the same number of passes Purdue has picked off. Ricardo Allen has already pick-sixed him once in his career and he loves taking passes back for scores against teams starting with the letter M (Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Marshall).
The "Good Denard" vs. "Bad Denard" paradox will go a very long way in deciding this game. It is safe to say that if he is careless with the football again I really like our chances. In last year's game we did a good job against his running (63 yards on 15 carries and a score), but sucked against Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Toussaint had more yards rushing and touchdowns (170 yards and 2 TDs) agaisnt Purdue in 2011 than he has in all three games he has played in this year. He only has 150 yards and one TD after missing the opener due to suspension. Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls as the backups have done very little, though Smith has two TDs. It was Smith that rushed for 99 yards and a score in West Lafayette two seasons ago.
A big concern is the receivers. If Robinson can get the ball to them, Devin Gardner (11-195-3), Jeremy Gallon (11-179-0), Devin Funchess (8-151-1) and Roy Roundtree (8-72-1) are effective. Funchess and Gardner are the big, strong receivers that Michigan always seems to churn out just to give our undersized corners fits.
Michigan's offensive line can be slightly suspect. They have given up five sacks through four games, so combined with Robinson's scrambling our front four needs to continue to be dominant. Robinson does not have the quick release of Rakeem Cato. He also was sacked four times by Ryan Kerrigan alone the last time he came to West Lafayette. Kerrigan is gone, but Kawann Short has to be disruptive in the middle while Ryan Russell on the end has to contain. Linebacker play by Will Lucas, Joe Gilliam, and the rest is also key.
Michigan Defense Vs. The Purdue Offense:
It is difficult to make a call on the Michigan defense. Notre Dame's offense is limited, while UMass is pretty awful. Air Force ran for 290 yards on them, but they are Air Force. Their running game is as successful as Marshall's passing game at skewing defensive numbers. The Alabama game was essentially Michigan getting steamrolled by the best team in the country.
In terms of overall numbers Michigan is about dead even against the run and the pass. Teams have gained 728 yards on the ground with six TDs and they have 618 yards with two TDs given up through the air. They have only intercepted two passes (Thomas Gordon and Raymon Taylor).
It is not a particularly opportunistic defense. The Wolverins have three sacks, but the return of Brennan Beyer should help that category. Michigan has created only four turnovers while giving the ball over 11 times. That is one stat that can be greatly beneficial for Purdue.
Caleb TerBush, once again, has to play smart and limit his interceptions. Michigan is much more generous with turnovers, so we cannot afford to return their generosity in kind. Jordan Kovacs leads the team in tackles with 30 while Frank Clark has been the best at tackles for loss with three.
Michigan has 21 stops for loss, so running the ball could be a challenge. Akeem Shavers got some hard yards last week, but I like our chances if Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert can get on the edges. Their pass defense is pretty good at 154 yards per game even if it doesn't get a lot of interceptions. There are missed assignments though, like Tyler Eifert getting wide open for a clinching first down for the Irish.
Purdue's speed could be a difference here. Gary Bush broke a 48-yard TD last season. O.J. Ross and Antavian Edison also have speed to burn. Even with all the mistake Purdue's offense is averaging 45 points per game. If those mistakes are corrected it can be extremely formidable.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams:
It's going to be a feast or famine year for Purdue on special teams. We've blocked four kicks as a team, but had four blocked. Paul Griggs hit his first career field goal attempt last week, but Brandon Gibbons is more experienced on their end. Will Hagerup is averaging 48.2 yards per punt on 11 kicks, so he has an edge on Cody Webster.
In the return game Dennis Norfleet hasn't done anything major. He's now Mostert, who continues to be a danger with Akeem Hunt also playing well. It has been clear so far that people fear Mostert on kickoffs. Neither punt return game has done much.
Purdue's grass should slow Robinson down compared to the fast turf he is used to playing on. He didn't do a whole lot two years ago in a downpour, but it was enough. Saturday is calling for mostly cloudy but dry with a high of 51, so weather should be fine.
So much of this game hinges on Robinson. Michigan fans perceive of our defense as being down right now because of the numbers in the Michigan game, but I stated my case on that earlier today. You're going to give up a lot of passing yards when you're facing the nation's leading passing offense and you have a huge lead so they throw it 68 times. It just happens. They still only got 6.5 yards per attempt.
Robinson is not going to throw it 68 times. If he does, Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson might pick him off three times each. Purdue needs to contain his running and force him to throw. We want him to beat us with his arm, not his legs. Two years ago he turned it over four times and only had 68 yards rushing. Last year he was hardly a world beater. It has been Smith and Toussaint who have hurt us more.
Start thinking of Indianapolis if:
- "Bad Denard" shows up.
- Caleb TerBush has no turnovers.
- Purdue controls the pace with the running game.
- Toussaint and Robinson are each held under 100 yards rushing
- The Purdue defense gets multiple picks.
Huddle miserably in the crisp fall air if:
- Toussaint and Robinson easily rush for more than 100 yards.
- Robinson throws no picks.
- TerBush has more than one awful INT.
- The third quarter malaise sets in again.
- Russell Bellomy finds Roy Roundtree on a traitorous TD pass.
- Another punt is blocked.