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Know thy Opponent 2017: Michigan Wolverines

Jeff Brohm’s first Big Ten game is a tough one.

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue drew a very rough Homecoming opponent this year. The Michigan Wolverines are probably going to be the best team to visit Ross-Ade Stadium this fall. They are certainly better than Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana. Only Nebraska might be on par with them. As always, this game is another another opportunity. It is a late afternoon kickoff at home against a marquee opponent. The best case scenario is probably the general public flipping channels only to see, “Wait a minute, Purdue is doing WHAT now?”

It has also been a long time since Purdue won its homecoming game. Last year it was Iowa, and the only way that could be considered a win is that Purdue played poorly enough to finally get Darrell Hazell fired. Before that, Illinois, Iowa, Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin easily beat Purdue on Homecoming. The last win was over No. 25 Illinois during the 2011 season, which was also the last time Purdue defeated a ranked team.

Michigan will almost certainly be a ranked team when they come to Ross-Ade on September 23rd. Can the Boilers spring a big upset?

Michigan Wolverines

2016 Record: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten

Bowl Result: Lost 33-32 to Florida State in Orange Bowl

Blog Representation: Maize N’ Brew, MGoBlog

Series with Purdue: Michigan leads 44-14

Last Purdue win: 38-36 at Michigan on 11/7/2009

Last Michigan win: 44-13 at Purdue on 10/6/2012

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (78-33 overall, 20-6 in 3rd year at Michigan)

Last Season for the Wolverines:

It was a great start to the year for Michigan last season. They were riding high at 9-0 and well on their way to the playoff before losing 14-13 at Iowa because weird things happen at night in Iowa. The loss ended the perfect season and started a spiral where the Wolverines finished 1-3 in their last four. Early on they collected wins over a surprisingly good Colorado team and a top 10 Wisconsin team as well as a 49-10 drubbing of eventual Big Ten champ Penn State.

It was still a frustrating season because there was no bowl win, no conference title, or even a Divisional championship. Michigan lost three games by 5 total points, one of them in double overtime on a controversial call. This year they get a neutral site game against Florida before hosting Air Force and Cincinnati. We are their Big Ten opener and first true road game.

Michigan Offense

Last year Michigan coupled a really good offense with a really good defense. There were questions about the strength of schedule early on, but this is still a team that won 10 games convincingly and was agonizingly close to being undefeated. The offense averaged 40 points per game and the defense gave up a little over 14. That’s impressive regardless of who you play.

It was also a varied offense. Wilton Speight was decent, but not spectacular at quarterback. He threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Speight is now a senior with 12 career starts. He has some freshmen receivers to work with, but for the most part he is not going to be a negative within the offense. He is almost no threat to run, but he’ll be just fine if there is a decent offensive line.

That line will be reconstructed, but with the usual solid Michigan recruits. Mason Cole returns as an experienced 6’5” 305 senior that has made 38 consecutive starts along the line. He plays at center, serving as a reliable anchor. Ben Bredeson should also start, but Michigan must replace both tackles and a guard. It may take some time for the line to fully come together, but the talent is there.

Chris Evans and Ty Isaac give the Wolverines a promising duo in the backfield. Evans rushed for 614 yards and 4 touchdowns last year as the No. 2 option. Isaac had 417 yards and 5 touchdowns. Karan Higdon should also get plenty of carries after rushing for 425 yards and 6 TDs in 2016.

Where Michigan has the most openings is at wide receiver. Jake Butt was the all-World tight end that is now off to the NFL. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are also gone. That leaves virtually no experience returning, as those three players accounted for 1,900 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The guy with the most experience returning also has the best name in college football: Eddie McDoom. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black are two freshmen who enrolled early.

Michigan Defense

Last year the Michigan defense was generally excellent. Only Florida State and Ohio State scored more than 30 points on the Wolverines, and Ohio State needed overtime. The Wolverines held the opposition to 10 points or less seven times. It was a ridiculously stout front that came as close as you can to playing a perfect game in the 78-0 destruction of Rutgers. In that game not only did Michigan shut out the Scarlet Knights, they gave up just two first downs.

This year Michigan has to completely remake its defense. T. Maurice Hurst is the only returning lineman. And he had 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Bryan Mone brings excellent size to the tackle spot, while former No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary now moves into a full-time starter’s role. Overall, the line is still going to be very good.

After teams struggled to throw on Michigan last year the entire secondary must be rebuilt. Lavert Hill and David Long played a little as freshman corners last season, but will now be called upon to start. The rest of the unit is still to be settled, but like many positions, Michigan has recruited plenty of talent.

At linebacker Mike McCray is back after notching 76 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions last season. Those are great numbers for a guy who has some of the most experience on the team. You don’t get better by losing Ben Gedeon and Jabrill peppers, however.

Overall this is a unit that is long on talent, but they haven’t played a lot because last year’s unit was so good. There could be a few growing pains. This does benefit Purdue slightly since it is the first game of the Big Ten season, but only slightly. They still have a lot more talent than we do.

Michigan Special Teams

Michigan needs to find a new kicker after Kenny Allen graduated. Ryan Tice had one field goal attempts last season, but missed it. Allen also handled punting duties and averaged 43.4 yards per kick. That means there is a hole at both specialist spots.

The return game also needs a makeover with Jabrill Peppers gone. He averaged 26 yards per kickoff return and 14.8 per punt return as he handled both duties.

Game Outlook

Michigan should take a step back this year, but this is still a game where they are much, much better than Purdue. In fact, I would say it is Purdue’s least likely win. For much of last year they were so good and Purdue was so bad. Purdue will be better, mostly because it is hard to get worse, but they just are not on the same level talent-wise as Michigan.

What I would like to see is Purdue at least push them a little. Make this a game for at least a half. It is the first “name” home game of Brohm’s tenure, so let’s at least throw a scare into them. Take a 21-17 lead in the third quarter or something. Just make them sweat a little.

Way Too Early Prediction

Michigan is just too good and too deep. I think they will wear us down over time and win this one going away. Michigan 42, Purdue 24