This is not the biggest game in program history, as that phrase is often overused. Purdue has played much bigger games, such as the 2000 Ohio State game and the 2004 Wisconsin game. It has had a couple of shocking upsets like the infamous Purdue Harbor in 2009, but this is a little different. In 2009 Purdue Harbor came out of nowhere with a 1-5 Purdue team rising up to shock No. 7 Ohio State.
Against No. 8 Michigan on Saturday a win wouldn’t exactly be out of nowhere. Purdue has overachieved in the first three games of the year to make this game a legitimate upset watch. There was no such upset watch in 2009. That game was completely out of left field. This game also does not have the hype of 2000 Ohio State or 2004 Wisconsin, where a win would send Purdue on to Big Ten title consideration. Sure, Purdue could go on to win the Big Ten if it wins Saturday, but that is still a fantasy.
Of course, it is not as much of a fantasy as it was a few weeks ago.
Instead, this game is probably the biggest home game since that 2004 Wisconsin game for a variety of reasons. This is the most positive buzz Purdue has probably had since that game. It is also the first time in a very long time where we might have an actual home field advantage. The game quickly approaching a sellout with over 5,000 tickets sold since Saturday. A crowd of over 50,000 is expected, and that hasn’t happened since Notre Dame in 2013 (and only 12 times since the end of 2008). Purdue itself is playing with the most confidence we have seen in quite some time.
That is ultimately where both Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell (and to an extent, Joe Tiller in his final four seasons) failed. Any time it appeared Purdue had some confidence to build on it faltered. Hope’s second game was a near upset at Oregon in a game Purdue easily could have won. He then lost the next four games to Northern Illinois, a 6-6 Notre Dame team, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Hazell lost the final six games of 2014 after what appeared to be a turning point win at Illinois.
Brohm has been different. The Louisville game was a surprise, but easily could have been a one week blip. Then he blasted Ohio and shocked everyone by kicking the living crap out of Missouri at Missouri last week. The play that stood out the most was Kamal Hardy, the reserve senior corner, making a statement that even the backups would not be scored on by ripping away a certain touchdown in the dying minutes for an interception. Brohm has guys like Hardy, a senior that has seen little playing time, busting ass.
That brings genuine excitement to Saturday. Michigan is favored and absolutely should be favored. They have a lot more talent than Purdue and higher expectations. For the first time in a very long time, however, I am convinced that Purdue is going to give them absolute hell regardless of the final score.
Michigan Wolverines (3-0, 0-0)
2016 Record: 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Lost 33-32 to Florida State in Orange Bowl
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 (81-33 overall, 23-6 in 3rd year at Michigan)
Perhaps the biggest different between Purdue and Michigan so far has been in the red zone. Purdue is a spotless 13 for 13 in the red zone this year with 10 of those 13 trips resulting in touchdowns. Michigan is… not so good. Yes, they are 9 of 10 in getting points inside the 20, but they are a dismal 10% (1 of 10) at getting a touchdown once inside the 20.
Their defense will be the best that Purdue has faced to date, however. They have given up a mere three offensive touchdowns and just 14.67 points per game. Florida pick-sixed them twice, but that was all they really managed. Of course, Purdue is probably the best offense the Wolverines have faced to date. That makes this very, very interesting. Where this can get real fun is if Purdue has a similar start to like it had at Missouri. If Purdue goes touchdown-stop-touchdown to start again we can officially get nuts.
Who to Watch on Offense
Ty Isaac – RB – I know it is likely my Purdue PTSD kicking in, but even after being dominant defensively against the run the last couple of weeks I will always fear a good running back going off on us. So far Isaac has been solid. He has 336 yards rushing, but as a team Michigan has just two touchdowns (again, that red zone issue). Both of those scores belong Karan Higdon, who had 64 yards and a score against Air Force.
Donovan Peoples-Jones – WR – The 6’2” receiver is a potential gamebreaker. He has only three offensive touches, but they are a 44 yard run, a 37 yard pass reception, and a 15 yard reception.
Tarik Black – WR – As usual, Michigan has a host of big receivers and black is a strong outside threat at 6’3”. He had 11 receptions for 149 yards and a TD, but is expected to miss the game with a foot injury. Keoka Crawford and Grant Perry are the only other Michigan receivers with TD catches at one apiece. One of the best names in the Big Ten could replace him: Eddie McDoom.
Wilton Speight – QB – Speight has been remarkably average so far. He has 571 yards with 3 TDs and 2 interceptions while being a mansome Big Ten pocket passer that has a solid -25 yards rushing. He has led the Michigan offense on only 5 touchdown drives, so keep Michigan out of the end zone and continuing their red zone struggles is key. He has also been sacked 8 times, but Purdue has only one sack in three games.
Who to Watch on Defense
Devin Bush – LB – The sophomore linebacker plays all over the field. He has a team best 3.5 sacks and 26 tackles. So far he has had a sack in every game and at least 7 tackles.
Chase Winovich – DL – The defensive lineman has been disruptive with 16 tackles and four sacks. His best game was against run heavy Air Force where he had 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble against Florida.
Tyree Kinnel – DB – The junior defensive back has one of the few interceptions Michigan has this season. He also has a sack and 16 tackles. As a team Michigan has only two interceptions, which is the same number Purdue has.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Quinn Nordin – K – So far Nordin might be the team MVP. He has already attempted 13 field goals in just 3 games and he has made 11 of them. He has excellent range with a long of 55, but those red zone woes have been eased somewhat by him being automatic.
Donovan Peoples-Jones – PR – Remember me saying he was a gamebreaker? He already has 163 punt return yards including a 79 yarder for a score last week against Air Force.
It has been a very long time since I have been able to say this, but I am really excited to see the Purdue defense here. Michigan has struggled greatly in finishing drives in the end zone. They have five offensive touchdowns on the season. Purdue has only given up six offensive touchdowns, and three of those were mostly the result of Lamar Jackson being Lamar Jackson. Two more were in extended garbage time against Ohio when the Boilers were already up 34-7.
Is the Michigan offense better than Louisville? That’s a no. Is it better than Ohio? Almost certainly based on sheer talent. Is it better than Missouri? Well, Mizzou had put up some nice numbers in the first five quarters of the season before taking the last seven completely off.
That’s probably where this game gets decided. Brohm is going to scheme against a very strong defense and Purdue is not going to get shut down completely. I am not expecting another 35-42 points, but We’re going to score some. Can we keep Michigan kicking field goals or worse?