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Purdue’s Biggest Hurdle vs Michigan

Purdue faces an enormous talent gap on the offensive line.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Michigan
Rashan Gary is a monster. Purdue will have to try and figure out a way to contain him.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I know, we’re all excited about the somewhat marque matchup tomorrow. I will warn you though, Purdue faces it’s toughest challenge of the season on the offensive line Saturday.

While somewhat overmatched, in terms of recruiting, by both Louisville and Missouri on the offensive line, the gap wasn’t this daunting. When you get down to it, both Louisville and Missouri are finesse teams, and neither has a particularly dominant defensive line.

Michigan, on the other hand, is the first team on the schedule that is going to attempt to club Purdue’s offense to death with their line play, and on paper, they have more than enough talent to accomplish that goal.

Purdue O-Line (rankings from 24/7 composite):

LT: Grant Hermanns: RS FR - 6’7, 297 - 3*(.80)

LG: Shane Evans: JR - 6’4, 310 - 3*(.83)

C: Kirk Barron: JR - 6’2, 305 - 3*(.83)

RG: Matt McCann: SO - 6’6 315 - 3*(.86)

RT: Dave Steinmetz: SR - 6’8 310 - NR (considered a 2*(.70))

Star Average: 2.8

Rating Average: .80

Michigan D-Line:

LDE: Rashan Gary: SO - 6’5, 280 - 5* (1.0)

DT: Bryan Mone: SR - 6’4, 325 - 4*(.94)

DT: Maurice Hurst: RS SR - 6’2, 280 - 4*(.90)

RDE: Chase Winovich: SR - 6’3, 250 - 4*(.89)

Star Average: 4.25

Rating Average: .93

As you can see, Michigan averages over a 1 12 stars and over a full point (.13) more than Purdue, when comparing the Michigan defensive line to the Purdue offensive line. Anything over .5 stars and .5 points is considered a significant talent advantage.

If you want to look for early signs of Purdue being competitive on offense, key in Purdue’s offensive line vs Michigan’s defensive line in the 1st quarter.

If Purdue’s overmatched offensive line can’t provide Tario Fuller with at least some space and David Blough with time, the game is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even if Purdue hangs in early because of a sluggish Michigan offense, Purdue won’t be able to win a rock fight with the Wolverines late.

For Purdue to be competitive, they’ve got to put up points, and they can’t turn the ball over.

A one dimensional passing game with Michigan crushing Blough on every drop back is a recipe for disaster (and multiple interceptions). Purdue’s defense could very well hold back a struggling Michigan offense, but if Purdue’s offense can’t stay on the field, Michigan will eventually gas the Boilermaker defense with time of possession. Purdue has to be able to mount sustained drives early in the game in order to be in the game late.

I’ll expect Purdue to attempt to counter Michigan’s defensive line advantage by using the quick passing game as an extension of the run game, with Blough getting the ball out quick in an attempt to negate Michigan’s overwhelming D-line.

I also expect to see the running backs heavily involved in the passing game, in another attempt to outflank and slow down the aggressive Michigan defensive line, with screen and swing passes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Purdue attempt to hit a wheel route deep to a running back if Michigan gets too aggressive with the pass rush.

Any deep passes will probably come out of a max protection package, with a running back (unless Purdue attempts the above mentioned wheel route with a running back leaking out late) and a tight end staying in to block, leaving only two Purdue receivers running downfield (or a tight end and a wide receiver if Purdue is going out of a 2 TE set). That said, I don’t expect too see many deep drop backs unless Purdue gets down early, and if that happens, it’s not going to end well for the Boilermakers.

I expect quick hitting running plays, traps blocks, and draws from the Purdue running game. Lining up hat on hat will not work vs Michigan. Brohm is an offensive genius, but counteracting the Michigan defensive line is going to be a gargantuan task. Talent matters in college football, and Michigan has significantly better talent, and Jim Harbaugh is a pretty good coach in his own right.

If Purdue loses the offensive line of scrimmage early, this thing could get out of hand quickly. It’s going to be up to Brohm and company to figure out a way to keep this from happening, and even with an awesome game plan, the sheer talent difference still may be too much for the Boilermaker offense to overcome.