An 18 point home loss looks like a dominant victory for the visiting team. When you look at the raw numbers here there is little doubt Michigan was the better team. Yes, Purdue led 10-7 at halftime, but in the final 30 minutes Purdue had 15 yards of total offense to more than 200 for the Wolverines. The Boilermakers threw everything they had at Michigan to get said 10-7 lead, and the Wolverines adjusted to have a virtually flawless second half defensively.
Still, the game turned on a single play.
With 5:10 left in the third quarter Purdue still led 10-7. Our own defense was holding its own, waiting for one team to break. Facing 3rd and 7 at the Michigan 33 Purdue’s Ja’Whaun Bentley had what middle linebackers dream of. He had a free shot at a third down sack that was going to force a critical punt and get the Michigan offense off the field. To this point in the second half both defenses were forcing a stalemate, and I felt a 10-7 score just might hold up. Michigan had already converted on 3rd and 6 on the drive, but it looked like Bentley was going to end the drive and force a punt. To this point in the second half Michigan had forced two punts, while Purdue had forced a punt and had a fumble recovery from Danny Ezechukwu that it could not benefit from.
In a split second the game hung in the balance. Bentley had John O’Korn wrapped up. It was a sure sack and most of the Ross-Ade Stadium crowd started celebrating. The drive was over because Bentley is one of Purdue’s best defenders and most sure tacklers. Surely he would finish the sack.
But O’Korn, who began the day comfortably on the bench and only entered when Wilton Speight suffered and injury on a sack of his own, stepped forward. He shrugged Bentley off his shoulders and rose back up. He then found Sean McKeon for a 30-yard pass and first down conversion. Given a second life Michigan would go ahead on a 10-yard TD run by Chris Evans. Jacob Thieneman was ejected on the next play where it very much looked like Nick Eubanks had tripped over his own feet before colliding with Thieneman, who apparently had to violate the laws of physics and stop before making any contact with Eubanks.
That play also kept the drive alive. Michigan scored, Purdue went 3-and-out on its next drive, losing three yards, and Michigan got the ball back. On a warm day with both defenses teetering on the brink of exhaustion it was Purdue that broke. A 9-play, 65-yard drive was capped by a 1-yard run from Ty Isaac to make it 21-10 Michigan. The avalanche of moment was rolling in favor of the Wolverines, and their rested defense continued its dominance through the fourth quarter. After struggling to get anything on the ground going all day (a rarity against Purdue this past decade) Evans broke a backbreaking 49-yard run with 6:46 left. In a span of 13 minutes Michigan flipped a 3-point deficit into am 18-point lead.
That final run by Evans was incredibly frustrating if you’re a Purdue fan. To that point the Boilers had been excellent against the run. We surrendered only 139 yards on 44 carries for a 3.2 average. If you take away that single run it becomes 90 yards on 43 carries, a 2.1 ypc average. With the way the Michigan defense was playing the game was probably over at that point, but after a spirited effort all day it felt like a backbreaker.
And that is what stings right now. Michigan is a good team. That defense is excellent and deserves a ton of praise for the way they adjusted for a flawless second half. The entire game still turned on one play. From the moment Bentley missed the sack Michigan outgained Purdue 226 yards to 14. They converted 6 first downs to Purdue’s 0, and five of those conversions came on the first two scoring drives for Michigan. Purdue took a legitimate top 10 team to the brink and blinked. One a day where we came in with as much confidence as possible that hurts even more.
After the game coach Brohm had a very good quote:
“We learned we need to keep our mouth shut.”
For as much as is possible, this team had a lot of smoke blown up its butt this week. It played well for most of the game too as a result. The Wolverines adjusted to dominate the second half and their depth and talent was the difference.
The good news is that Purdue is still well ahead of schedule in terms of its rebuild. We were supposed to get blasted today and it was a competitive game to anyone who actually watched it. We now get a week off to get healthy, and there will be challenges. Thieneman and Bentley, two over Purdue’s most important defensive players, will miss the first half against Minnesota due to mandatory suspensions. David Blough has an injured shoulder. Tario Fuller missed today. T.J. Jallow, Grant Hermanns, and T.J. McCollum have injuries.
But the calculus for a bowl game remains simple. Purdue needs to beat Rutgers and Illinois no matter what. Then it needs to win 2 of 4 against Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Indiana as teams that have looked vulnerable so far. Three of those four games are at home too, and today provided a long dormant home field advantage that needs to continue.
It is good to see Purdue compete like it did today, but this is merely another step up the ladder. If Brohm keeps going the way he is going we will be there sooner than you think.