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Know Thy Opponent 2020: Michigan Wolverines

Will there be air conditioning?

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The last time we saw Michigan was an interesting time for Purdue football. It was only game four under Jeff Brohm, but a narrow loss to Louisville with Lamar Jackson and blowout wins of Ohio and Missouri had fans excited for the first time in a very long time. By the time the Michigan game came around we had our first home sellout in four seasons and a young man named Tyler Trent was profiled for the first time since he was camping out to get primes seats for the game the next day.

It is hard to believe that Tyler’s meteoric story began that day. The Michigan game drew us to his story for the first time, then he went nationwide when Purdue did what Michigan can’t in beating Ohio State. The Boilers ended up losing 28-10 that day in a game that was close throughout before a couple late scores, but it continued the excitement of the early Brohm era.

That excitement has dampened a bit since then. Yes, there have been some memorable games since, but narrow losses and losses to teams we shouldn’t have lost to have piled up. As we enter a 2020 season that may or may not happen we could enter the Michigan game with the high of a strong start, or the disappointment of a losing record. Since this is on the road it makes for likely our toughest game of the year.

2019 Record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten East

Bowl Result: Lost 35-16 to Alabama in Citrus Bowl

Blog Representation: Maize N’ Brew, MGoBlog

Series with Purdue: Michigan leads 45-14

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

Last Michigan win: 28-10 at Purdue on 9/23/2017

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (47-18 in 6th season at Michigan, 105-45 overall)

Last Season for the Wolverines

Are we still in the same conference as Michigan? This is Purdue’s first trip to Ann Arbor since 2011 and only the second game against the Wolverines since 2012. You can attribute that change to the additions of Maryland, Rutgers, and Nebraska plus the shifting divisional structures. They will now be on the schedule every three seasons, at least, but Purdue has played Nevada, Missouri, Notre Dame, and Cincinnati more often than Michigan in the last 7 years.

That is not necessarily a bad thing as Michigan is still really good and almost a guarantee for 8-10 wins every season. They have followed a pretty established pattern: They lose a game or two to a Big Ten East foe, then lose to Ohio State. That doesn’t mean they are bad per se. They have just struggled to break through in a tough division. They have lost only three times to West Division foes under Harbaugh, and one of those was at Wisconsin a year ago. They also lost to Penn State, Alabama, and (of course) Ohio State. Their best wins were over 10-win teams in Iowa and Notre Dame.

Michigan Offense

Gone is Shea Patterson running the offense. Brandon Peters has long transferred to Illinois, leaving a two-man race at quarterback in Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton. Both had extremely limited experience last year, each throwing a single TD pass, but going 13 of 27 combined. McCaffrey is a strong runner with 68 yards and a TD in seven games. Both players will likely play extensively.

Jalen Mayfield is the lone returning starter on the offensive line, meaning that part of the offense could be an issue. The rest of the line is pretty much up for grabs, but it is Michigan. They recruit a lot better than most schools and can recover quickly.

Hassan Hankins (622 yards, 4 TDs) and Zach Charbonnet (726 yards, 11 TDs) give the Wolverines a very good 1-2 combo in the backfield that will be expected to carry the load while the quarterback and offensive line issues become settled. The top two receivers are also back with Ronnie Bell (48-758-1) and Nico Collins (37-729-7). With all four of these guys the Michigan offense will be just fine as long as the line and QB issues are settled. As a unit, Michigan averaged 31.7 points per game last year and just over 400 yards per game.

Michigan Defense

It’s Michigan, so you can expect a strong defense. Last season the Wolverines gave up just under 21 points per game, which helps a lot. The pass defense was excellent at 185 yards per game. They have a pair of excellent defensive ends in Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson. Paye had 6.5 sacks a year ago and Hutchinson had 4.5 to go with an impressive 68 tackles. Carlo Kemp is also a sixth year senior with experience at tackle.

At linebacker, Cameron McGrone, Josh Ross, and Michael Barrett appear to be the top three. Ross is returning after missing 9 games due to injury, but McGrone had 65 tackles and 3.5 sacks. The Michigan pass rush was relentless with 36 sacks on the season.

The Wolverines didn’t pick off many passes last season, generating only nine interceptions. They need to break in two new cornerbacks, however. Ambry Thomas had 38 tackles and 3 interceptions, so he should be the leader of the defensive backfield. Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill will manage the safety spots. Both played in all 13 games a year ago and have plenty of experience.

Michigan Special Teams

We can expect to see a kicker rotation between Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin. Moody was 6 of 9 on field goals last season with a long of 43 while Nording was 10 of 13 and hit from 57. Will Hart was excellent as a the punter, hitting over 44 yards per attempt with 15 over 50 yards.

Giles Jackson will likely fill both return roles and he took one kick 97 yards to the house last year, so he is dangerous.

Game Outlook

Purdue has one exactly once in Ann Arbor since Bob Griese was quarterback. That was a 38-36 win under Danny Hope in 2009, one of the most fun games during Hope’s tenure. The rest of Purdue’s time in Ann Arbor over the last half century has been fraught with nothing but pain. Purdue actually won four in a row up there from 1963-66, but since then, the Wolverines have been dominant.

Michigan has a good mix of returning, experienced talent and question marks, but they are still Michigan. They are going to be a top 25 team and win 8-10 games. Purdue has not won a road game over a top 25 team since at Northwestern in 2010.

Way-too-Early Prediction

I have a hard time seeing Purdue win this one. We have taken top 10 teams to Michigan Stadium and lost big. Joe Tiller’s best team went there in 2003 and lost by four touchdowns. We just do not play well there. Michigan 31, Purdue 14