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Interview with the Enemy - Maize ‘N Brew

Michigan seems rightly confident heading into Saturday’s matchup.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

With the upcoming game against Michigan in Indianapolis being the first time these two teams have met since 2017 we wanted to get some more information from our friends over at Maize ‘N Brew. Below is my conversation with them about their team and the challenges that Purdue will face come Saturday.

Michigan obviously had a great year. 12-0 and a beat down of your rival to end the year. It must have been magical to follow. When looking at the year Michigan had though two games stand out to me, Maryland and Illinois. Not only are they common opponents for Purdue but they are also two games where the opponent kept it close with the Illinois game especially being a nail biter. What did these two teams do to keep the game close and is that replicable?

They both played really tough defense, specifically, pass defense. J.J. McCarthy only threw for 428 yards (60% completion percentage) and two touchdowns combined in those two games. For the Maryland game, there were some early season, first-year starting QB mistakes by McCarthy — fumbles, hanging onto the ball too long, etc. — so Michigan was carried by Blake Corum in that one. For Illinois, McCarthy had to make some plays himself to win the game since Corum and Donovan Edwards were out with injury. He tried to make plays with his feet, but Illinois always seemed to be in the right place at the right time when McCarthy would scramble and try to gain yards with his feet. He had to rely on his arm and smart play calling by the coaching staff to win that game. Is it replicable? Yes, but it’ll take a strong effort by Purdue’s entire defense to make it happen.

J.J. McCarthy had obviously already solidified himself as the starter at the QB position but the news this week that backup Cade McNamara is entering the transfer portal make McCarthy’s hold on the starting position a chokehold. What has he done that McNamara couldn’t?

McCarthy has two things McNamara never will have — athleticism at the QB position, and a stronger arm. McNamara wasn’t a slow guy by any means, but defenses didn’t respect his legs like they do with McCarthy’s. McCarthy has legitimate speed at the position, so Purdue will have to accommodate for his running ability and have a QB spy on him at all times. McCarthy also has elite arm strength, something McNamara also does not have. McNamara’s deep ball is accurate — as seen several times last season — but can only go so far down the field.

Blake Corum has had a tremendous season at the running back position. He comes into the title game accumulating 1,463 yards with an average of 5.9 ypc to go along with 18 touchdowns. Unfortunately he injured his knee in the Ohio State game and only managed two carries for six yards. I see right now he’s listed as probable. Has there been any update on his status for Saturday? If he’s unable to go what does this do to the Michigan offense?

There has been no update specific to Corum’s status for the Big Ten Championship. If I were the coaching staff, I would rest Corum in hopes that Michigan reaches the CFP regardless of Saturday’s outcome. If Corum is unavailable for the BTCG, expect Donovan Edwards to receive the bulk of the carries for the Wolverines. Edwards isn’t the runner that Corum is, but he is still very good, and his receiving abilities out of the backfield are better than Corum’s. He isn’t the same type of back Corum is, but Edwards proved last week against Ohio State he can take on a bigger role and make it seem like Michigan isn’t missing as much when Corum isn’t in the game.

While I’ve focused these early questions on the offense it’s clear that the Michigan defense is no slouch. Just from a points allowed perspective they scare the hell out of me. The most points they allowed in a game this season is 27 to Maryland. They allowed the vaunted Ohio State offense to put up just 23 points. Overall in Big Ten play they’ve held opponents to an average of 15 points per game. What unit is the strength of this team and who are the stars to watch for Purdue fans who haven’t had a chance to watch much Michigan this year?

Honestly, it’s hard to say what the strength is, as this is as cohesive a defensive unit as Harbaugh has had during his tenure. The defensive line is lead by Mike Morris (who leads the team in sacks) and Mazi Smith (who is the anchor of the interior and clogs up running lanes). Junior Colson (Michigan’s leading tackler) and Michael Barrett have held down the fort at linebacker, while cornerbacks DJ Turner and Gemon Green, and safeties Rod Moore and Makari Paige have played very well this season. True freshman cornerback Will Johnson has also come on late in the season, snagging an interception at Rutgers a few weeks ago and playing very solid overall defense. Harbaugh anointed this group a “no star defense” in the preseason, and I think that’s still accurate to say now. No one has emerged ala Hutchinson/Ojabo last season, but everyone plays very well together.

For a lot of Purdue fans who truly believed on Saturday that Purdue could make it to this game the consensus seemed to be that playing Michigan would be much better for Purdue since Ohio State has so many incredible wide receivers and the Purdue secondary leaves a lot to be desired. Please, disabuse Purdue fans of the notion that the Michigan wide receivers can’t hold their own when compared to the Ohio State receiving corps.

Look, Michigan’s wide receivers this year have not played up to their potential. Period. However, the talent is still there and have made big plays when needed. Take senior Cornelius Johnson, for example — he struggled mightily over the second half of the season and had the biggest game of his career against Ohio State, going for 160 yards and two touchdowns (69, 75). Veteran wideout Ronnie Bell is as dependable as they come and leads the team in receptions and yards, so he is always a threat for opposing defensive backs. Finally, junior Roman Wilson is one of the fastest players on the team and has burned several defensive backs this season with that speed. The wide receiver corps at Michigan is not as good as Ohio State’s — I don’t think any other school’s is — but it’s also not as bad as Purdue fans may think.

Do you think Ohio State was trying to run a fake punt that they botched? Just curious to hear your take.

I actually have no idea, if I’m being completely honest with you — it’s hard to tell. I like to think Ryan Day elected to punt because he was waving the white flag. But it is also nice to think his special teams failed to execute a potentially game-changing play. It’s a win-win for Michigan fans.

Lastly, this will be Purdue’s first trip to the Championship game and Purdue has a recent history of knocking off the #2 ranked team when they are unranked themselves. If Purdue finds a way to win this game and you’re doing your game review on Sunday, how does Purdue do it? What has to have gone right for them to walk away with a victory? As always, what’s your prediction for the game?

I think Purdue would have to do two things: 1) play hard-nosed defense from start to finish, possibly getting a few turnovers, and 2) get tricky with play calling on offense, which I have no doubts Jeff Brohm can execute — he’s as good an offensive mind in college football today. I think #1 is what will be difficult for the Boilermakers, but the “Spoilermakers” can come out at any time, as you guys have seen in West Lafayette several times throughout recent years. But ultimately, I think Michigan wins, 38-20, and advances to the College Football Playoff for the second straight year.