Similar to what I did for Ohio State, I’m combining the offense and defense for this preview because there’s not much to say regarding a way forward for the Boilermakers. The spread is 32.5 for a reason. It will take a major assist from the Wolverines to keep Purdue in this game.
This is essentially the same Michigan offense, or at least the same key skill position players, that Purdue faced in the Big Ten Championship game last season. They are the opposite of Ohio State, grinding teams down with a punishing rushing attack paired with a precision, high-percentage passing game orchestrated by J.J. McCarthy.
Purdue missed out on Blake Corum last season after a knee injury on November 19th against Illinois ended his 2023 season. They won’t be that lucky on Saturday. Corum is back, but maybe not all the way back. He’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry, which is down from his 5.9 average as a junior. Even if he’s only at 90%, he’s about 30% more than Purdue’s defense can handle.
Michigan’s offensive line is loaded with monsters, and they are going to lean on Purdue’s defensive front all game. Purdue’s offense won’t do enough to keep them off the field, and the Wolverine run game will eventually wear down the Boilermaker defense. Look for a heavy dose of Corum early. Once the run is established, McCarthy will start carving up the secondary with play-action passes.
Ryan Walters will have to choose his fate. He can keep his safeties back and let Michigan’s run game dominate him, or he can attack and get overwhelmed by McCarthy’s passing. I think Coach Walters will stack the box and make McCarthy show why he has the second-best odds to win the Heisman, according to DraftKings. It’s going to be a chilly Saturday night. Maybe Michigan’s receivers can’t catch when the temperature is under 50 degrees as well?
In their epic beatdown of Michigan State last week, McCarthy went 22-27 for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns. Purdue’s going to challenge him to do the same this week. AJ Barner, Michigan’s 6’6” tight end (and an Indiana transfer), is going to be a problem for the Boilermakers. He had 8 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State in a breakout game. He’ll be in man coverage all game on Saturday and will have a chance to build on the best game of his career.
If Michigan throws a touchdown pass, odds are Roman Wilson is on the end of it. He leads the Wolverines in receptions (27), yards (446), and touchdowns (10). He’s not a huge receiver and could be a decent matchup for Markevious, but Wilson is one of those guys who can drift through a game and suddenly break something huge. Needless to say, he’s an expert at getting open in the red zone. Michigan puts him in the slot and has him run option routes, and he’s almost impossible to cover. If he catches the defense off balance, it’s all over, and McCarthy is always looking for him inside the 20.
Purdue’s only hope is in their front seven. If they can get into the backfield and get Michigan behind the chains, they could hold the fort a little longer. Jenkins and Scourton off the edge could give Michigan’s big offensive tackles issues in the run game, but that’s a double-edged sword. If either gets too aggressive and gives up the edge, Corum can take it to the end zone from anywhere on the field. It will be a balancing act between playing their assignments and making plays for Purdue’s star defenders.
If Purdue can prevent Michigan from dominating them early with their front seven, they’ll have to deal with the grinding run game later. The first step in winning this fight is to avoid the knockout in the first round. That means getting Corum on the ground and keeping McCarthy from hitting anything deep. That sounds good, but it’s much easier said than done. The last team to hold Michigan under 40 points was Rutgers in the fourth game of the season. If Purdue can break their 40-point streak, I would consider it progress.
Michigan is 8-0. The only team to break double digits against them is Minnesota. The Gophers lost 52-10. The defense is coming off a shutout of Michigan State, where they held the Spartans to 49 rushing yards and 133 passing yards.
Insert: Simpson’s “I’m in danger” meme.
The best I can say is that I think Purdue scores in this game. The offense tends to move the ball, and they’ll get close enough to at least hit a field goal. The football Gods owe Purdue a field goal in this one.
The semi-good news for the Boilermaker offense is that this isn’t a particularly aggressive Michigan defense. They’re 31st in the nation in sacks and 23rd in tackles for loss. They use a four-man front to get pressure and don’t send many extra defenders from the second level, instead relying on their defensive line to win and playing stifling coverage behind them. Purdue only allowed 1 sack to Nebraska, and will hopefully manage to keep Hudson Card upright and ambulatory on Saturday night.
While the Wolverine defense doesn’t thrive on creating chaos plays behind the line of scrimmage, they excel at turning the opposition over in the secondary. They’re 10th in the nation in interceptions, with 11, and have returned 4 of their picks for touchdowns. Converted wide receiver Mike Sainristil leads Michigan in picks from his nickel-back slot with 3. Even more troubling for Purdue, when Sainristil manages to get his hands on the ball, he tends to run a long way. He’s returned two of his interceptions for over 70 yards, with both picks ending up in the end zone. Hudson Card must be careful throwing around Sainristil; he’s got wide receiver hands and a knack for breaking on the ball.
It’s not boom or bust with the Michigan secondary. On top of being 10th in the nation in interceptions, they’re 1st in the nation in passing yards allowed, giving up 141 yards per game. Add in their stifling run defense led by defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and linebacker Junior Colson, giving up 85 yards a game (good for 6th in the nation), and you’ve got the number one scoring defense in the nation.
Folks, Michigan is giving up a little less than 6 points a game, on average. That’s the best in the nation. Ohio State is perched at number 2, giving up 10 points a game. Meanwhile, Purdue’s 95th-ranked offense is struggling to get out of its own way. After scoring 44 points against Illinois, Purdue has failed to score more than 14 points in the last 3 games.
I wish I had better news to report.
This is a classic match-up between a dominant defense and a struggling offense. My only real question is if Purdue’s offense scores more points than they allow directly off turnovers. Seriously, if watching Purdue get eviscerated upsets you, you may want to sit this one out. Maybe check the score at half and decide if it’s worth your rise in blood pressure. I’m ignoring the score in this one and checking in on individual players. I suggest you do the same if you’re going to go through the pain of watching this game. Their will be a few bright spots that give a glimmer of hope for the future.
Michigan is angry, talented, and motivated.
That’s a bad combination for the Boilers. I don’t see a clear path to victory in this one, folks. That’s not to say Purdue has a 0.0% chance of winning, stranger things have happened in college football before. In fact, in 2007 Jim Harbaugh and his Stanford Cardinal (sans black ops sign stealing....I guess?) upset USC on the road, despite a 40.5 point spread. That USC team would later go on to beat Illinois in the Rose Bowl. Purdue’s head coach Ryan Walters coached at Illinois last season...maybe things are coming together for Purdue!
If you’re interested, the current point spread, according to DraftKings is Purdue +32.5. When Appalachian State knocked off Michigan in the Big House in 2007, the spread was 33. Purdue is getting a half a point more respect than the then two-time defending FCS Champs, and that's got to count for something.
Purdue - 3
Michigan - 41
I don’t have Purdue covering. The defense plays well in the first half, but the offense can’t find any traction and this thing eventually turns into a game of “which Michigan Walk-On gets to score a touchdown.”
Of course it would all be different if Michigan wasn’t cheating, but such is life (I wish they provided me with sarcasm font, because I would use it here).