Michigan Football (2-2) will begin their quest for a Big Ten title with a trip to Purdue on Saturday afternoon. Kick off is scheduled for 4pm with TV coverage on the Big Ten Network.
Purdue made it through their first 4 games, not exactly a juggernaut schedule, with a winning record for the first time since 2007. They achieved that feat by beating up on Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and edging past Marshall last week. All 3 of those wins came at home with their sole loss coming on the road at Notre Dame.
In the win over Marshall, Caleb TerBush connected on 27 of 37 passes for 294 yards with four TDs. Three of those TDs were to WR Gary Bush, who became the first Boilermaker to have at least three receiving touchdowns in a game since Taylor Stubbleﬁeld (2004).
Purdue is led defensively by senior defensive tackle Kawaan Short, who has amassed 9 tackles, 7 TFLs and 4 sacks so far this season. Short was in beast mode against Marshall. He blocked his seventh career kick (fifth ﬁeld goal) and third of the season (two ﬁeld goals). He also had 3 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Michigan’s offensive line will have their hands full trying to contain him.
They also have an outstanding cornerback in Ricardo Allen. He tallied 8 tackles to lead Purdue last week and also set a school record with his 4th career interception return for a touchdown.
It’s the time of the season
The Wolverines labored through their non-conference schedule, finishing with a 2-2 mark. This prompted Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports to label Michigan as one of the biggest disappointments of the season. While I agree the first 4 games have not gone according to plan, I also contend that this Michigan Football team is better than people think.
The battle cry inside Schembechler Hall has been about winning a Big Ten Championship and now it’s the time of the season to begin that quest. ”We can still smell roses at the end of the season,” Thomas Gordon said. “That’s our focus and what we’re trying to get to.” The Wolverines can take a big step toward that goal with a key road win this week. “That’s one thing we’ve talked about all year,” Brady Hoke said. “Is we’ve got to be a better road team.” Michigan has played one road game this year, (Alabama was a neutral site game), and that was last week’s 6 turnover debacle in South Bend. Despite the overabundance of giveaways in that game, Michigan was still in contention down to the final minutes before ultimately losing 13-6.
Much of the consternation about Michigan’s season centers on QB Denard Robinson, who was responsible for 5 turnovers last week (4 interceptions and 1 fumble). On Monday, Brady Hoke was asked if Robinson’s decision making was where it needed to be. ”Think about that question,” Hoke said. “What do you think? Seriously. Probably not, right? Yeah. I mean, yeah, he’s got play a little better. We got to help him play a little better by blocking better, routes, catching better, competing better. Also as staff we got to make sure he can do the things we’re asking him to do.” I was most pleased with the last sentence in that quote, “Also as a staff we got to make sure he can do the things we’re asking him to do.” If Michigan wants to win a Big Ten Championship they need to tailor the offense to Robinson’s strengths. He is a dynamic playmaker, who thrives in a quick-hitting offense. He is not a classic pocket passer and never will be. Don’t ask him to stand in the pocket all game, roll him out, let him fire some quick-hitting passes in the seams.
The good news coming out of the Notre Dame game is that Michigan played well in the trenches. The offensive line started to establish control of the line of scrimmage in the second half and the D-line helped propel the defense to a strong performance, holding the Irish to 239 yards and 13 points. Two things the defense isn’t doing well are generating sacks and turnovers. Michigan has totaled just 3 sacks, which ranks 116th nationally, and they have forced 4 turnovers through 4 games.
The offense has turned the ball over a backbreaking 11 times this season. They haven’t moved the ball particularly well either and when they have moved it, they have shot themselves in the foot with turnovers or penalties. So perhaps the bye week came at a good time for Michigan. ”I think it was good because of the productivity that we got from having the bye week,” Brady Hoke said on Monday. ”I think you evaluate yourselves a little bit as coaches — that’s always a big part of it – in different things, in aspects that you’re involved with from the kicking to the defense, offense. You always look at self-scouting and see where you’re at and what you might want to do different or what you like in what you’re doing. I think the other part of it is the teaching part, the fundamentals, those things that go along with it.”
Make no mistake about it, Michigan is playing this game with their backs against the wall. They’ve had two weeks to stew over the Notre Dame loss and a disappointing nonconfernce slate. Based on Brady Hoke’s comments above, I think you might see some tweaks made to the offense. Any adjustments made will be done with maximizing Denard Robinson’s skill set, which is a good thing. In Robinson and Jordan Kovacs, Michigan has capable senior leaders and this team should be laser-focused for this game.
Brady Hoke provided quick updates on a number of injured players and their status for this week.
Defensive end Brennen Beyer will be back.
Tight end Brandon Moore will be close. He’s getting better.
Defensive tackle Richard Ash is better.
Fullback Stephen Hopkins is fine.
Wide receiver Devin Gardner is fine. They all practiced last night.
Guard Ricky Barnum had a sore, shoulder. He was fine last night.
Prediction: So far this year I am 3-1 predicting the outcome of Michigan Football games. I incorrectly picked the Wolverines to win at Notre Dame. This week is a tough game, on the road, but I believe U-M is ready. They just played at Notre Dame, which is a more hostile environment than Ross-Ade Stadium and they are coming off their bye week. If Michigan is the team I think they are they will win this game. Wolverines win 28-17