Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
Michigan (6-3) at Purdue (4-5)
(W) UCONN 30-10
(W) at Notre Dame 28-24
(W) UMASS 42-37
(W) Bowling Green 65-21
(W) at Indiana 42-35
(L) Michigan State 37-17
(L) Iowa 38-28
(L) at Penn State 41-31
(W) Illinois 67-65 3OT
(L) at Notre Dame 23-12
(W) Western Michigan 31-21
(W) Ball State 24-13
(L) Toledo 31-20
(W) at Northwestern 20-17
(W) Minnesota 28-17
(L) at Ohio State 49-0
(L) at Illinois 44-10
(L) Wisconsin 34-13
Purdue Players to Watch:
The Purdue Boilermakers are much the same predicament against Michigan as the Wolverines were last year coming into this match-up. Simply put, Purdue needs to win this game to have a chance to play in a Bowl game. At 4-5, The Boilermakers need two wins over their next three games. While the season finale against Indiana is not a given, it's very unlikely they'll win in East Lansing, making a win necessary on Saturday.
Injuries have decimated this team throughout the year and after being outscored in the last three games by a margin of 127-23, Michigan is actually a double-digit road favorite. However, the last couple of times Michigan was the dominant favorite over a very unhealthy team, the Wolverines would lose, one at Purdue two years ago and the other at Penn State just a couple of weeks ago. In both cases the opponent quarterback was marginal at best going in, but came out looking like an All-Big 10 performer.
Purdue will start Sean Robinson (Fr. #10) at QB. He made his first start last week at Ross-Ade stadium. Robinson was more than adequate in the first half against Wisconsin. His plays were very deliberate, not timid. For the first time in three weeks, Purdue was able to move the football. His passes were crisp and he showed an ability to run to get a first down, however Robinson's passes weren't always accurate and he shouldn't cause anyone to whiff.
Purdue outplayed Wisconsin on both sides of the ball for the first 30 minutes and led 10-6 at half, but then the Badgers seized control when it shut down the Boilermakers' run game and forced Robinson to pass. That led to three 2nd half interceptions resulting in 21 Wisconsin points off the picks in the 34-13 loss. Robinson finished 19-38 for 141 yards, including a 23 yard TD pass to Antavian Edison (So. #13), although Edison ran 24 yards after the catch. Robinson also could have benefitted more if his receivers didn't drop the football, including a 2nd half 30 yarder that would have put the Boilermakers within field goal range.
Robinson is the 3rd quarterback to start for the Boilers and was #4 on the depth chart going into the fall, making him the equivalent of Michigan QB Jack Kennedy (So. #25).
Robert Marve, who many thought would be the Big 10's breakthrough player, tore up his knee early in the season. Caleb-TerBush was declared academically ineligible but can still practice with the team and simulated Denard Robinson (So. #16) for the scout team this week. Robert Henry, who will dress, likely won't play because he can't pass the ball because of a severe laceration on one of his throwing fingers suffered during the Ohio State game. With his speed and knowledge of the zone-read, he could also pretend to be Robinson. If S. Robinson were to get hurt, it's freshman walk-on QB Skylar Titus (Fr. #18) and Justin Siller (Jr. #2).
Yes, that Justin Siller.
In 2008 Siller was a QB converted to RB for the season but who reverted back to quarterback the week of the Michigan game because, much like this season, Purdue ran out of bodies. After only a few practices, Siller, the former Orchard Lake St. Mary's star, went on to throw three passing touchdowns against U-M, plus a rushing touchdown, and had 343 yards of total offense in the win and earned the Co-Big 10 Offensive Player of the Week.
Siller is a question mark for this game. Now a receiver, but who will be converted back to QB for a second time when healthy, Siller hasn't played since the Toledo game in September because of a sprained foot. Boiler fans are hoping he's healthy to play this week. Head Coach Danny Hope isn't ruling it out, but isn't counting on it either.
Last Year's Game
Michigan's 38-36 loss to Purdue in Ann Arbor last November was filled with many big plays that were somewhat reminiscent of last week's Illinois game. Eight of the ten touchdowns came on plays ten yards or longer. Five of the touchdowns were scoring plays of 29 yards or longer. Like in the Illinois game, the touchdowns came on missed assignments and moments of great skill by the ball carriers.
Last year's game was Roy Roundtree's (So. #12) coming out party. The former Purdue verbal commitment, who changed his mind on National Signing Day, made his second career start in the place of Martavious Odoms, who was injured with a bad knee. ‘Tree' led the team with 10 catches, 126 yards and a 43 yard touchdown grab featuring an impressive stiff-arm over a senior Purdue defender.
But the Boilermakers took advantage of Michigan mistakes in the 2nd half to overcome a 14 point halftime deficit. Early in the third quarter a lateral from Tate Forcier (So. #5) was deflected by a Purdue defender. On the next play Ralph Bolden scored a touchdown 19 yards out.
Michigan would score next, but missed the extra point which ended up being critical. When Bolden scored again to cut the Wolverines lead to six, Purdue surprised the Wolverines by recovering an on-side kick. Once again, on the ensuing play, Purdue QB Joey Elliott found Cortez Smith (Sr. #7) for a 54 yard touchdown and the Boilermakers were ahead 31-30.
After each team got a bad break on officiating calls, Michigan would wind up losing 38-36 after failing to tie on Michigan's two point conversion after a late touchdown. The tough loss essentially cemented the fans' belief that Michigan would remain one game short of bowl eligibility the rest of the year, and they were right.
Both coaches this week have denied that there are lingering bad feelings, but in the last two seasons Purdue's head coaches have lashed out against Rodriguez. It started on 2008's national signing day when Roundtree switched his commitment from Purdue to Michigan on National Signing Day. According to then Head Coach Joe Tiller, Rodriguez violated an unwritten rule of recruiting by convincing a player to change his mind. Tiller inferred that an early signing date would prevent Rodriguez and others from "wearing a wizard hat selling snake oil to get a guy at the last minute."
As comical as that was, it wasn't nearly as funny as the events that led up to the postgame handshake after the loss in 2009. Hope and senior offensive lineman Zach Reckman felt Rodriguez was responsible for Reckman being suspended for one game earlier in the season. Reckman appeared to have punched or used a forearm on a Northern Illinois player after a turnover but well after the play was over. Rodriguez implored the Big 10 to look at other "non-football acts" when attempting to defend Jonas Mouton's (Sr. #8) one game suspension. Reckman was suspended by the Conference a week later.
With Michigan losing to Purdue and effectively ending Michigan's chances of making a bowl game, Hope and Reckman approached Rodriguez after the game. After the handshake, Hope brought in Reckman who got to express his feelings on the matter. Video showed Hope looking agitated, giving a piece of his mind to Rodriguez before turning his back on him and celebrating in the arms of an assistant in what was clearly the biggest premeditated ‘thumb in your nose' act in quite some time.
Since then, Hope has also gotten into it with Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook for allegedly running up the score in the Fighting Illini's 44-10 victory on Oct 30th. Like with Michigan, when asked about it, Hope downplayed the incident.
Purdue Offensive Notes
Purdue went from assertive to very unproductive in the 2nd half against Wisconsin last week. The Badgers came ready to play at that point, stopped the run and made the Boilermakers play calling predictable. It may be a stretch to say that Purdue was tired, but after starting the game more like Michigan's usual pace, they played much slower in the 2nd half.
Purdue liked to get the ball away quickly and rolled out to buy some extra time last week. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord said the philosophy will be the same when it comes to protecting Robinson from any of Michigan's defensive packages.
"We're going to call a lot of protections where it's not going to matter what kind of front they have," Nord said. "We'll have to keep the backs in there and help him (Robinson) out a little bit, keep the tight end in there, so he doesn't have to worry about the different fronts."
With their best players at QB (Marve), RB (Bolden), and WR (Keith Smith) being lost for the season, it's no wonder that Nord earlier this season called the O-Line the team's "biggest strength" after starting the season as the team's biggest weakness. They've lost only one lineman for a single game to injury. For the first time in weeks, last week Purdue played a game without losing anyone of significance to an injury.
The same can't be said for Michigan, who may be without Mouton after suffered a chest injury against Illinois. If he can't go, expect co-captain Mark Moundros (Sr. #44) to start.
The most the Boilers have scored in Big Ten play is 28 against Minnesota. Expect a similar number here or maybe even higher. They still have the ability to make big plays and likely will against the Michigan defense. Expect to see more wheel routes, swing passes, and crossing patterns in hopes that the Wolverines will continue to experience problems with missed assignments and coverages.
Whereas Purdue hasn't scored more than 28 in Conference play, Michigan hasn't allowed less than 35, making it theoretically possible and perhaps probable that both teams may record a season best in both categories.
Purdue Defensive Notes
For the past two seasons the Purdue defense starts with Ryan Kerrigan (Sr. #94). Like Brandon Graham, he has a continuous motor that doesn't slow down despite double teams. Kerrigan will line up at either end position, so he'll be facing Taylor Lewan (Fr. #77), but more often he lines up at the other end and that means Perry Dorrestein (Sr. #79), who's a bit hobbled, and/or Mark Huyge (Jr. #72) on the right side. Kerrigan really likes to take deep slants all the way to center before cutting in. Surely, Patrick Omameh (So. #65) and Steve Schilling (Sr. #52) will be there to help. If Michigan's O-Line lines up in wider splits than most teams, that gives Kerrigan a better chance to penetrate the line. Kerrigan leads the Big Ten in sacks (7.5), tackles for loss (18.5), and forced fumbles (3). Kerrigan's roaming of the entire line after the snap could come back to bite Purdue if Michigan runs in the direction he just left.
After giving up 93 points in back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Illinois, it wasn't the Purdue defense's fault that they gave up 34 to Wisconsin. Four Boilermaker turnovers resulted in 24pts, including an interception returned for a touchdown and the others which put Wisconsin in great field position. The Badgers bruising run game eventually wore down the Purdue defense, but the only way they'll get tired Saturday is if they can't handle the pacing of the Michigan offense.
Purdue also got a pair of starters back for the Wisconsin game and that too could have made a difference. It did, at least, for free safety Albert Evans (Sr. #32), who got an interception early in the game, and linebacker Jason Werner (Sr. 24) who had been battling an ankle injury was sorely needed.
"Having (Werner and Evans) back helped a lot," said linebacker Dwayne Beckford (So. #3), the team's leading tackler. "They are leaders on the team and on the defense. We had a lot of the continuity back. We played better as a group."
Michigan isn't going to find many teams that are their 'equal' in special teams, but Purdue will be close. Their biggest weakness is giving up big returns and Michigan has taken advantage with Odoms in '08 and Darryl Stonum (Jr. #22) in '09. However Purdue is unafraid to attempt an on-side kick at any point during a game. They did it successfully against Michigan last season and would have been successful last week on the opening kickoff against Wisconsin except a Boilermaker was offside.
ENJOY THE GAME!