For the better part of three football seasons, the Michigan defenders were the most maligned group around. They were ripped on a weekly basis for their inability to get off the field or keep the opposition from repeatedly finding the end zone.
Yes, the defensive players for the Wolverines were the Rodney Dangerfields of Big Ten football. They got very little respect, and earned very little as the team struggled through two losing seasons, and then stumbled often while fighting to reverse that trend.
It is just one game, one of a baker's dozen Michigan will play in 2010, but the defensive performance against Purdue might indicate the Wolverines are ready to shed that cloak of futility. Michigan did not allow an offensive touchdown in the 27-16 win, and forced five turnovers.
"It was a good feeling," linebacker Kenny Demens said after the win. "In the locker room after the game, the offense was patting us on our backs. We've been in a slump and the offense has picked us up, so it's about time that we helped them."
The Michigan defense got its first points of the season in the win at Purdue when safety Cameron Gordon picked up a fumble and took it back 58 yards for a touchdown.
What added to the significance of the defensive performance was that Michigan's unit, already hit hard by injuries, had to face Purdue without its two best players. Defensive tackle Mike Martin was out with an ankle injury, while linebacker Jonas Mouton was unable to play due to a chest injury.
No one is saying the world has changed or Michigan has its defensive mojo back, but for at least four quarters, this group was not the butt of everyone's criticism. "It feels good," senior safety James Rogers said about the respite from futility for the Michigan defense.
--Michigan QB Denard Robinson set the school's season record for total offensive yards during the victory over Purdue. Robinson had 244 yards in the game, pushing his career total to 3,407 yards. He broke the season record of 3,240 yards set by John Navarre in 2003.
Robinson also had four turnovers in the win at Purdue, fumbling twice and throwing two interceptions.
--The win over Purdue was Michigan's second straight victory, and its seventh of the season, meaning the Wolverines have enhanced their bowl game stock.
--CB James Rogers had a career-high two interceptions against Purdue.
--TB Vincent Smith was Michigan's top rusher in the victory at Purdue, carrying the ball 18 times for 99 yards and one touchdown.
GAME BALL GOES TO: DE Craig Roh -- The Michigan sophomore has settled in to his new role, after moving up front from linebacker. In just his second start, Roh forced a fumble and helped force an interception in the win at Purdue. His hit in the Purdue backfield forced the ball loose, and DB Cameron Gordon picked it up and ran 58 yards for a touchdown.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Tate Forcier -- A starter for all 12 games in 2009, Forcier lost his job to fellow sophomore Denard Robinson this season, and after a rough patch early on, he's been a team guy. After doing backup work the first nine games, he rotated with Robinson against Purdue and could take on an even bigger role the rest of the way.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had a bunch of errors offensively: poor plays, penalties, turnovers. If you look at the end result, it's a win on the road. We're proud. It's a team win, and the offense at least came together at the end when we had the touchdown." -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez on his team's inconsistent play against Purdue.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Wolverines' defense, the whipping boys of this program for the better part of two seasons, finally put together a performance worth bragging about. Michigan's defense did not allow Purdue to score a defensive touchdown, all while playing without its two best players. DL Mike Martin was out with an ankle injury, while LB Jonas Mouton was sidelined with a chest injury.
STILL NEEDS WORK: For all of its flash and explosiveness, the Michigan offense has been hindered more than a few times by sloppy play. It was a rash of penalties and turnovers that often threw a wrench in the works against Purdue. With Big Ten powers Wisconsin and Ohio State left on the schedule, the Wolverines will have no chance of success if they continue this trend of self-inflicted damage.
--DE Craig Roh played his second game at his new position, after moving from linebacker. Roh forced a fumble in the Purdue backfield, and teammate DB Cameron Gordon picked it up and raced 58 yards for a touchdown.
--LB Mark Moundros, who started 10 games at fullback before switching positions this past spring, made his first start in the Purdue game, replacing the injured Jonas Mouton.
--DL Adam Patterson made his first career start in the win at Purdue, replacing the injured Mike Martin.
--LB Jonas Mouton, arguably Michigan's best player on defense, missed the Purdue game with a chest injury.
--DL Mike Martin missed the Purdue game due to ankle injuries.
--RB Michael Shaw left the Purdue game with what was believed to be a concussion, and he is doubtful for the next game against Wisconsin.
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