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.
#17 Michigan (6-1) vs. Purdue (4-3)
(W) Western MI 34-10
(W) Notre Dame 35-31
(W) Eastern MI 31-3
(W) San Diego State 28-7
(W) Minnesota 58-0
(W) at Northwestern 42-24
(L) at Michigan State 14-28
(W) Middle Tennessee 27-24
(L) at Rice 22-24
(W) SE Missouri State 59-0
(L) Notre Dame 10-38
(W) Minnesota 45-17
(L) at Penn State 18-23
(W) Illinois 21-14
Purdue Players to Watch:
The Purdue Boilermakers come to Ann Arbor very motivated. Their motivation is to become bowl eligible for the first time since the 2007 season. It would also be the first time for Head Coach Danny Hope, now in his third year and whom the team loves playing for. A week ago this goal seemed unrealistic. Going into the 2nd half of their schedule, they were likely facing three ranked teams and that didn’t include Ohio State and Iowa. Many were more pessimistic than optimistic that the team could get three wins, but the 21-14 win over Illinois (ranked 23rd and 6-1 at the time) changed most people’s outlook.
Purdue doesn’t have swagger, certainly not with genuine arrogance, however their confidence level has increased greatly. How could it not, based on the way the season started? The Boilermakers needed a final minute touchdown followed by a blocked field go to avoid being upset by Middle Tennessee in the opener. The following week, it was Purdue whose field goal was blocked as time expired by Rice. Notre Dame would later smoke them in West Lafayette in game number four. By then, there was no question that Purdue was one of the three worst teams in the Big Ten in the first full week of October. Frustration ensued.
When being questioned about the differences in the two quarterbacks Hope was playing, he pointed out that back-up Robert Marve (Sr. #9), who was the starting QB at the beginning of the 2010 season, was sometimes “playing outside the system.”
Using Twitter, Marve fired back, “Don’t understand how I was not playing in the system! It was rough from the get go, don’t understand how that was on me.”
To their credit, Hope publically said he didn’t have a problem with the statement, praised Marve’s abilities, and got his team to stop using Twitter as a sounding board. Any possible team dissension stopped there in part due to Hope, the players, and their next opponent.
At the lowest point of the season, Purdue would find Minnesota (everyone Big Ten team’s morale booster) and the engine was running smooth. The interpretation, at the time, of whacking the Gophers by four touchdowns was that Minnesota had to be horrible to lose by that much to another bad Big Ten team.
However, opinions change week to week and did so again when the Boilermakers played a very competitive game at Penn State losing 23-18. Special teams cost Purdue. They missed a field goal, an extra point, and failed to convert a two-point conversion. When the Boilermakers persevered to get within two, they gave up a 92 yard kick return. The Nittany Lions are statistically one of the best defensive teams in the country (4th in the nation), but Purdue was able to move the ball on the ground and through the air for 344 yards of offense. Only #2 Alabama gained more with 359. Still, not even the locals thought Purdue had much of a chance of beating Illinois, a ranked team, but the game wasn’t as close as the final score (21-14) indicated.
Purdue was ahead 21-0 at half and it remained that way about midway through the 4th quarter. By then, the offense was more concerned about taking time off the clock and reducing Illinois’s possessions. Quarterback Caleb TerBush (Jr. #19) had his best start, throwing over 60% with two touchdown passes while impressing his own local critics. It was the first time in a month that TerBush started and completed the entire game. Hope has played a two-QB system most of the season, usually substituting TerBush with Marve the former starter. TerBush was not only sharp, but was sacked just once, being able to avoid the pass rush that Illinois’s defense was known for. Defensively, Purdue not only contained Nathan Scheelhaase from running, but the back seven formed a virtual wall at the first down line throughout the game. Scheelhaase was forced to throw underneath and were unable to make first downs. Purdue came into the game with only six sacks, but added four more in the win. It was Purdue’s first against an AP-ranked opponent since knocking off No. 7 Ohio State on Oct. 17, 2009.
Purdue’s Offense vs. Michigan’s Defense
By this time last year, Purdue was on their fourth string quarterback. Although TerBush wasn’t projected to be the starter in fall camp, he’s started every game this season. His passing skills are limited, and his targets aren’t superstars. Justin Siller (Sr. #2) leads the team in catches (28) and Antavian Edison (Jr. #13) leads the team in yards (359) and touchdowns, which is only two. Hope likes what he’s seeing out of TerBush and he points to him as a reason why Purdue is appearing better.
“In the first half of the game on Saturday, he was -- first quarter of the game Saturday he was eight out of ten for 100 yards and a touchdown, and that included a drop and a throwaway, so he was really nine for nine and a touchdown,” Hope calculated. “He played really well again the second half and went in with quarterback stats of 13 out of 15 and 145 yards and two touchdowns. So he's been consistent.”
Hope also has made it clear that he wants Marve to play too.
“We always want to have another quarterback that's competing to be the guy, a guy that we can put into a game that has had enough reps and has enough confidence and has had enough game experience to still win the ballgame with, and that's the beauty of having Robert Marve here. He's a great talent. He has too much talent to be on the sidelines.”
By halftime last week, Purdue had eight ball carriers with rushing yardage. The primary two are Ralph Bolden (Jr. #23) and Akeem Shavers (Jr. #24). Bolden leads the team in yards (398) and Shavers leads the team in touchdowns (5). Bolden combined for over 1,200 yards combined rushing and receiving in 2009 and had a great game against Michigan in ‘09. Bolden tore his ACL in spring football prior to the 2010 season, and has also had to deal with a nagging hamstring injury but is getting healthier each week.
The Wolverines have to realize that since Purdue doesn’t have an impact player and they like to spread the ball around. Michigan will have to read keys and communicate well to succeed because the ball could be given to anyone. Penn State’s defensive front spoke about their difficulty finding the ball carrier and the exchange because of the size of Purdue’s offensive line. They average nearly 6’6”from tackle to tackle. Penn State’s interior line got double-teamed and Devon Still admitted it was hard to see.
Based on the last couple of games, look for Purdue’s running game to go off-tackle as Michigan’s defense wasn’t always able to meet the ball carrier at the sideline.
As always, Michigan must get more penetration from their defensive front, not necessarily because TerBush is capable of making big plays down field, or that Michigan’s secondary can’t cover, but because they need to keep TerBush from establishing a rhythm. He’s playing with more confidence and he needs to be disrupted.
Look for Siller to line-up in the Wildcat for a few plays in the game. He had three rushes for 13 yards last week and Purdue tried to utilize him in the Michigan game last year but got hurt in the first series and didn’t return.
Purdue scores most of their points in the first half (126-76), so if Michigan can hold them to less than 14 (they average 18), the more likely Michigan will have the game under control in the 2nd half.
Purdue’s Defense vs. Michigan’s Offense
This is where the concern should be even though Michigan has better defensive numbers than the Boilermakers. Last week Purdue’s defense forced Scheelhaase into a number of mistakes. The local media recognizing the obvious difference in the defensive play since Conference season started questioning why and got an admission from Hope. While professing his staff had an answer for every offensive scheme and situation, they’ve simplified things.
“Some of those were things that we still like but they were too much for our defense guys to master and be able to execute all those things at one time.” Hope said earlier this week. "So we had to cut back and hang our hat on the things we thought we were good at that could help us win, and we kept a few of those wrinkles but we had too many."
The players have admitted they are no longer wondering if they are in the right place or whether they are reacting correctly to each key. Simplified usually translates to being predictable, but clearly the results have been better for the Boilermakers. Against a pretty decent offense in Illinois, Purdue arguably had their best defensive game.
The defense returns nine starters from last season, but they were missing their unanimous All-American Ryan Kerrigan. Against Michigan last year, Kerrigan had four sacks, two forced fumbles and a recovery. Kawann Short (Jr. #93) benefitted from Kerrigan’s presence earning 2nd team All-Big Ten himself. Without Kerrigan though, Short hasn’t been as productive, but he’s still the leader of the defense line. He leads the team in TFL’s (9.5), sacks (3.5) and has four career blocked kicks. Short is an explosive player coming off the line, and is learning for the first time that he can do so for a full game and without Kerrigan.
“He can be a dominant player at his position on a national level,” said Hope. “I think the light is coming on for him, and I think he's taking his game to another level… so don't be surprised to see him get even better this week.”
They have experimented with Short at defensive end so that he can possibly make plays as an edge rusher, but it appears after the Illinois game, he’ll stay at the three- technique in the middle.
Purdue will be a bit short-handed on the D-Line as Robert Maci had foot surgery and is out for the year. He had led the team in sacks prior to the Illinois game, but since he didn’t play and Purdue dominated the Illinois line last week, the Michigan offensive line shouldn’t be breathing a sigh of relief.
Hope clearly likes where his D-Line is at.
“We didn't manufacture the dominance across the line of scrimmage that we wanted to early in the season, but I think we're starting to now, and the last two or three games we had really gotten after it across the line of scrimmage and we've played against some good offensive lines, and we're going to be really challenged again this weekend because Michigan's offensive line is superb.
Though the Michigan coaches claim they don’t watch a lot of last year’s game film when evaluating their team, Vincent Smith should knock on offensive coordinator Al Borges’s door. The Florida native led the team with 99 yards rushing in the slop and frigid conditions.
Purdue’s other dynamic defensive player is Ricardo Allen (So. #21). Allen has three career pick-sixes and one of those came last year against Michigan. This is a guy who can win the jump-ball, so Denard Robinson (Jr. #16) may want to think twice before heaving the football up for grabs.
“He has confidence, he breaks on the ball, and he usually catches it in full stride and often times he can take it the length of the field,” says Hope.
Allen acknowledges that he takes chances and can afford to do so even more with a defensive line that’s getting more pressure on the quarterback.
Purdue’s defensive plans shouldn’t be much different than last week’s against Illinois. The Boilermakers will try to put pressure on Robinson in between the tackles and make sure the outside guys keep him inside without letting him gash you to death with five and six yard runs.
Last year after an exciting 1st half, the elements and the field conditions made it nearly impossible for either team to move the football. Hopefully Robinson is at full strength and will have to make Purdue play almost flawless defense to stop him.
The Boilermakers will attempt to win back-to-back games for the first time in 2011 and to win three of four from Michigan.
Most Likely Wolverine to Have a Career Game: Ryan Van Bergen
Van Bergen (Sr. #53) should be lining up over a tackle where both the starter and back-up have hurt shoulders. It may be wishful thinking this year, but perhaps the Michigan D-Line can make a visible impact many were expecting and Van Bergen has an opportunity to do so.
Most Likely Boilermaker You’ll Remember After the Game is Over: Bolden
Bolden is getting healthy again after missing all of the 2010 season. He was the player you’d remember most from the last game in Ann Arbor as he had two rushing touchdowns and a 35 yard touchdown reception. Bolden is fast and can make cuts that make the highlight film.
Because this is a home game this is the easiest game left on Michigan’s schedule. They all get tougher from here.
ENJOY THE GAME! THANKS FOR READING!!