Head Coach: Joe Tiller
2004 Record: 5-1, 2-1 Big Ten
Returning starters: 3 defense
3:30 EDT on ABC
Brent Musberger, Gary Danielson, and Jack Arute.
Wolverines hold 39-12 series advantage.
DE: Anthony Spencer (So.)
DT: Brandon Villarreal (Jr.)
DT: Brent Grover (Jr.)
DE: Ray Edwards (So.)
WLB: Stanford Keglar (RS Fr.)
MLB: George Hall (So.)
SLB: Bobby Iwuchukwu (Jr.)
CB: Antwaun Rogers (Sr.)
FS: Kyle Smith (Jr.)
SS: Bernard Pollard (So.)
CB: Brian Hickman (Jr.)
P: Dave Brytus (Fr.)
PR: TBD (expect Stubblefield or Jake Cunningham)
Tackles: George Hall - 52 total
TFL: Ray Edwards 8 for 31 yards
Sacks: Ray Edwards 5 for 28 yards
INT: George Hall 1 for 44 yards
Breakups: Brian Hickman - 6
Stat-Big Ten Ranking
Scoring defense (2nd) 14.3 pts
Pass defense (8th) 243.7 yds
Rushing defense (3rd) 77.3 avg
Total defense (5th) 321.0 yds
Punt returns (11th) 7.4 avg
The defense resembles Lovie Smith's (HC Chicago Bears) philosophy: athletic defense that fly’s to the ball. Defensive coordinator Brock Spack doesn't mind not having the biggest guys and instead chooses to emphasize quickness and pursuit to the football. The defensive line is very active especially on the interior. Expect plenty of stunts and twists up front. The defense isn't afraid to play aggressive. They will use man power to stop the run and they will bring SS Bernard Pollard into the box. The defensive ends are the cornerstone of the pass rush and that's how Spack wants it. That said, he will blitz his backers when the time is right. I will be interesting o see the the coverage package Spack comes out with this week. Purdue runs the soft zone to prevent big plays, and obviously that’s something they will want to take away from Michig!an. However, after last week's game against Wsconsin, can he count on it again? Needless to say, it will be interesting to see if any changes are made there.
How athletic have Brock Spacks end been? Three of his former ends, Roosevelt Colvin, Akin Ayodele and Shaun Phillips play linebacker in the NFL now.With only one starter returning from last years front seven, many projected a rebuilding year at that position. Those prognosticators proved to be incorrect as the Boilers haven't rebuilt, they'vereloaded. The edge is in good hands with new star pass rushers Ray Edwards and Anthony Spencer. Spencer has been a pleasant surprise. As was mentioned earlier, he is not the biggest guy, but he's quick. Speaking of quickness Ray Edwards has been abusing offensive tackles all year. The 6'6 end is the top player on the front line and the most athletic pass rusher on the team. On the inside, Brandon Villarreal has done an outstanding job so far. He has been disruptive in the backfield on stunts and has been key in stopping the run. The opposite tackle is returner Brent Glover. The former Michigan recruit is the biggest of the lineman, but he doesn't penetrate like the others. That said, he has been a tough anchor against the run. Depth is a concern. The rotating tackles are young. The only reserve that could make a splash is Rob Ninkovich.
The linebackers are led by middle man George Hall, the winner of the Purdue Hammer Award for the teams top hitter. This guy is a wrecking ball! He has a nose for the football and is another big key to Purdue's run defense. Strongside linebacker Bobby Iwuchukwu had surgery on his dislocated thumb earlier in the week and missed some practice, butI expect him to play. A guy to keep an eye on is weakside linebacker Stanford Kegler. He doesn't have great instincts yet but he's got raw ability to make plays and is fearless against the run. Purdue has only had 186 runs attempted against them, that’s the fewest in the Big Ten
How do they stack up vs. Michigan?
The biggest key to the game will be Michigan's line play against the Boiler front. Sure Mike Hart rushed for over 473 yards in the past three games. However, those performances came against a horrible Illinois run defense (which is dead last in the Big Ten in stopping the run), Indiana who’s 2nd to last ( and was at the bottom whem the Wolverines traveled to Bloomington) and Minnesota who’s 9th. In other words, they were the bottom three rushing defenses in the Big Ten. On the flip side, Hart scampered for 99 yards against Iowa, the leagues 2nd toughest run defense. The offensive line took a hit when it lost Leo Henige lost year. Still, ever since Baas moved to center the line has been on an upswing. Rueben Riley stepped in forHenige and has done a respectable job on the left side. The real test will come on the outside for tackles Adam Stenavich and Jake Long. Ray Edwards and Anthony Spencer can not be in Henne's face all day if Michigan expects to win. The backs, whether it's Mike Hart or Max Martin, need to have solid blocking days. Henne needs all the protection he can get. I wouldn't be surprised to see some max protect packages with Michigan keeping its backs in more than usual. If Henne can get the passing game going smoothly, Purdue will not be able to load the box as much as they would want. That would obviously give Hart more room to operate. On the contrary, if Michigan can't run the ball, Henne will be put in quite a bit of 3rd and longs against an aggressive pass rush. That’s not something the Wolverines can afford to have happen.
Antwaun Rogers is a four year starter at corner and he's as solid as they come. He isn't a playmaker at the position, but he has been steady and won't make too many mistakes. Brian Hickman is a fast kid, but he doesn't show a great cover ability yet. The fact that he is still developing is very noticeable. He could be a weak point today. Kyle Smith doesn't have great instincts but he flys to the ball and has been a major player in stopping the run so far. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is a kid I really like. He is a demon in the box and he has the ability to cover a lot of ground as well. He is a future All Big Ten player.
How do they stack up vs. Michigan:
Purdue will either come into the game with a plan to be aggressive and play man coverage or play the soft zone to prevent Braylon and the receivers from making big plays. Either way, the secondary is going to give up its fair share of yards to. The key to all this is pass protection. If Henne has time, Michigan's receivers are far superior to the Purdue secondary and they will get open. Expect Michigan to try to use Purdue's aggression up front to their advantage with delay plays like screen passes and draw plays to Hart. Malone might throw in some bubble screen passes to Braylon to exploit over pursuit by the edge players. The run and pass are going to have to play off each other for the Wolverines.
It's hit and miss in the special teams department. The kick return game has been electric with Jerome Brooks but punt returns have been an absolute dud, ranking last in the Big Ten. The kick off coverage is decent. Kicker Ben Jones has been solid despite the fact he missed last weeks game winner. He's 8 for 11 on the year. Dave Brytus' punt average is one of the worst in the Big Ten but he's excellent at pinning opponents inside the 20. The Boilermakers have also blocked five kicks so protection will be key for the Wolverines (who have had a few blocked this season)..
This game will be decided on two factors in my opinion. The running game and pass protection. Orton has the arm and Henne has the weapons to run an exceptional passing game if they have time. Last year Orton was pressured all game long and the offense imploded. Michigan must prevent the same type of presure from getting to Chad Henne. He'll need time to see the field and set his feet to cut down on his mistakes. Both teams rush the passer well. Michigan has Gabe Watson, who cannot be blocked one on one, and have a fast fleet of linebackers. Plus, the secondary can blitz with Shazor or a corner. On the flip side Purdue does most of it's pass rush with it's line, namely it's ends. Pass protection is going to be huge. Purdue will need to take heat off of the passing game by running the ball effectively and forcing the Wolverines to account for it. The same goes for Michigan. Mike Hart and the offensive line need to have a consistent ground game to back off the aggressive Boilermakers. On paper, Michigan has had the hotter ground game, a better offensive line, better receivers, a better secondary, and a better front seven. Plus, with one Big Ten loss already on the board, Purdue has their backs against the wall if they still harbor Big Ten title hopes. Joe iller's club will put up a good fight, but Michigan will win its biggest game of the year.