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.
Purdue (3-6) at Michigan (5-4)
(W) Western Michigan 31-7
(W) Notre Dame 38-34
(W) Eastern Michigan 45-17
(W) Indiana 36-33
(L) at Michigan State 26-20 OT
(L) at Iowa 30-28
(W) Delaware State 63-6
(L) Penn State 35-10
(L) at Illinois 38-13
(W) Toledo 52-31
(L) at Oregon 38-36
(L) Northern Illinois 28-21
(L) Notre Dame 24-21
(L) Northwestern 27-21
(L) at Minnesota 35-20
(W) Ohio State 26-18
(W) Illinois 24-14
(L) at Wisconsin 37-0
Purdue Players to Watch:
Fortunately, Michigan isn't the only Big 10 Team doing some soul searching after a stunning loss. Purdue is doing the same thing Michigan is this week, desperately searching for answers.
After winning back to back games and having confidence that they have turned the corner, they got goose-egged at Wisconsin 37-0. It was their worst Big 10 shutout since Michigan beat Purdue 42-0 in 1991.
The Boilermakers had 141 total yards, the least since the snow/hail/sleet game with Michigan in '95. That and just eight first downs, led to the benching of their starting quarterback Joey Elliott (Sr. #14), who had been playing better until last Saturday.
"We had some mishaps early and a lot of things snowballed," Elliott said.
It wasn't just Elliott, according to Boilermaker Head Coach Danny Hope. The receivers also contributed with dropped passes and missed opportunities.
"I can't put my finger on anything," said Hope. "We didn't catch the football very well. Some of the passes weren't quite as accurate, and we didn't catch the ball very good, and that really impacted the game."
Meanwhile, the defense couldn't stop Wisconsin, as their potent rushing attacked gained 266 yards on the ground.
"We just flat got beat in every facet of the game, offense, defense and special teams," defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (Jr. #94) said.
Special Teams, nearly forgot, Wisconsin blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
The last meeting between the two teams was about as sickening for Michigan as it was for them last week. Purdue used a hook-and-lateral with 26 seconds left to stun Michigan 48-42.
Justin Siller, who was a quarterback, converted to running back, and back to QB the week of the Michigan game because of injuries to Curtis Painter and Elliott, became the Big 10 Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 77 yards and another score. With so much going against Purdue, the game seemed like a lock for the Wolverines, despite a 2-6 record going into the game.
Kerrigan would have three sacks on a day that otherwise could be argued was Michigan's first game in the Rich Rodriguez era where the offense seemed to click.
At the beginning of the season Purdue grabbed people's attention by scoring 52 points in the opener and losing to Oregon (now #7 in the A.P.) by just two points. In that game, Purdue had a fourth quarter extra point blocked and failed to make a two-point conversion in the final minute to make up the difference.
Sophomore running back Ralph Bolden (#23) had 357 rushing yards in those first two games and became the one player that outsiders remembered when thinking about the Boilermakers. Since then, he's rushed for 400 yards in the remaining seven games with the highest output being 78 yards. Bolden has been held in check after a spectacular first two games.
In week #3, Purdue lost to Northern Illinois out of the MAC. Nearly everything went wrong in that one. The Boilermakers had the ball for only 19 minutes because they scored on a punt return, fumbled the ball twice on two other punt returns, were called for roughing the kicker and fell for a punt fake.
A defensive timeout as time was running out in the ND game allowed the Irish to come up with a plan to score on fourth down. The next week Purdue had six turnovers (five fumbles lost) in a narrow loss to Northwestern. It was the Special Teams turn to let the Boilers down in week #6. A blocked field goal resulted in a Minnesota touchdown, while a seven yard punt led to another score.
Mired in a five game losing streak, many forgot to notice that Purdue could still move the ball and can play a little defense. The Boilermakers shocked the #7 Buckeyes in week #7, 26-18. Against ranked teams, it was Purdue's first win in 20 attempts. Kerrigan had three sacks and the defense really contained Terrelle Pryor for the second straight year. For the first time in six weeks, Purdue wasn't haunted by turnovers, fluke plays, or questionable coaching decisions.
Purdue played solid in their win over Illinois, but fell completely apart last week against Wisconsin to fall to 3-6 coming in to Saturday's match-up with Michigan. Purdue needs to win-out to become bowl eligible.
"It's a must-win situation we're in now," linebacker Jason Werner (Sr. #24) said. "We've got to go into each one of these games and treat it as a one-game season."
With each team playing five conference games, it's time to start looking at statistical advantages in Conference games only as the different non-conference opponents for each team can make the overall numbers misleading. Those numbers aren't good for Michigan. Michigan might lead the Big 10 in scoring and rushing yardage overall, but in conference play they're 8th and 6th respectively. Suffice to say Michigan is last or towards the bottom of the Big 10 in nearly every offensive and defensive category. The biggest contributor to these stats is the turnovers.
The Wolverines are losing the turnover margin by more than two per conference game. To keep this in perspective, the Boilermakers are 10th in the Big 10 in this category, but their turnover margin is just one per game. In Conference play, Michigan has coughed it up 16 times, but have only earned five of them. Michigan last forced a turnover since Donovan Warren's pick-six against Iowa in the opening minute on Oct 10th.
"I don't know if I've ever gone three games in a row without having created a turnover, either special teams or defense," said Rodriguez. "So that's a concern."
Another statistic that's glaring is that Purdue is leading in the Big 10 in pass defense in Conference play. They are getting it done on both ends of the defense. Kerrigan, a defensive end, is leading the Big 10 in sacks and fumbles forced, #2 behind Michigan's Brandon Graham (Sr. #55) in tackles-for-loss and is leading the team in tackles, all in Conference play. On the other end, cornerback David Pender (Sr. #9) leads the Big 10 in passes defended with 11 broken up and an interception.
Purdue surrendered a lot of extra yards due to poor tackling on John Clay last week. Other than Brandon Minor, Michigan doesn't have the physical type of backs that Wisconsin possesses.
The overall offensive numbers aren't staggering for the Boilermakers, but they do have playmakers that are towards the top statistically, if not in name recognition. Keith Smith (Jr. #8) leads the Big 10 in yards (779 season) and is #2 in receptions. Aaron Valentin (Sr. #17) is also among the top ten in the Big 10, but has the added element of being a dangerous return man. Valentin leads the Big 10 in punt return average (13.7) including one for a touchdown.
Both played poorly last week at Wisconsin. It seemed inexplicable, though Hope tried to during Tuesday's press conference.
"We ran some sloppy routes, and that affected the passing game in some ways," Hope said.
And what about Elliott? Despite several dropped balls, the quarterback was uncharacteristically off the mark.
I think he's always done a great job of bouncing back from any adversity we've had all along," said Hope. "And then when things haven't gone our way, the next play he's ready to go.
So while both teams try to regroup this week, the fundamental question that needs to be asked after last week is…
Can Purdue move the football?
Can Michigan stop anyone?
ENJOY THE GAME!