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Michigan opens Big Ten season with visit to Purdue

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 4, 2012

That last one stung.

It’s been two weeks since the Michigan football team lost to No. 9 Notre Dame, 13-6, after a lackluster performance by senior quarterback Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense. Robinson and senior running back Vincent Smith teamed up to throw an interception on five consecutive passes in the first half.

Now it’s time for Michigan to turn the page.

The Wolverines hit the road for the third time this season for a late afternoon tilt against Purdue (3-1 overall) in West Lafayette on Saturday. Michigan defeated the Boilermakers, 36-14, in Ann Arbor last fall and is riding a two-year winning streak.

But road games haven’t been kind to Michigan coach Brady Hoke and the Wolverines in the last two seasons. Since Hoke arrived in Ann Arbor in early 2011, Michigan is a perfect 11-0 at home and just 3-4 away from the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium — already losing to No. 1 Alabama and Notre Dame in neutral-site and away games this fall.

The numbers on both sides of the ball are even more staggering than the records.

In 10 home games under Hoke, Michigan has scored an average of 40.1 points per game, while allowing an average of just 15.4 points. In seven road games, though, the Wolverines have averaged 25.4 points scored and 23.4 points allowed.

“It’s harder to play on the road,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “It’s always an issue, but you can’t always use that as an excuse, because good teams win on the road.”

Turning it around

The coaching staff’s biggest emphasis during the bye week? Winning the turnover battle.

Entering the sixth week of the college football season, Michigan ranks 116th out of 124 teams in turnover margin at -7. The Wolverines have created four takeaways on defense but have allowed 11 on offense, including 10 interceptions.

The matchup doesn’t look pretty for Robinson and the Michigan offense, as Purdue’s tough secondary has eight interceptions in just four games. Robinson has thrown a pick in 11 of his last 12 starts, dating back to the Wolverines’ first road game last season. Over that period, he has accumulated 17 total interceptions and 13 in seven road games.

Hoke said he has no explanation for the offense’s turnover tendency, especially in road games.

“The field’s the same width and length,” Hoke said. “Eleven guys on each side of the ball. From my perspective, no. I’ve not really been a skill position player since 7th grade, but I don’t think so.”

For the record, Hoke said he played tailback and cornerback in 7th grade — “And I could cover anybody,” he added.

Backing into the Big Ten

Purdue sits at 3-1 on the season after blowout victories against Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, a 20-17 loss to Notre Dame sandwiched in between and a 51-41 win over Marshall last weekend.

Saturday marks the beginning of conference play for Michigan, a team that has had the stated goal of winning the Big Ten Championship since Hoke arrived.

Despite disappointing non-conference results across the Big Ten, the schedule ahead is a clean slate, a path to the conference title and the Rose Bowl beyond. But that journey to Pasadena doesn’t come before navigating a series of stiff road challenges.

And Saturday’s matchup at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette is the first with Big Ten title implications.

“I think people are going to get after each other (in the Big Ten),” Hoke said. “I think everyone knows each other pretty well in the league to some degree, knows what they want to do and how they want to do it.

“We’ve got to be a better road team.”


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