Three weeks ago, few would’ve expected this football game to carry so much weight.
While No. 8 Michigan’s recent offensive struggles may have boosted Purdue’s chances at an upset, the Boilermakers may also be a far more worthy opponent than people originally thought.
Through three games, Purdue (2-1) has blown out Ohio, crushed Missouri on the road and nearly taken down reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and No. 19 Louisville. Led by fiery new coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers’ offense is averaging 35.7 points per game.
Here’s how the Wolverines (3-0) stack up against Purdue:
Michigan pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense
A new wide receiver will have to step up this week following the season-ending injury for freshman Tarik Black. Black was developing a strong connection with redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight and was leading the team in receiving. Sophomore Kekoa Crawford and junior Grant Perry will likely see more catches as a result, and following them in rotation will be a combination of sophomore Eddie McDoom and freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Without Black, the Wolverines lose a fast, sure-handed receiver who excels at beating cornerbacks downfield. Peoples-Jones and McDoom can make up for the speed, no doubt, but it’s yet to be seen how the two fare bringing down catches against Big Ten safeties in 1-on-1 situations.
Purdue’s secondary has given up an average of 244 passing yards and one pass touchdown per game, which bodes well for the Wolverines. Purdue’s experienced cornerbacks Da’Wan Hunte and Josh Okonye lead the Boilermakers’ backfield, but with so many offensive receiving weapons — including a reliable crew of Michigan tight ends — the Wolverines’ passing game should prevail.
Michigan run offense vs. Purdue run defense
A highlight for Michigan this season has been the emergence of a consistent Ty Isaac. The fifth-year senior running back is averaging 112 rushing yards per game. He has yet to score a touchdown, but that’s because the running backs rotate for different situations. When the Wolverines get close to the red zone, junior Karan Higdon lines up at tailback and has fittingly scored two rushing touchdowns.
Isaac was carted off the field against Air Force after getting hit in the ribs, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that he would likely be fine. Expect Michigan to hand the ball to Isaac on its first offensive drive. He’s been consistent in getting first downs play after play and has been instrumental in moving the team downfield.
Purdue pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
Purdue uses two quarterbacks, David Blough and Elijah Sindelar, but the former has taken most of reps. Blough has six passing touchdowns so far and maintains a stellar 76-percent completion rate. He can also use his feet, and has one rushing touchdown on 15 carries. Sindelar has four touchdown passes on a 50-percent completion rate. Though, both quarterbacks have been intercepted twice.
Brohm isn’t afraid to throw trick plays into the mix, either. Expect the unexpected. Against Ohio, Purdue ran a double-reverse flea flicker that turned into a 62-yard touchdown.
Purdue receiver Jackson Anthrop has four touchdown receptions and will be a major test for Michigan’s young secondary. The Wolverines’ cornerbacks haven’t faced a true pass-heavy opponent yet.
Purdue run offense vs. Michigan run defense
Michigan should dominate against Purdue’s run game. The Wolverines’ rushing defense is the ninth-best in the nation, allowing an average of 82.3 rushing yards per game. Michigan leads the Big Ten in that category as well and also has held opponents to an average of 2.33 yards per carry.
Purdue’s offensive line will likely struggle to contain Michigan’s D-linemen, especially the two starting defensive ends, sophomore Rashan Gary and redshirt junior Chase Winovich.
The Boilermakers’ lead rusher, Tario Fuller, is averaging 87 yards per game. Unlike Michigan, Purdue doesn’t have depth at running back. After Fuller, who has 43 carries, Purdue has gone to backup running back Brian Lankford Johnson just 16 times.
If you haven’t heard of redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin yet, just check out who leads the entire Big Ten conference in scoring.
That’s right; Nordin — a kicker — leads the conference in scoring with 42 total points.
Nordin has been Michigan’s safety net so far, converting 11-of-13 field goal attempts. His record distance is 55 yards, and a special teams coach Chris Partridge said this week that he’d continue to trust Nordin from that range as long as wind isn’t a factor.
Purdue has not been as fortunate in the kicking game. Kickers J.D. Dellinger and Spencer Evans have combined to go 3-for-6 on FG attempts. The longest kick they’ve made is from 38 yards out, and the Boilermakers even had an attempt blocked against Louisville.
In the return game, Purdue will have to be wary of Peoples-Jones. In the first two games of the season, Peoples-Jones made some questionable choices regarding whether or not to call for fair catches. After getting benched and replaced by Perry, the true freshman got a second chance to return punts against Air Force. He proved his worth with a game-changing 79-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Peoples-Jones has yet to get the chance to return kick offs, but the coaches said that he is definitely in consideration for that role as well.
Michigan has a lot more at stake than Purdue, but Jeff Brohm will have the Boilermakers ready for the first meeting between the two sides since 2012.
Before the season, it was expected that Purdue would need at least a year to adjust to its new coach, but now it’s expected to contend for the Big Ten West. Opening the conference slate with a win at home against a top-10 team like Michigan would send West Lafayette into a frenzy.
Prediction: Michigan 22, Purdue 10