No. 9 Michigan came into Saturday”s game against No. 16 Purdue with only one goal on its mind: Winning its third straight Big Ten game and maintaining at least a share of the conference lead.
Paced by a pair of touchdowns by B.J. Askew and another strong performance from their defense, the Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 5-1 overall) throttled the Boilermakers (2-1, 4-1) 24-10 in front of 110,450 fans at Michigan Stadium. Coupled with Ohio State”s stunning collapse against Wisconsin, Michigan now sits alone atop the Big Ten after three weeks of league play.
“I don”t know how this whole thing is going to end, but I really like this football team,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said after the win. “For six games, they”ve played hard, and today, if you knew how banged-up this football team was, you”d be proud of them just like I am.”
Early on, it didn”t look like it was going to be Michigan”s day. Purdue quarterback Brandon Hance who was making just his fifth career start on Saturday started out strong on the Boilermakers” opening drive. Hance converted three separate third-and-long situations to put Purdue deep inside Michigan territory.
Then, on first down from Michigan”s 12-yard line, Hance recovered a fumbled snap and, while off-balance, tossed a touchdown pass to tight end Tim Stratton to give the Boilermakers a 7-0 lead.
“It was rough,” Michigan linebacker Larry Foote said. “We were just getting adjusted, and it took us a minute to get into the flow.”
Michigan”s offense finally got going in the second quarter. Senior wide receiver Marquise Walker provided the Wolverines with a spark when he fielded a Travis Dorsch punt at his own 30-yard line and ran 42 yards to Purdue”s 28-yard line.
Michigan only needed three plays to punch it in against a stunned Purdue defense. John Navarre”s 24-yard completion to Walker gave Michigan a first down at the Boilermakers” three-yard line. On the next play, Askew scored his first touchdown to tie the score at seven.
“You can”t say enough about Marquise,” Navarre said. “He works hard, and today, he was the guy who got open. You look for that big target, and that”s a comfort zone with him.”
The Wolverines took the lead for good on their next possession. After a Purdue punt, Michigan drove to the Boilermakers” 43-yard line. Navarre then connected with his favorite receiver once again, hitting Walker in stride with a touchdown pass to give Michigan a 14-10 lead.
Walker had Purdue cornerback Ashante Woodyard so confused that Woodyard actually stopped running at one point as Walker who finished the game with seven catches for 134 yards blew right past him.
“I just reacted,” Walker said. “I”m trying to get into the end zone I”m just trying to as Walker who finished the game with seven catches for 134 yards blew right past him.
“I just reacted,” Walker said. “I”m trying to get into the end zone I”m just trying to get six points for our offense. I guess I got on him a little bit, and it ended up being a successful play.”
From that point on, the story of the game was the play of the Wolverines” defense. Michigan held Purdue”s vaunted spread offense to just 255 total yards, including only 57 yards rushing. The Wolverines sacked Hance seven times and generally made life miserable for the redshirt freshman quarterback.
The icing on the cake came on Purdue”s last possession. With the Boilermakers trailing by two touchdowns and desperate for a score, Michigan”s Norman Heuer, Shantee Orr and Shawn Lazarus sacked Hance on consecutive plays. Facing a fourth-and-26 with one minute to play, Purdue coach Joe Tiller nevertheless decided to punt.
“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Carr said. “Their first touchdown, you don”t like to have somebody come in and take a 7-0 lead at home, but Purdue did a great job. I thought the defense set the tempo like we knew we had to do.”
Although it was able to win, Michigan can”t be entirely satisfied with its performance. The Wolverines committed four turnovers, including three fumbles.
With two tough road games against Iowa and Michigan State looming on the schedule, Michigan knows it has room for improvement.
“After (their first touchdown), the only way they really threatened was when we fumbled the football at our own end of the field,” Carr said. “You can”t turn the football over and hope to reach your goals. We”ve got a lot of work to do.”