WEST LAFAYETTE — Time after time on Saturday,
Michigan’s defense stymied Purdue’s explosive passing
offense and hoped the offense would give it some breathing
room.

But that cushion would never come; the defense would be awarded
no margin for error.

It turned out the defense didn’t need it.

The Wolverines forced 10 punts, blocked a field goal and forced
two turnovers on Saturday, and they needed every one of those 13
stops to defeat the Boilermakers 16-14 at Ross-Ade Stadium.

“I think our team, as a whole, is one of the most mentally
tough teams I’ve ever been around,” defensive
coordinator Jim Herrman said. “I told our defensive kids, of
the nine teams I’ve been coaching defense at Michigan, I
would’ve picked this one to go play this game against
Purdue.”

Garrett Rivas ended an up-and-down day by lofting a 35-yard
field goal through the uprights with 2:45 left in the game. Then
the Wolverines’ defense aced one last test.

When Orton found receiver Dorien Bryant open in the middle of
the field with room to run, Purdue appeared to be in good shape. He
got all the way to Michigan’s 41-yard line, where cornerback
Markus Curry took out his legs to send him airborne. Bryant was on
his way to landing harmlessly on the turf when safety Ernest Shazor
leveled him with a vicious hit, forcing a fumble in the process.
Cornerback Leon Hall, who was beat by Bryant on the play, fell on
the football while rolling into Michigan’s sideline.

The win keeps No. 12 Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 7-1 overall) in a
tie for first in the conference with No. 6 Wisconsin (5-0, 8-0),
and gave No. 17 Purdue (2-2, 5-2), which fell to Wisconsin 20-17
last week on a fumble by quarterback Kyle Orton and a late missed
field goal, a crippling second Big Ten loss.

“They’re a great team, but they’re not a
Michigan-caliber team,” Shazor said of Purdue.

On offense, the Wolverines were led — once again —
by running back Mike Hart. With the passing game struggling, the
freshman, who earlier in the season was dubbed
“midget,” ran for 206 yards on 33 carries. Hart, who
ran for 234 yards last week against Illinois, is just the second
player in Michigan history to run for 200 or more yards in
consecutive games, joining Jon Vaughn in 1990. Hart now ranks 10th
in the nation with 936 rushing yards, despite having a limited role
in the team’s first two games.

“He’s a great back. He’s breaking off tackles
— you don’t think he’s going to get any yards and
then he just breaks it off,” quarterback Chad Henne said.

Hart, who ran for 134 yards in the second half, ran for three
first downs on the Wolverines’ game-winning drive. But when
the drive stalled at Purdue’s 18-yard line, Michigan coach
Lloyd Carr called on Rivas, who had hit two-of-four field goals at
that point. With 14 mph winds aiding him, Rivas — who had an
earlier kick blocked — had no problem on his fifth
attempt.

“Anytime the offense goes out there in the fourth quarter,
I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that we’re going to
win the game,” Shazor said. “I always think we’re
going to win.”

While the defense led Michigan to victory, the game’s
first drive won’t be the one it will want to remember.

Starting at its own 35-yard-line, Purdue marched down the field
in just 10 plays. But it was the legs of Jerod Void that led the
offense. While Orton completed two passes for first downs and drew
a pass interference for a third, Purdue ran for 36 yards, capped by
a one-yard touchdown run by Void.

With Purdue’s offense seemingly back to its usual prolific
self following its touchdown drive, Michigan’s offense needed
to answer, and it did. The Wolverines’ offense looked even
better than Purdue’s on its first drive, as it went 80 yards
in just seven plays. The drive was capped by a 25-yard pass from
Henne to Hart, who used his blocks well and then, as usual, fought
for extra yards all the way to the goalline.

The Boilermakers’ other touchdown came when they used the
spread offense with five receivers and got a favorable matchup in
running back Brandon Jones against linebacker Scott McClintock.
Orton lobbed a deep pass to Jones, and he streaked untouched into
the endzone to give Purdue a 14-10 lead with 4:25 left in the third
quarter.

But if Kyle Orton’s Heisman hopes were breathing faintly
after last week’s loss to the Badgers, it has to be lifeless
after his lackluster showing on Saturday. Orton finished just
14-of-30 passing for 213 yards, one touchdown and one interception
on the day. Facing a stiff pass rush all game, Orton was sacked
three times and committed a fumble.

But even when Orton had time to throw, his receivers had
difficulty getting open. Taylor Stubblefield, who leads the nation
with 11 touchdown catches and is the Big Ten’s all-time
leading receiver, was held to just one catch for 10 yards by
cornerback Marlin Jackson.

But until Michigan’s final offensive drive, its
extraordinary defensive effort wouldn’t have been enough.

“We’ve been through every situation,” Henne
said. “We came back and won against Minnesota. We’ve
been down a couple times and came back.”

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