Before Saturday”s game against Purdue, the Michigan football team wanted nothing to do with the idea of revenge. The players scoffed at the notion, each giving canned responses to questions asking how much last year”s loss in West Lafayette still burned.
And I”m not going to spin some tale about the win on Saturday and how it gave the Wolverines what they wanted, but didn”t want to talk about.
I think it brought something much bigger than the quickly-passing gratification of payback.
Michigan”s defense, perennially among the nation”s strongest, but last year, an embarrassment to the program, is being treated this season like the guy that did three turns in jail, but has now found God you”re intrigued by him, but at the same time, you”re waiting for him to screw up again so he can go back where he belongs.
It”s no secret that the Wolverines” are performing better on the defensive side of the ball this year. They”re controlling the line of scrimmage, they”re demolishing unassuming running backs and they”re not letting up.
So when the season began, it was obvious that the Purdue game was going to be a real test how would the defense fare this year against the team that so demoralized it last year?
Last year, Michigan blew a 28-10 halftime lead before losing on a last-second Travis Dorsch field goal. All week, the Wolverines were saying that they had to play four quarters, that they couldn”t let up like they did last year.
Easy enough to say, but the true test comes on the field.
Michigan did what it wanted to do. It played four quarters without ever letting up. The most obvious example of this came on Purdue”s last drive of the game. Down by 14 with about three minutes remaining, Purdue got the ball at its own 14-yard line off a Chris Perry fumble.
After moving the ball well enough for two first downs, the ball sat at the Boilermakers” 45. It was a situation that the cynical Michigan fans feared what was going to happen this time?
On first-and-10, Purdue quarterback Brandon Hance dropped back. Sacked by Norman Heuer. Second-and-16, sacked by Shantee Orr. On third-and-22, with the ball now back to the 33, Hance dropped back once more. Sacked by Shawn Lazarus.
Three plays, critical to the game”s outcome, and all that Purdue could do was lose 16 yards.
“We had to play the whole game,” Orr said. “We had to play the whole game to the end. We just kept fighting. We wanted it today.”
On its next play, out of timeouts, out of options and certainly out of hope, Purdue punted. The Boilermakers conceded, giving Michigan the ball with 41 seconds left instead of going for it on fourth-and-long.
“When you come here, you have to expect to be involved in a 60-minute game,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said after the game. Quite a role-reversal. Last year, Michigan was derided for giving up too early. This time, Purdue played a great first quarter, and then penalty after penalty after penalty held it back for the rest of the game.
On the scoreboard, the Boilermakers were still in it, but in the players” heads, it was long over. The Michigan defense was too good. It was killing something the spread offense that it couldn”t stop a year ago. It was taking over the game.
“The key to stopping that kind of offense is that everyone has to execute,” linebacker Victor Hobson said. “It can”t be an individual effort. You need all 11 guys each play. We were able to do that. Each player on the defense was able to execute.”
The defense executed all day. Unlike last year, Michigan didn”t dominate the start. But the defense was all over the finish.
“We just always want to finish,” Hobson said. “Any time we don”t finish, that”s a problem.
“We made sure we finished today.”
Jon Schwartz cab be reached at email@example.com.