WEST LAFAYETTE – It just wouldn’t be a 2002 Michigan football game if it wasn’t close and without a controversial call or two by the much-maligned Big Ten officials – and for both teams the 23-21 Michigan victory left them with a familiar feeling.
The Wolverines again narrowly escaped a loss; Purdue will again be looking at why it cannot get a win despite having so much talent.
Winning close games “is the mark of a championship team,” quarterback John Navarre said. “We know no matter what the score is, what time it is, we are going to give ourselves a chance to win.”
With Michigan leading 23-14 and two minutes left in the game, Purdue began its last drive at its own 45-yard line. The Boilermakers marched down the field courtesy of wide receiver Taylor Stubblefield, who made up for two drops on third down earlier in the fourth quarter by catching three Brandon Kirsch passes for 33 yards to put the ball at the Michigan 11-yard line. But that is where it got sticky for the officials.
On second down, Kirsch again hit Stubblefield across the middle. He then ran it along the sideline and dove toward the endzone pylon, knocking it over.
After some debate, the officials ruled that Stubblefield was down inbounds and before he reached the endzone.
“I most definitely think I was in and even looking at the replay, I felt I was in,” Stubblefield said. “I was surprised that they ruled I didn’t get in, and I was also surprised they ruled that I didn’t get out of bounds.”
As it turned out, the difference between having 30 seconds or eight seconds on the clock did not matter as Michigan recovered the ensuing onsides kick.
But rather than point to losing time, both teams can point to missed opportunities and the inability to move the football.
“We had the opportunities and the field position, but we were unable to take advantage of our chances on too many occasions,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.
Twice in the fourth quarter, Purdue had the ball inside the Michigan 40-yard line only to turn the ball over on two interceptions by Boilermakers’ quarterback Kyle Orton, one picked off by Markus Curry at the 1-yard line, and the other by linebacker Zach Kaufman at the 14-yard line.
Michigan also suffered from similar problems as it could not convert on two 4th-and-1 runs deep in Purdue territory. In the third quarter, fullback B.J. Askew was stuffed by the Boilermakers’ Landon Johnson and in the fourth quarter, running back Chris Perry was stopped not once, but twice when he needed to gain one yard.
But the misses were not as glaring because on both occasions, the Wolverines scored a touchdown on their next possession – in the third quarter, Michigan scored on a 31-yard catch by Braylon Edwards and in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines scored on a 34-yard run by Calvin Bell off the reverse.
Michigan’s other touchdown came on a one-yard run by Askew in the first quarter.
Purdue had success early in the game by utilizing the mobility of Kirsch, who ended the game with 81 yards and one touchdown on the ground. But Kirsch’s was inconsistent through the air and could muster only 172 yards passing and one touchdown, a 31-yard pitch to John Standeford.
Both teams can point to miscues in the kicking game, something that has plagued them all season. Purdue kicker Berin Lacevic missed attempts of 41 and 40 yards in the first half, while Michigan kicker Troy Nienberg made a 33-yard field goal, but had a 37-yard, fourth quarter attempt blocked and missed a fourth quarter extra point attempt.