In its last two games, Michigan has gone into halftime with leads of 28-10 and 13-0, respectively. The leads seem big and comfortable, but a glance back at last year”s game against Purdue emits a reminder that final scores are based on four quarters of play not two.
In West Lafayette last year, Michigan led 28-10 at the break. But the second half didn”t resemble the first at all, as Purdue, which couldn”t catch a break in the first two quarters, turned around and caught everything. The final, 32-31, came on a last-second field goal by Travis Dorsch, a play set up by several Michigan mistakes.
About three months later, the Boilermakers represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, beating out Michigan and Northwestern in the Big Ten”s formulaic tie-breaker.
So with that in the past, how are the Wolverines heading into the rematch?
“We know that no lead is safe,” said wide receiver Ron Bellamy.
Unlike most fans, the team claims not to be going into this weekend”s game with revenge on its mind. It”s looking forward, not back.
“I don”t think you ever gain anything by looking back in terms of motivation,” coach Lloyd Carr said. “The fact we”ve played them, there is common knowledge, but from a team standpoint and a motivational standpoint, the things that should motivate you are your goals and those aren”t based on what”s happened in last year”s game.”
There”s one reason why Michigan shouldn”t be looking back this year”s defense has the ability to shut teams down.
The Wolverines are allowing only 52 rushing yards per game, effectively making their opponents one dimensional.
Where last year”s defense didn”t have the talent and experience to keep teams down, this one does.
“We definitely know that it”s like night and day,” said Michigan tight end Bill Seymour about what he expects from the defense this time around. “Their confidence level is so much higher and we are a lot stronger up front on the defensive line.”
Because of that, Purdue knows that it can”t bank on a miraculous second-half surge this time around.
“We need to go in there and be ready to play right away and throughout the entire game,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Hance.
“We definitely will have to play our best game to beat Michigan in their stadium,” said tight end Tim Stratton. “As coach Tiller said, we need to bring our “A” game to the table. We are going to have to do that this weekend.”
Purdue”s biggest advantage is that it will show the Wolverines an offense that keeps most Michigan fans up late at night, shaking at the prospect of defending it the spread. Purdue and Northwestern shook the young Michigan defense with their wide-open offensive schemes last year.
But this year, the Wolverines claim that they”re ready for it.
“We”ve been exposed to the West Coast offense and that”s going to help us in this game,” said defensive end Shawn Lazarus. “It was new, but the bottom line is we didn”t do what we were coached to do. We didn”t control the line of scrimmage, and with our experience this year, hopefully we can do it.”
All in all, Michigan”s players might not be talking about it, but winning this game should exorcise some demons from the underachieving team”s Citrus Bowl trip last year. And the Wolverines know the best way to move forward to shut down the Boilermakers and never let up.
“You have to play four quarters,” said Seymour, acknowledging what didn”t happen last year. “We probably had our best first half of the season and then we couldn”t execute in the second half. It”s always in the back of your mind, but we ended the season strong after that.”