Props to the Big Ten Network.
Two weeks ago, the network announced it would air the Michigan-Purdue game, and the announcement was met with disbelief that a game featuring a then-undefeated Boilermakers and a surging Wolverine squad didn’t find a way onto national television.
Well, after last Saturday, it’s a little easier to see why.
Ohio State destroyed Purdue in West Lafayette, and Michigan eked out a home win against an Eastern Michigan team that lost to Vanderbilt by 23 points.
So, will this game draw more attention to the Big Ten Network with a close score, or will turn into a lopsided blowout?
Look at the matchups, and see for yourself.
Michigan rush offense vs. Purdue rush defense
Purdue coach Joe Tiller told the Lafayette Journal and Courier that the Boilermakers’ biggest challenge will be to stop running back Mike Hart. Uh, you think?
Hart has gained more than 100 yards every game this season, has topped 150 four times and is leading the nation in rushing by more than 100 yards.
Purdue’s rush defense hasn’t been bad, allowing 137 yards per game. But it’s tough to tell exactly how good it is because the Boilermakers have played in just one tough game so far this year, a 23-7 loss to Ohio State last week. Purdue gave up 181 yards of rushing against the Buckeyes and allowed running back Chris Wells to average almost five yards per carry.
Most of last season’s front seven returned for the Boilermakers, which would usually be a good thing. But Purdue finished with the nation’s 114th-ranked rush defense last year.
If Michigan’s offensive line comes to play, Hart should extend his 100-yard streak.
Michigan pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense
The Boilermakers picked off Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman three times last week, all in the second half. But they also let him toss two touchdown passes on the first two drives of the game to put the Buckeyes up 14-0.
Purdue’s pass defense statistics are mostly irrelevant considering the caliber of opponents it has played (excluding Ohio State).
But it’s safe to say Michigan quarterback Chad Henne is the most experienced and best passer the Boilermakers have faced, and with wide receiver Mario Manningham returning from a one-game suspension to join downfield threats Adrian Arrington, Greg Mathews and tight end Carson Butler, the Wolverines should have what they want in the passing game.
Purdue rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Purdue operates out of a spread offense, so most of its runs will be similar to those Michigan has faced against Appalachian State, Oregon, Northwestern and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines say they are improving at understanding the spread offense, and while it’s hard to tell against opponents like the Wildcats and Eagles, that seems to be the case. Defensive tackle Will Johnson returns after a one-game absence, and redshirt freshman Marques Slocum made his debut last week. Both certainly should help the Wolverines’ rush defense.
Ohio State held the Boilermakers to four total rushing yards, but the Buckeyes’ defense is probably well ahead of Michigan’s at this point. Linebackers Chris Graham and John Thompson might return from injuries that held them out last week, and their return would help Wolverines shut down Purdue’s run attack. But even without them, the Boilermakers will most likely try to do more damage through the air.
Purdue pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
Every week, the Michigan defensive players field the same questions: How do you feel facing the spread? Have the early nonconference games better prepared you for future spread offenses? And defensive coordinator Ron English’s answer has been to eliminate the term “spread offense.” Instead, the defense is focused on playing its game rather than using the different packages for the spread.
Well, the new plan may need tweaking, especially with suspect first halves against Northwestern and Eastern Michigan. Purdue’s going to bring five-wide sets into the Big House, and the same old questions will haunt a Michigan secondary that can only hope to contain a potent Boilermaker passing attack spearheaded by wide receiver Dorien Bryant and quarterback Curtis Painter.
Plainly, the Wolverines special teams are a mess. Even with a solid 2-for-2 performance from new kicker K.C. Lopata last Saturday, Michigan still had a point-after-try blocked and returned for a two-point conversion. Not to mention, Eastern Michigan returned a kickoff 86 yards to start a drive inside the Wolverines’ 20-yard line, and freshman Donovan Warren made some of the most exciting one-yard returns the team has seen this season.
One continual bright spot has been punter Zoltan Mesko, and he’ll need to drive up his hangtime to limit the speed and quickness of Purdue’s Dorien Bryant, who has already made a name for himself as a dangerous punt returner. Meanwhile, Purdue kicker Chris Summers is 8-for-10 with a 44-yard long field goal.
It’s up to the Michigan locker room to determine if this game is big enough to show up for both halves. Purdue comes into the Big House fresh off an under-the-lights massacre at the hands of Ohio State. The Boilermakers will be ready to prove they’re not as overrated as their cushy nonconference schedule would lead some to believe. But will the Wolverines muster enough focus to play the complete game they’ve been harping on for two weeks now? Will they come out like they did against Notre Dame and Penn State, or will Michigan fans see a first half reminiscent of Northwestern or Eastern Michigan? If the latter is the case, the Wolverines might not be able to rescue a win in the second half.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Purdue 21