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Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Purdue

Austin FoxCorrespondent IIApril 12, 2016

Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Purdue

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    Big Ten play has finally arrived for Michigan, and the first test is not an easy one. Traveling to West Lafayette to take on a solid Purdue team will teach us a lot about these Wolverines.

    Included is a deep look at Purdue's offense and defense, as well as other important statistics to be aware of heading into this game.

    Read on to find out what Wolverines fans should expect to see this Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Michigan Rush Offense vs. Purdue Rush Defense

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    This is arguably the most important aspect of this game. With Michigan's current offensive situation, the team needs to be able to run the ball to win.

    Unfortunately, they haven't been running it as well they need to be. A big reason why is because of running back Fitz Toussaint's lack of impact. He is barely averaging four yards a carry, has only rushed for 150 yards and has only scored once this season.

    Those numbers obviously need to improve. The offensive line needs to step up its game as well. They'll be going up against one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten, so it certainly won't be easy.

    Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston form one of the better tackle duos around, as Short is one of the best tackles in the country. He leads the Big Ten with seven tackles for loss, and is second in sacks with four.

    Purdue will rotate lots of guys in on the defensive line, so we'll see plenty of different bodies out there. Ryan Isaac, Brandon Taylor, Greg Latta and Jalani Phillips will all see plenty of crucial minutes.

    The defensive line is a huge reason why Purdue's run defense has been so good this year, ranking 22nd nationally—they are only allowing opponents to rush for 105 yards per game on the ground.

    The level of competition obviously has to be taken into account, though, but it's still impressive.

    At linebacker, Will Lucas is solid and an experienced veteran by now. Joe Gilliam is only a redshirt sophomore, but he's out there constantly. Former quarterback Sean Robinson will also see time, as will senior Antwon Higgs. The dismissal of Dwayne Beckford hasn't seemed to have had too big of an impact on this unit after all.

    Honestly, I think this matchup is extremely even. Even though Michigan's rushing attack has been pretty disappointing so far, I think it will take on a new look Saturday. This coaching staff is committed to running the ball more effectively, and I think it will show in a big way.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see more snaps from under center and for Toussaint to be given the chance to carry this offense. That means the offensive line will also have to step up, and I think they will.

    This bye week really allows the areas that need improving to be addressed, and I cautiously have a very good feeling on where this team is headed.

    Advantage: Michigan

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Purdue Pass Defense

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    Until Denard Robinson cuts down on his interceptions mightily, I'm not going to like this Michigan passing attack against many defenses.

    Purdue's pass defense ranks 84th nationally, but a lot of that has to do with Marshall throwing for 439 yards on them last week. That's obviously not good, but Marshall's passing attack does rank third in the country.

    This isn't a bad Purdue secondary, though. Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen form arguably the best corner duo in the Big Ten. Johnson already has two picks, and Allen is a big play waiting to happen. Michigan fans remember the way he impacted the 2010 meeting as only a freshman.

    In fact, this Purdue defense already has eight interceptions, which leads the Big Ten. Compare that to Michigan's defense, which only has two.

    At safety, Purdue starts Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards, both sophomores. Feichter is a former walk-on, but has turned into a solid player who is out there for almost every snap.

    Purdue will also rotate in Normondo Harris and Frankie Williams at corner. Williams is only a redshirt freshman, so Michigan may look to attack him when he's in the game, but he does have the makings of being a solid player.

    For the most part, I wouldn't be surprised if Johnson and Allen are able to handle these Michigan receivers. Even though it's an emotional and very meaningful game for Roy Roundtree any time he plays Purdue, I don't expect a whole lot out of him.

    I expect Jeremy Gallon to get his 50 or 60 yards or so, and not much else. Devin Gardner is the real key. He has been such a pleasant surprise, and his big frame and playmaking ability could potentially cause problems for this Purdue secondary.

    After being a complete non-factor last week, I also expect to see Devin Funchess have an impact.

    Denard Robinson pledged to be more careful with the football after last week's loss, and I hope to see him stay true to his word. It will be a great test against this Purdue defense that leads the Big Ten with 12 turnovers.

    An opportunistic defense that forces turnovers going up against a turnover-prone Michigan offense would seem to spell disaster. Again, though, I think this Michigan team will have a different look coming out of the bye.

    I know this secondary is good at taking the ball away, but I don't want to see Robinson throw a single interception. He has to learn not to be careless with the ball, and this is the week to start.

    If grinding it out on the ground is what it will take to move this offense, then so be it.

    Advantage: Purdue

Purdue Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense

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    For the most part, Purdue has had a very balanced offensive attack this season. Their rushing attack ranks 33rd nationally, which is obviously solid—and that is without a great offensive line.

    The backfield could be even better if Ralph Bolden was healthy, but Akeem Shavers has picked up the slack in a big way. He is only averaging about four yards a carry, but there is no question that he is the feature back and the guy that Michigan will have to shut down.

    Akeem Hunt is a speedster we'll see in the backfield at times, and he is averaging a ridiculous 9.4 yards per carry. Brandon Cottom is a big back we'll see in at times also, and this guy is an absolute bruiser. He stands at 6'4" and unbelievably weighs just under 260 pounds!

    Cottom has already run for an 87-yard touchdown, helping his 17.6 yards per carry. Not bad for a big guy.

    With Shavers, Hunt and Cottom, Purdue has a little bit of everything in its backfield. It has a nice blend of size, speed and power that Michigan will have to prepare carefully for.

    Caleb TerBush may also run here and there, as he does have 20 carries this season. How much of a factor (if at all) Rob Henry is remains to be seen.

    If Michigan shuts down this Purdue rushing attack, it obviously increases its chances of winning mightily. That won't be an easy task, though.

    Michigan's rush defense currently ranks an embarrassing 90th nationally. Honestly, though, I think you can throw that number out the window.

    After the performance against Notre Dame and then having the bye week, this Michigan front is heading in the right direction...and fast.

    In fact, I think this will look like a completely different front. Guys like Will Campbell, Quinton Washington and Frank Clark seem to be on the verge of exploding, and this could be the week.

    I expect Purdue to have some success running the ball, but to be held in check for the most part. Even though the numbers don't support it, I'm cautiously going with Michigan's chances in this aspect.

    Advantage: Michigan

Purdue Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

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    As mentioned earlier, this is a balanced Purdue offense. The rushing attack ranks 33rd nationally, and the passing attack ranks 43rd.

    Michigan's pass defense, on the other hand, ranks ninth nationally, which is the best in the Big Ten. However, they have gone up against an Air Force offense that rarely throws the ball, a completely overmatched UMass offense, a very conservative Notre Dame game plan and an Alabama offense that focuses on running the ball.

    I have been very high on Michigan's secondary this whole season, but for whatever reason am having doubts. This will be, by far, the biggest challenge the secondary has faced so far.

    Purdue has one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten, and I think it may show. Both Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross are veterans, and both are simply playmakers. They each have 236 or more receiving yards already, and Edison already has five touchdown catches!

    Gary Bush is also a huge part of this passing attack, as he already has four touchdown catches. Raheem Mostert is also an offensive weapon, as we may see the speedster line up at receiver and/or in the backfield.

    Purdue also has a solid group of tight ends, as both Crosby Wright and Gabe Holmes are experienced veterans.

    Honestly, I think the biggest weakness in this passing attack is TerBush. He is completing just under 64 percent of his passes, which is impressive, but has a less than impressive 7-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

    If the Boilers had a better quarterback, this passing attack would be even more dangerous.

    I wouldn't be surprised if these receivers have success on Saturday. J.T. Floyd isn't a great corner, and Raymon Taylor is still learning the ropes at the other corner spot.

    Michigan has been good at not allowing big plays, but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw one or two from this passing attack. Purdue likes to run a quick screen play (most notably to Bush) that can easily go for a touchdown if the blocking is even remotely decent.

    Again, I don't know why, but I'm all of a sudden having concerns about this Michigan secondary. It's mainly the corner spots, as I don't trust Floyd or Taylor. Plus, Edison, Ross and Bush are all explosive and know how to get the job done.

    If this Michigan secondary is able to contain this passing attack, though, then we'll know this unit is for real.

    Advantage: Purdue

Prediction

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    This should be a great game on Saturday, as it has major implications in both divisions and is the second best game of the weekend in the Big Ten.

    Why it's not receiving more national attention is beyond me. I also don't understand how it wasn't able to land on a bigger network than BTN.

    As I've said many times, I think Michigan having a bye week plays a huge factor. This was a different team going forward after last year's bye, and I think we'll see much of the same.

    However, what might scare me the most is how balanced Purdue's offensive attack is. They average 38 pass plays per game and 41 rush plays.

    Plus, the guys they have at the skill positions are dangerous. They have a solid backfield with Shavers, Hunt and Cottom, and a very good receiving core with Edison, Ross and Bush.

    It will be a challenge for Michigan to move the ball on this defense as well. A D-line that features three above average players in Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell won't make it easy on Michigan's offensive line.

    I also don't like Denard Robinson's chances throwing on this opportunistic secondary, especially with a corner duo that features Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson.

    However, I think this Michigan team will take a big step forward Saturday. They were embarrassed in games against Alabama, Notre Dame and even Air Force (to a degree), and they are sick of it.

    This team will have a completely different look on Saturday, and as conference play kicks off, will take the necessary steps forward to winning the Big Ten title.

    Prediction: Michigan 34, Purdue 24

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