A strong Big Ten opener is imperative for the Michigan Wolverines.
Winning Saturday is required, not optional, as the unranked Wolverines (2-2) lock horns with the Purdue Boilermakers (3-1) in West Lafayette, Ind.
Starting the conference slate with a loss is something Michigan hasn't done since 2005, when it fell 23-20 to the Wisconsin Badgers. It goes without saying that Wolverines coach Brady Hoke wants to start 2012 with a Big Ten win, especially after entering league play with a resounding 58-0 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers last fall.
Michigan is last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at -7. Security is the only way it leaves Purdue with a "W."
"Good teams on the road have got to take care of the football," Hoke told The Wolverine.com. "You need to make sure as you're taking care of the football, you're running the football, which can help you take a little bit out of the home crowd. People don't like seeing offenses get first down after first down.
"Defensively, don't give up the big plays. If you give up the big plays, then you really get a crowd involved."
Saying that Michigan-Purdue is a "big" game is, in a way, odd. Considering the fact that the Wolverines have owned the Boilers with a tilted 43-14 series advantage, most college fans take it as a given that they'll dispose of the Boilers quite easily.
Michigan has won seven of the past 10 and hasn't bowed to Purdue during the 2010 decade. Purdue lost thrice in eight meetings with Michigan from 2000-09.
However, this season has a different feel than previous years. Purdue has shown that it's to be taken seriously, and Michigan has stumbled while battling injuries and inconsistencies just to sit at .500 through the first month.
The Boilers hung around with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Week 2, losing a neck-and-neck bout, 20-17. Michigan couldn't get in the end zone two weeks ago against Notre Dame, which limited Michigan to two field goals courtesy of Brendan Gibbons in a 13-6 victory.
Large test looms for Michigan's Raymon Taylor
Let's pretend Hoke's conversation with Taylor went something like this: "Hey, kid. We need you at corner since Blake (Countess) is out for the year. You're in."
Of course Hoke didn't actually say that, but it's logical to assume that his exchange with Taylor was similar.
Michigan's pass defense is the best in the Big Ten, allowing 154.5 yards per game. While the defense has been questioned this season, the secondary has somehow bailed out linebackers and linemen with somewhat dependable play.
But how long can it last?
That's the question.
Experience is a premium, and Michigan has been forced to play junior Courtney Avery in rotation with Taylor to compensate for Countess' absence. Countess is just a sophomore, but you wouldn't know that by watching him play; his game is much more refined.
Taylor has big shoes to fill, but he isn't rattled.
"I just go out there and play, I've been playing for a long time," Taylor told MLive.com. "Technique will set you free, that's what (coaches and teammates have) been telling me.
"Don't play like you're scared, just play hard and whatever happens, happens."
Taylor, Jordan Kovacs, JT Floyd and Thomas Gordon could have their work cut out when facing Boilers quarterback Caleb Terbush, a dangerous passer who deceptively sits at No. 7 in passing yards per game in the Big Ten.
Keep it cool, collected and mistake-free, Wolverines
Hoke has appeared confident throughout the week, recently telling the Associated Press' Larry Lage that Michigan was well-rested and ready for the Boilers after a much-needed bye week.
Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson wants to bounce back from a five-turnover debacle two weeks ago at Notre Dame. The senior threw four interceptions and committed a fumble in Michigan's 13-6 loss to the Irish.
"Every day, I make goals for myself: I want to make a certain throw better, step to the target better," Robinson recently told The Wolverine.com. "Every day, I step on the field, I want to learn something, get better. Every time I set foot in this building, I want to learn. That's one of the rules when you come into Schembechler Hall - you have to be ready to learn."
Playing catch-up won't win Big Ten Legends Division
A loss Saturday would put Michigan—although very early—at the bottom of the Legends Division. Granted, the Wolverines host the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3) on Oct. 13, but wins can't be taken for granted.
After the Illinois game, Michigan hosts Michigan State (Oct. 20), a similar team in the sense that it was hyped in the preseason and has failed to live up to expectations like its in-state rival, which has lost four straight.
And let's not forget that Nebraska (4-1) and Northwestern (5-0) can't be left alone to run away with the division title. Michigan may be the only team capable of hanging around, as Iowa, Michigan State and Minnesota appear too inconsistent to truly threaten for a division championship.
Winning Saturday would keep the Wolverines' heads above water. A loss would put them in the worst-case scenario, making their late-season road game at Nebraska all the more important -- as if it wasn't already.
Michigan plays host to Northwestern, then closes the year against Ohio State. One conference win doesn't make or break a fall, but a loss can certainly wrinkle Michigan's designs on winning the Legends Division and ultimately winning the Big Ten Championship Game.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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