Coming off an embarrassing 13-6 defeat by Notre Dame, the Michigan Wolverines will be desperate to reclaim their Big Ten favorite status in their conference opener against the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday.
Hyped up with a Top 10 ranking to start the season, 2012 has been full of nothing but continual disappointments for the Wolverines. Quarterback Denard Robinson, who came into the season as a favorite for almost every postseason trophy imaginable, has regressed mightily and the defense has failed to stop the run all season.
Nonetheless, there is still hope in Ann Arbor. The Big Ten looks like one of the weakest automatic qualifying conferences as teams drop like flies from the rankings.
If Michigan is able to right the ship immediately, a conference championship is still not out of the question. It all starts with this week's game against Purdue.
With that in mind, here are a few things the Wolverines must do to beat the Boilermakers on Saturday.
Restore Denard Robinson's Confidence
Though the preseason Heisman hype has long since disappeared, the fact remains that the Wolverines can only go as far as Robinson takes them.
Against Notre Dame and Alabama, the dual-threat led Michigan straight to despair. In those games, Robinson went a combined 24-of-50 passing for 338 yards and one touchdown against a whopping six interceptions.
What's more, the Wolverines signal-caller combined for just 117 yards on 36 carries as he looked completely lost against two top-tier defenses.
For even the most headstrong player, those types of failures are confidence-rattling.
Luckily for Robinson, he won't be facing a defense on Alabama or Notre Dame's level on Saturday. The Boilermakers gave up 41 points to Marshall last week as Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for a jaw-dropping 439 yards and five touchdowns.
If Michigan can establish the pass early and restore Robinson's confidence, it should also open up outside lanes on the outside to break big runs as well.
Stop Akeem Shavers
Simply because the Wolverines stopped the Notre Dame ground attack does not mean the team's issues against the run are suddenly a thing of the past.
Even with a solid performance against the Fighting Irish two weeks ago, Michigan has still given up 182 yards per game on the ground. The overarching root cause has been poor play by the defensive line, which replaced all four starters in 2012 and has struggled to find footing ever since.
Look for Purdue to try to take advantage of that and pound the ball with Shavers on Saturday.
The Boilermakers running back got a career-high 25 carries against Marshall last week, and while he gained just 73 yards, Shavers has shown a penchant for top-notch running in the past.
Playing on the road, it's necessary that Michigan gets three-and-outs early to get the crowd out of the game. Without cutting off the running game, Purdue could get ahead early and never look back.
Get Fitzgerald Toussaint More Involved
After a breakout sophomore campaign where he rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns, most expected a huge year from the Wolverines running back in 2012.
Thus far, that has not been the case. His season started out with a frustrating suspension for Week 1's game against Alabama, and Toussaint has struggled to get re-acquainted with the offense ever since.
Through four weeks, he has just 150 yards on 36 carries and has only gotten into the end zone once. For a top-tier talent like Toussaint to go essentially unused is inexcusable.
By limiting his carries, head coach Brady Hoke is limiting the potential of the offense by allowing opposing defenses to solely focus on Robinson.
To have a shot of victory on Saturday, Michigan needs to get its running back the ball and continually feed him throughout the game to keep Purdue's defense on its toes.
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