Michigan’s season will remain disappointing, even with a win on the road at Purdue, but they must be victorious to prevent this year from becoming a complete disaster.
The Wolverines have defeated both of their unranked opponents this year, but their performance against Alabama and Notre Dame is the reason they’ve become an unranked opponent themselves. The team was outscored 54-20 in those two games.
That combined margin of defeat doesn't scream elite team.
It isn't just those two games that makes the 2012 Wolverines underwhelming. Michigan has struggled in every game this season, with the exception of their 63-13 blowout win over UMass. That game was a clear example of superior talent overcoming an inferior team on physicality alone.
Those wins won't impress pollsters or the BCS computer.
The run defense has been one of the biggest issues for this team. Michigan has allowed 182 yards per game on the ground this season. One might give them a pass for their run defense against the mighty Crimson Tide. Bama ran for 232 yards in their 41-14 win over the Wolverines in Week 1.
However, the team struggled to stop the run against their unranked opponents as well. Air Force went for 290 yards on the ground in their narrow loss at Michigan in Week 2. Even UMass rushed for 112 yards in Michigan's only convincing win.
This is an issue that must be resolved moving forward. A Big Ten team that can't stop the run will be in major trouble when conference play is in full swing.
What factor has played the biggest role in Michigan's early season struggles?
The other major issue for Michigan has been turnovers. Denard Robinson has to shoulder much of the blame there. The former Heisman candidate has thrown eight interceptions this season. He has been dynamic as a runner, but his decision-making has left a lot to be desired.
That problem plays into the hands of the Boilermakers. The team has picked off eight passes this year, and forced a total of 12 turnovers overall. That is a big reason they are 3-1, and why this won't be an easy game for the Wolverines to win.
Though Purdue is 3-1, and at home, this win wouldn't carry a ton of weight for the perception of the Wolverines abroad. The Boilermakers aren't a national powerhouse, and they lost Robert Marve, their starting quarterback, for the remainder of the season.
Marve suffered the third torn ACL of his career, and his football future is in question at this point. That said, senior Caleb TerBush is a capable replacement. He has seen quality playing time this season, and he's tossed seven touchdown passes.
The Wolverines won't get much of a break there.
I expect to see Brady Hoke make a strong effort to get Fitzgerald Toussaint involved in this game. He has only 35 carries for 150 yards this season. It is nice to have a quarterback like Robinson that can be such a weapon running the ball, but the value of having production from a back can't be ignored.
It gives yet another look to the defense, and it also wears them down.
Michigan will likely ride Toussaint to victory in this one, as keeping it in his hands will also help to limit turnovers. My prediction is a 24-14 win for the Wolverines.
They may creep back into the Top 25 on name recognition, but this team will still have a lot to prove.
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