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10 Things We Learned from the Michigan Wolverines' Win vs. Purdue

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIOctober 6, 2012

10 Things We Learned from the Michigan Wolverines' Win vs. Purdue

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    Skeptics had reason to doubt the Michigan Wolverines after the first four games of the 2012 college football season.

    But after Saturday's 44-13 win over the Purdue Boilermakers, the Wolverines (3-2) gave reason for skeptics to slow down with the criticism.

    The Wolverines fell out of the AP Top 25 after a 13-6 loss two weeks ago to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Quarterback Denard Robinson committed five turnovers—four interceptions and a fumble—and was lambasted by college football pundits.

    Well, the Wolverines and Robinson responded loud and clear. With their backs to the wall, winning their Big Ten opener against Purdue was the only way the Wolverines could somewhat silence their naysayers.

    They did just that.

    And more.

    Robinson had arguably his best all-around game of the season, and the Michigan defense held Purdue—the Big Ten's second-highest scoring team (42.5 points)—to a minimum.

    And it was at the Boilers' place, which makes the win all the more significant for Michigan, which could see itself back in the Top 25 this upcoming week.

    What did we learn from Saturday's game?

    We learned not to count out the Wolverines, at least not yet. They are still in the mix for a Big Ten title.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Denard Robinson Is More Than a Great Runner

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    Denard Robinson has never been known for his arm—a point that's burned into our psyche each and every week.

    OK. We get it. He's no John Elway.

    But during Saturday's 44-13 win over Purdue, Robinson showed incredible poise in the pocket, dissecting the Boilers secondary with on-the-mark throws that had velocity and balance.

    And those throws weren't just on target, they were bullets. Robinson showed that he could step up in the pocket, use his legs and deliver a dart. He looked like a "real" quarterback against Purdue.

    "He's our quarterback, and he's a damn good quarterback," Hoke said earlier this week. "We're very comfortable and very confident in him (making progress)."

    Robinson was accurate Saturday, despite completing only 50 percent of his throws (8-for-16). That may sound like contradictory statement, but take this into account: out of his eight incomplete passes, four were drops. The other four incompletions were near the mark, but Purdue defenders knocked Michigan receivers out of position.

    "Shoelace" finished the day with 108 passing yards, but his ground game saved Michigan from losing to the Boilers. He had 235 yards from 24 carries, including a 59-yarder. Robinson became Michigan's fifth-leading rusher and set a Big Ten record for quarterback rushing yards.

    Not a bad Saturday for a guy who had the worst game of his career just two weeks ago.

Michigan's Defense Can Answer the Call

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    The Michigan defense wasn't horrific against Notre Dame, but it bent and broke during important junctures in the 13-6 loss to the Irish.

    Purdue entered Saturday with the Big Ten's second-rated scoring offense (42.5 points) and fourth-ranked total offense (463 yards). The Boilers had the No. 2 passing offense in the league and a conference-best 58.5 percent third down conversion rate.

    Not to mention the fact that Purdue averaged 29 first-half points this season and scored at least 48 points thrice in 2012.

    Michigan didn't get that memo.

    The Wolverines shut down the Boilers, allowing just 14 points and 213 yards of total offense. The Boilers were 1-for-11 on third downs.

    That's how a team like Michigan needed to bounce back from an agonizing performance two weeks ago.

    "We just played Michigan football," Denard Robinson told a Big Ten Network reporter after Saturday's game.

    Fair enough.

Thomas Rawls Needs More Carries

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    Sophomore Thomas Rawls hasn't had the start to 2012 that he was probably looking for.

    The Wolverines' running game hasn't been effective, and Fitzgerald Toussaint has been relied upon to do most of the work.

    We'll get to Toussaint later, but for now let's focus on Rawls, a 5'10", 218-pound Flint native with an affinity for knocking linebackers cold, leaving defenders in pain and taking names in the process.

    Rawls saw action via mop-up duty Saturday during Michigan's 44-13 win over Purdue and put the finishing touches on the victory with a seven-yard touchdown romp late in the fourth quarter.

    He didn't impress against Alabama, nor has he really looked as good as most expected—especially after having an impressive spring game.

    But don't lose faith in the kid from Flint. Rawls is the ideal back for the Michigan system; he'll be used more as the season goes on, that you can bet.

Fitzgerald Toussaint Had the Game He Needed to Boost Confidence

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    Rushing for 19 yards on 17 carries isn't impressive.

    However, scoring two touchdowns to give a team an early choke hold during a road game is.

    Fitzgerald Toussaint's pair of early scores helped the Wolverines jump out to a commanding lead en route to defeating the Purdue Boilermakers.

    He's had better games this season, obviously, but scoring two touchdowns in Michigan's Big Ten opener has to be a confidence booster.

    Michigan's running game needs a shot in the arm. If Toussaint and Thomas Rawls can get on some type of roll, the Wolverines will be in good shape during the ground-and-pound conference season.

Devin Gardner Might Just Be the Playmaker He's Supposed to Be

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    Devin Gardner was supposed to be more than a fill-in option at wide receiver for the Michigan Wolverines, he was supposed to be a big-bodied target capable of making plays.

    He's scored a touchdown in all but one game this season (13-6 loss to Notre Dame), including a 23-yard score Saturday during Michigan's win over Purdue, but Gardner hasn't really dazzled onlookers.

    While running a slant route, Gardner leaped to grab a pass from Denard Robinson, giving Michigan a 27-3 advantage over the host Boilers. The way Gardner caught the ball should have reminded Wolverines followers why they were excited to see him move to receiver (it was an acrobatic grab, yes, but he maintained possession while taking a hard hit from a defender).

    The Michigan offense looked like a well-oiled machine Saturday. The more confidence players like Gardner develop, the more difficult it will be for opponents to stop Michigan from scoring.

Did We See the "Real" Purdue?

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    It's hard to believe that a team on the uptick like Purdue could be embarrassed the way it was Saturday.

    Michigan waltzed into West Lafayette, perceived as the underdog, and literally ate off the Boilers' plate for 60 minutes.

    Did we see the "real" Purdue?

    Michigan certainly looked less of a contender and more pretender early on this season, but for it to go to Purdue and wax the Boilers 44-13 created reason to reevaluate both programs.

    Purdue didn't get to 3-1 by luck. If not for a 20-17 loss to Notre Dame, the Boilers would have been unbeaten entering their duel with the Wolverines.

    Sadly, though, it was evident on Saturday that Purdue was so highly-touted because of a close call with the Irish and blowout wins over lesser-quality opponents.

    Perhaps last week's 51-41 win over Marshall should have been enough warning that Purdue may have been a bit overrated. The Boilers simply beat the teams put in front of them, but meeting a quality opponent in a conference opener showed that they're not yet at the level some pundits claimed they were.

Purdue's Stats Didn't Intimidate Wolverines

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    You surely heard about Purdue's high-flying offense.

    You surely took note of the fact that the Boilers had the second-rated scoring offense in the Big Ten.

    Purdue scored 48 points or more three times this season, but the Michigan Wolverines didn't let that intimidate them during Saturday's victory at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. 

    Purdue managed just 213 yards of offense and converted 1-of-11 third-down attempts. Compared to their resume, the Boilers failed miserably in that department. They came into Saturday with a 58.5 percent success rate.

    Ouch.

    How much worse could it have been for Purdue?

    A little.

    The Boilers averaged 23 first downs per game, but earned just 15 Saturday. Eight less. Eight less first downs! Imagine what Purdue could have done with extra sets of downs.

    Michigan dictated the tempo while moving the ball at will.

    Purdue seemed grateful to just have the ball.

Raymon Taylor Is Worthy of Starting Job

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    On Saturday, big plays were the theme for Michigan.

    One of those big plays came from sophomore Raymon Taylor, who was "thrown into the fire" this week by the Wolverines coaching staff.

    Questions about Taylor's ability arose; he answered them, proving to be at least an adequate replacement at cornerback for the injured Blake Countess. Taylor's pick-6 put Michigan up 20-0 on Purdue, and was essentially the back-breaking play that led to a resounding win.

    I've used this quote in previous posts, but it's a great statement from Taylor, who wasn't fazed by the challenge presented to him by coaches.

    "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."

    Scared?

    Nope.

    Did he play hard?

    Yes, he did.

    Taylor was one of the reasons why Purdue receivers couldn't make headway. O.J. Ross led the Boilers with eight catches (46 yards) and accounted for their only touchdown. Michigan's secondary absolutely shut down Purdue.

    Taylor had his "coming out" game, too. It was a win-win for the sophomore.

Brady Hoke Has to Be Happy

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    Brady Hoke is happy.

    There is no need to cite a quote from a radio show or conference call. He's thrilled that Michigan won its Big Ten opener. Believe it.

    Michigan hadn't lost a Big Ten season-opener since 2005 when it fell to Wisconsin, 23-20.

    After starting 2-2 this year, it's safe to say that Hoke looked at Purdue as a must-win.

    Earlier this week, Hoke cited turnovers as part of Michigan's problems. Giveaways on Saturday would surely do in the Wolverines, who entered their game at Purdue with a -7 turnover margin.

    Michigan turned the ball over once, and Hoke wasn't happy during his halftime interview, calling it a "stupid play."

    But rest assured that Hoke simmered down a bit after watching his defense continue its dominance in the second half.

    The offense was reliable and efficient, too.

    That makes for a happy coach.

Illinois Illini Are in Trouble Next Week

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    Let's keep this short and sweet, shall we?

    After being bullied in a 34-13 loss Saturday to the Wisconsin Badgers, the Illini are in for a pounding when they face the Wolverines.

    Illinois had the ball three minutes longer than Wisconsin did on Saturday and mustered a meager 284 yards of total offense.

    That type of effort won't beat Michigan. And this Saturday's game won't be a high scoring shootout like it was in 2010 when Michigan won a triple-overtime thriller, 67-65.

    We'll get to that later this week, though.

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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