Today in West Lafayette, Indiana, it seemed as if glimmers of years past were shining through for Michigan amid a rainy Midwest Saturday, as the Wolverines beat the Purdue Boilermakers 27-16 at Ross-Ade Stadium, improving to 7-3 on the season and dropping Purdue to 4-6.
The Michigan defense only allowed 16 points all day, including zero in the fourth quarter as Big Blue overcame early mistakes to improve to 3-3 in Big Ten play heading in to the final two games of the season. What can we take from this game? Let's break things down:
Defense Can and Will Play Four Quarters
In a year in which players and coaches alike have been criticized for bringing a woefully inadequate defense onto the field, it appears that the defensive unit finally had a solid game. Despite a young secondary, the Wolverines managed to hold Purdue to only 11 first downs (compared to 21 for Michigan), and 2-for-16 on third down efficiency (compared to 7-for-17 for the Wolverines).
Purdue failed to find a quarterback who could consistently break through the Michigan defense, switching back and forth between Sean Robinson and Rob Henry throughout the game. The defense also did not give up a single Purdue touchdown, and held the Boilermakers quarterbacks to 14-for-29 with two interceptions and three lost fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown by safety Cameron Gordon.
In a game plagued by inclement weather, the defense showed that although they are still young and mistake-prone, they have the ability to play a solid 60 minutes and take pressure off the offense.
Double Trouble at Quarterback
Despite putting up 27 points and winning solidly, the offense struggled at times, especially after going up 14-0 in the first quarter and failing to score again until the third quarter. Although Denard Robinson played much of the game, Tate Forcier got quite a few minutes in the second half. After the defensive touchdown, Robinson led the Wolverines downfield, and capped a 4:50 drive with a touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree to put Michigan up 14-0.
After that, however, the offense appeared sluggish and sloppy, with Robinson throwing two interceptions and failing to engineer a scoring drive until the third quarter. Robinson also lost three fumbles, two by himself, and one on a 4th-and-one handoff to Stephen Hopkins.
With Forcier taking over late in the third quarter and for much of the fourth, the game was kept on the ground, leading to a late rushing touchdown for Hopkins. Forcier did a good job of running the offense efficiently late in the game, keeping the ball away from the Boilermakers for long periods of time and finally engineering an insurance touchdown to put the Wolverines up by 11.
Based on today, I would definitely like to see Robinson and Forcier continue to share QB duties for the final two games. A combination of their skills could give Wisconsin and Ohio State unique challenges, and could put Michigan in a position to gain an upset win or two (I realize it's a stretch, but you never know).
Michigan would end up throwing for 193 yards on 14-for25 pass attempts and rushing for 202 total yards, besting Purdue on both fronts (14-for-29 for 113 passing yards, and 131 rushing yards). The Wolverines played an overall better game today, with an offense capable of scoring when necessary and a far more solid defense that held its opponent only 16 points (second-lowest allowed on the season, after the 10 points allowed against UConn on September 4).
Michigan definitely showed that they can lock down an offense, even in poor conditions. If the Wolverines can continue to play with toughness and intensity on both sides, a bright future may very well be ahead for this team, at the Big House and beyond.
Let's Go Blue!