The end of another long week brings another opportunity for Michigan to record their third win of what is quickly turning into the worst season in the history of Michigan football. Saturday the Wolverines travel to West Lafayette to take on the equally disappointing Purdue Boilermakers. Both teams stand at 2-6, but Michigan is actually looking down at Purdue in the Big Ten standing as Purdue as zero conference wins.
News out of Purdue indicates that Curtis Painter, Purdue’s senior QB, may not play in the game. Painter separated his right throwing shoulder and saw limited playing time last week against Minnesota. Of course this wouldn’t be a big deal since this is Purdue and they grow QBs like Ohio State grows running backs. However, back up QB Joey Elliott was lost for the season against Northwestern with a shoulder injury as well. This leaves Purdue with one healthy QB, redshirt freshmen Justin Siller, who head coach Joe Tiller planned on playing as a running back.
Michigan has always seemed to have Tiller’s number, as former coach Lloyd Carr dominated the series. Usually these games were high scoring affairs for the maize and blue while the defense shut down Purdue’s aerial attack. The scoreboard operator better bring something to do during the game as these two teams rank dead last in scoring in the Big Ten. So are we in for a defensive struggle? Well, UM ranks 10th in scoring defense and Purdue 8th in conference, and as we have seen any 5 yard slant play can turn into an 80 yard touchdown against Michigan.
Traditionally Michigan has shut down Purdue’s offense by simply overpowering them at the line of scrimmage. You look at the front four of Michigan with Graham, Johnson, Taylor, and Jamison and you wonder how in the world this defense gives up 126 yards a game on the ground. Kory Sheets averages 100 yards a game for Purdue and if he can crack the Michigan defense this game will probably look like all of the games Michigan has played thus far. Michigan should be blitzing on almost every down in this game. It is no secret Purdue lives and dies with the pass, and they are either going to be playing a beat up QB, or a backup who was supposed to be playing running back this season. Whoever is taking snaps for Purdue should be seeing winged helmets in their sleep come Saturday night, that’s how much Michigan should blitz tomorrow.
Michigan’s defensive front four is the strength of the entire team, which means there is no excuse for running the three down linemen. Ever. How many times do we need to see Michigan give up a first down on a 3rd and long because they are rushing three and dropping eight? If you give a Purdue QB time in the pocket, I don’t care who it is, they are going to find wide receivers open down field, especially when they are matched up with Michigan linebackers. Michigan’s line must pressure the QB into making quick decisions and not allow time for Purdue’s receivers to get down field. If they do get time, I have visions of 400 yards passing for the Boilers.
What can you say about Michigan on offense? They are the worst in total offense, only producing 286 yards a game (remember when Henne used to throw for this in a game?), and only produce 18 points a game (remember when Edwards used to score this in a game?). The offense starts and ends with Brandon Minor. He must have the biggest game of his career in order for Michigan to stand a chance Saturday. Minor had a great first half against Penn State where most of his yards came between the tackles. Minor is not the kind of back to get to the corner and turn in up field. He is a down hill runner. He is going to lower his shoulder and run you over-go ask the Penn State safety how that felt. The offense line was also able to open holes up the middle during that game, go back to it. It is clear that the sweep plays are leaving you in 2nd and 3rd and longs, and this offense simply cannot overcome those situations. A more traditional I formation with Mark Moundros would help, as would using a tight end. This adds another man on the line to block and is a big target in the passing game.
Steven Threet is not suited to run the spread-option, he just does not have the speed to run it efficiently. However, the kid has gone out every Saturday, battled through injuries, and has given it his all each time he has taken the field. He needs to get some help from the coaches when it comes to play calling. All season long it seems Michigan has two pass plays, it is either a pass under five yards, or a 40 yard bomb down field. There has hardly been any passes in-between. Run some 15-25 yard routes, and use the middle of the field. Every route Michigan has run has been short and to the outside, you must make the defense cover more field than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
This season has not been the feel good farewell tour Tiller anticipated. That can change with a victory over Michigan, something he has struggled to do during his time at Purdue. Michigan on the other hand is trying to avoid breaking the 33 year bowl streak and 41 year streak with out a losing season. In order to pull that off Michigan must win out and hope the Big Ten does not have enough teams with 7 wins. Never mind the fact that Michigan ends with that game in Columbus. However, you have to start some where right? Why not Saturday and keep those streaks on life support. If Michigan drops this game the only thing they have to look forward to is a near impossible upset of the Buckeyes in three weeks.
I want to take Michigan here, but I think the Boilers will come out with the old, “win one for the coach” mentality. Ross Ade Stadium isn’t a tough place to play, but I have not seen anything out of this Michigan offense to make me believe that are going to put up points on the scoreboard.