Coming off a bye week, you’d think No. 18 Michigan (6-1) would be feeling good as it hosts Purdue (4-3) at the Big House.
But with their 28-14 loss to Michigan State preceding the week off, coach Brady Hoke and company have a lot of improvements to make. And facing a Boilermakers team fresh off an impressive win over Illinois, Denard Robinson and the Wolverines won’t have it easy.
And with the Wolverines looking ahead to November matchups with Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State, earning a win at home will be necessary to stay in the hunt for the Big 10 title.
After two quarters, here are five things Michigan must do to stay in the game against the super tough Boilers:
1. Continue to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense
The Wolverines offensive line was absolutely annihilated two weeks ago against Michigan State. Saturday, they needed to bounce back in a big way. And they’ve looked solid so far. Between keeping the Boilermakers pass rushers off of wily quarterback Denard Robinson and opening up holes for Denard and tailbacks Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith, the line has performed admirably.
Michigan’s offense needs both that time and those holes to move the ball and score points in the second half.
2. Continue to mix it up on offense
They’ve used both their passing and running attacks, they’ve run inside then passed outside, they’ve used different tailbacks, they’ve gotten Devin Gardner into the mix and lined up Denard Robinson on the flank, they’ve run the option and they’ve tried a halfback throw with Vincent Smith.
Al Borges and his offense are utilizing lots of misdirection and trick-ish plays, many of which have been successful.
It’s clear that they’re confusing the Purdue defense, so the more they can mix it up and continue to move the ball, the more likely they are to maintain control in the second half. But...
3. Don’t give the ball away
It’s great to have an unpredictable, interesting offense. It’s not so great when each of your young quarterbacks has an interception.
Michigan needs to keep the Purdue defense on its toes, but it needs to be responsible with the ball. Throwing deep is great, but doing it on two consecutive plays is a bit less than responsible.
Similarly, Denard Robinson, Vincent Smith and company need to hold on to the ball when they run their options, the wildcat and other trick plays.
4. Keep Denard Robinson comfortable in the pocket
When Denard steps into his throws, he’s—dare I say—accurate with his arm! So, the more Michigan’s offensive line can keep its quarterback’s nose clean as he scans the field for his receivers, the more likely he’s going to be able to hit them and help the team move the ball through the air.
When Denard feels pressure and has to make tough throws down the field, he’s considerably less than accurate. Those situations are precisely what the Wolverines need to avoid in the second half.
5. Pressure Caleb TerBush
Purdue quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve have shown the ability to move the ball when they have time and freedom to do it. See the first drive of the game that resulted in a 48-yard TD pass from TerBush to Gary Bush.
To counteract that, Michigan must put pressure on the Boilermakers signal-callers. Early in the second quarter, Mike Martin sacked TerBush for the Wolverines’ first safety since 2003. He’s been far less comfortable and far less accurate when Michigan defenders are in his face. That pressure must continue to keep Purdue off the scoreboard in the second half.