||Michigan vs Purdue
||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
||12:00 EST, November 6th, 2009
||Nationwide on BTN
||Sunny, dry, mid-50s
So, a bird dropped a baguette on the Large Hadron Collider, causing it to overheat. This is the thousandth thing that has gone wrong with the LHC in the past six months. A couple weeks ago some scientists suggested that the LHC could never be activated because the creation of a Higgs Boson—the thing the LHC strives to create—would not only destroy the universe but retroactively destroy the universe. Therefore the LHC's problems were an inevitable consequence of having a universe and that the universe would prevent the LHC from ever operating in order to protect itself. In effect, they argued that the Higgs boson was preventing itself from ever generating itself from the future. They were serious about this.
Theory: you can create the Higgs boson by combining three things: Rich Rodriguez, a Michigan windbreaker, and a bowl game.
Run Offense vs. Purdue
The issues that cropped up when David Molk got injured are likely to compound this weekend. Perry Dorrestein, who drew into the lineup when Molk went out, wasn't listed on the injury report this week but missed some time against Illinois with a back injury, and midweek his availability was in question:
“(His back problem) has been ongoing,” Rodriguez said. “He's been fighting it every week, and it flared up a little with him in last week's ballgame. He's been battling that the last couple weeks, really."
Patrick Omameh would replace Dorrestein if he can't go. Mark Huyge would kick out to tackle and Omameh would play RG. Omameh did okay in his first shot at playing time but is a redshirt freshman and a backup for a reason. That would probably ding the running game farther.
The Illinois stats are pretty ugly and the goal line stand that will live in infamy is the item that lingers in everyone's mind, but the running game has played a fair number of stiff defenses this year and done well; the Illinois game is an outlier. A scary, terrible outlier against a team that had been horrible against the run, but an outlier. Well, mostly an outlier: Michigan State also shut down Michigan's ground game. The running game was effective against Penn State and Iowa, however, and gets Brandon Minor back from his overwhelming ennui. Mike Shaw, who missed the Illinois game with a knee sprain, also returns.
Purdue, meanwhile, is a bad rush defense. They're 88th nationally and just finished having their head caved in by John Clay and a zillion other Badgers—Wisconsin ran for 266 yards on 53 carries. The week before, Mikel Leshoure ripped off a 65-yard run and Illinois picked up 180 yards on 37 carries. The week before that, Purdue totally annihilated Ohio State. Yeah, that doesn't make any sense. But over the course of the season Purdue has proven itself pretty terrible.
Obvious riposte: so had Illinois. The Illinois game shouldn't be weighted too heavily—losing Minor meant Brown was forced into a lot of sub-optimal situations and Michigan lost its most effective runner by far—but it must be weighted. Michigan now has three good rushing performances in the Big Ten (Indiana, Penn State, Iowa) but no great ones—the long stuff has disappeared since the Indiana game. They also have two bad ones.
Purdue blogs say they're extremely susceptible to up-the-middle pounding…
As boilerdowd noted to me, UM is not a rough and tough team. They're a little more finesse. And if they play that way, Purdue can own 'em. However, if they punch Purdue in the mouth early, like Northern Illinois and Wisconsin did, Purdue may run away whimpering like my dog when I get mad.
…and say that Michigan is not a team to pound you, which is weird but on the radio Monday I argued with a guy who thought the problem with Rich Rodriguez was that he didn't run the ball enough and that running "side to side" gets people hurt. People think things and retroactively come up with reasons for them.
If Minor's back and healthy and Omameh can slot in this should be an effective, if uninspiring, day on the ground, with Minor getting 100 yards on 20 or so carries and other people chipping in to get Michigan near 200.
Key Matchup: Brandon Minor versus His Overpowering Ennui. His ankle has been sprained since the 2007 Purdue game.
Pass Offense vs. Purdue
Purdue's got a good pass efficiency defense, which I do not understand as a thing that is possible but there it is: 25th nationally. Their pass defense is 34th. Some of that has to do with the run defense. Scott Tolzien attempted all of 13 passes last week, and Adam Weber's preposterous stat line from a 35-point output was 5 of 9 for 74 yards and two interceptions. Um.
On the other hand, Jimmy Clausen had what was probably his worst game of the year against Purdue:
There was some severe turf toe involved there, but Clausen would need one foot and half a hand to shred Michigan's secondary.
Purdue's also 25th in sacks, and Michigan's shuffling the offensive line again or playing a guy who was hurt and pretty poor against Illinois. This does not seem like a good matchup after Tate Forcier's last month of football and the problems the right side of the line's had in pass protection. Bonus negative: Martavious Odoms is definitely out for the second straight week. While Roy Roundtree had a nice day against Illinois, he lacks the quicks Odoms has on bubble screens and whatnot.
Forcier did have a nice day against Illinois but remains plagued with freshman inconsistencies and happy feet; this will be a secondary option given Purdue's apparent lack of run defense.
Key Matchup: This
UPDATE: …um, this nefangled offensive line pass protecting again.
Run Defense vs. Purdue
Purdue's Robert Bolden started the year off hot but as the competition has gotten better the Purdue run game has fallen off:
These numbers correspond well to the quality of the opponent rush defense, and are uniformly terrible except for the Illinois bludgeoning. Purdue's early cupcake indicators have given way to the reality that the rushing game can't move the ball at all against quality teams.
Michigan, all you are well aware, is not a quality team. They languish 85th in rushing defense after taking a hammering from Illinois last week; the week before that Penn State racked up a bit over four yards per carry. Michigan's main issues have been terrible linebacker and safety play that causes good work from the defensive line to go to waste, and Robert Bolden is a fast bugger if you screw up like that.
On the plus side, Michigan did do good-to-excellent jobs on the two rushing-deficient Big Ten teams they went up against before the last two debacles. Purdue is evidently a rushing-deficient Big Ten team. Illinois played straight into their weaknesses, too: confusion, inability to maintain their assignments, safeties who have religious proscriptions against containing Juice Williams. Purdue's got a pocket passer and an run game that isn't nearly as good at getting really fast guys in open space one-on-one with guys who might well be chasing someone who doesn't have the ball. The numbers should come down, with an error here and there springing Bolden for a long run or two between a lot of 0-2 yard runs.
Key Matchup: Mouton and Leach versus cutbacks. Obi Ezeh lost his job because he attacks wrong holes all the time and Mouton only has his because Michigan doesn't have many other options. The numbers suggest there will be a lot of fouled running plays that either get crushed or break long.
Pass Defense vs. Purdue
This is where you go "urgh we die" except that Purdue has been crazily inconsistent all year here and it may be a game where Boilermaker receivers drop a thousand passes, as they did against Wisconsin, and Joey Elliott calls them out after the game, as he did after a game earlier this year.
I mean… Jesus:
That makes Denard Robinson look like Tom Brady. But then there's the Ohio State game, in which Elliott was 31 of 50 for 281 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception against the #8 pass efficiency defense in the country.
Which is it? Against Michigan, the probably the latter. Purdue still loves the short dink-and-dunk offense that Tiller deployed so effectively in the early part of his term and Elliott has been moderately efficient running it, racking up a zillion attempts that aren't as accurate as you'd think—58% completion rate—but are as dinky: 6.7 YPA. Boiled Sports on the dinky:
One of the biggest problems that I have with the Elliott-led offense this season is their lack of a vertical passing game. Granted, the simple fact that Purdue's receivers aren't really burners plays into the equation, but, both Valentin and Carlos have gotten behind the defense on numerous occasions this season only to be missed.
Elliott's also had an issue with interceptions, with 11 against 14 touchdowns.
Michigan's got a couple of decent cornerbacks and then hellish confusion all over the field; Purdue is a team that can exploit Michigan's inability to cover anyone with a linebacker or safety with any of their equally mediocre wide receivers—four guys already have over twenty catches. They'll be open, they'll drop some balls to kill drives, they'll be less likely to hit a big play than teams with more explosion at the position, they'll probably still get a couple because Michigan's starting two walk-ons and they're clearly better options than some other guys who are starting.
Key Matchup: Safeties versus enormous long touchdowns. Purdue looks like it will stab itself in the foot often enough if forced to march down the field for Michigan to give up a non-huge amount of points. They also appear to be a team that doesn't have a ton of big-play ability in the passing game unless Michigan gives them the opportunity, which they probably will. Just tackling guys as they grab the ball will be a win.
Hey, Jason Olesnavage and Zoltan Mesko are pretty good. Purdue's guys are not. The Boilers are 104th in net punting, 91st in kickoff returns, and dead average at punt returns. Slight advantage Michigan, I'd say, except that Michigan returners have muffed two punts in the last three games against real competition and let a lot of other punts drop to the turf.
Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL
- Anyone from Purdue shoots into the backfield like Corey Liuget did.
- Purdue decides to catch stuff.
- Minor limps off again.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Purdue leaves the sanity at home.
- Forcier can get time in the pocket.
- Suddenly it's next year.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for We're Favored By Almost A Touchdown, +1 for Why Are We Favored?, –1 for Purdue Hasn't Won Since 1963 At Michigan Stadium, +1 for The Last Year And Half Has See A Lot Of "Since Impossibly Long Time Ago" Records Fall, +1 for they Spread And Throw At Our Weakness, +1 for And What The Hell Was That Last Week, –1 for Purdue Is Thinking The Same Thing).
Desperate need to win level: 9 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Bowl Game, Any Bowl Game, +1 for And Really If They Don't Win This Game It's Hard For Them To Not Go 5-7, +1 for And I Am Tired Of Talking People Off Ledges, +1 for Why I Am I Talking People Off The Ledge When I Want Them To Jump?)
Loss will cause me to... well, there's damn well going to be an otter picture, that's for sure.
Win will cause me to... start perusing arcane bowl rules in the hope that Michigan doesn't get dragged into the Alamo or something where someone will rain fury on them.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Does anyone get this line? I know the records are divergent but Purdue is outgaining opponents by 10 yards a game and hasn't played any I-AA opponents. Their nonconference schedule was two MAC schools, Oregon, and Notre Dame. Take away the Baby Seal U game and Michigan is getting outgained by 40 yards a game. I guess they've managed to be competitive until the last couple weeks, but despite Purdue's record I think they've proven themselves a better team over the course of the season. They could-have-should have beaten both Notre Dame and Oregon, they did beat Ohio State, and… well, they did lose to an eh MAC team. And just got crushed, but by Wisconsin, not Illinois.
Purdue's managed to get themselves crushed by making a crap-ton of stupid mistakes. They're turnover margin buddies with Michigan—M is 109, Purdue is 108. They've had punts blocked for touchdowns. They fumbled away the Oregon game. Etc etc etc. They're sort of a version of Michigan that's not quite as bad, despite the records.
I don't want to be over-reacting Straight Bangin' Award winner guy here, but I made a mistake before the Penn State game of not taking Michigan's yardage margins seriously and predicted a win despite Michigan getting seriously outgained in four previous attempts at BCS competition. That streak is now at six if you count Illinois as part of the BCS, which we have to and no one else does.
I mean, sure, Michigan can win if they stop making huge mistakes all the time, but why would that happen now? After the Iowa game you could say "oh, that's just an outlier"; now it's just life.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- 60+ yard Bolden touchdown.
- Shaw gets about as much time as Brown.
- Michigan is –1 in TO margin.
- Purdue, 30-28.