“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
"The experience he has from last year is starting to show," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. "He’s making shots, and he made some gutsy plays against Portland. He’s got a confidence about him that he can get the job done."
Conference play has come, and Big Ten teams can safely retreat to their thunderdomes to clobber each other in peace, insulated from the braying mockery of the national media. There is still upheaval. Michigan has fallen apart. Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke have been confined to the Touliers Palace.
Note the 4 PM start time. A little strange, that one.
Run Offense vs Purdue
remember this guy?
Michigan is going to test out the new Lloydmanbearpigball offense they rolled out in the second half against Notre Dame in harsh conditions… maybe. Despite having Kawaan Short and Bruce Gaston last year, Michigan exploded for 339(!) rushing yards on 53 carries. Fitz Toussaint's 59-yard back-breaker was the highlight but even outside that, Toussaint had 111 yards on 19 carries. In the UFR I marveled at how terrible Purdue's defensive ends and how slow their linebackers were, cautioning anyone from giddiness:
You say long-term. Isn't this a post-bye week ability to insert more of the actual offense effective immediately?
Maybe, but I have my doubts about how well it will work against teams stouter than Purdue. I know the Boilers coped vaguely well with Illinois and Penn State. I just have no idea how they managed that. Purdue's run defense suuuuuuuuuuuucks.
They have two main issues: the defensive end who is not senior Gerald Gooden and their outside linebackers. Gooden was all right holding the edge, so Michigan ran away from him most of the day. This is because Purdue's other DE is terrible whether it's the starter or the backup. That guy got sealed all day:
That is Michigan's first play from scrimmage. Koger seals the playside DE and that's about it. When that guy isn't stringing the play to the sideline or taking out another blocker your pitch is 75% of the way to success. On this play the MLB taking a dumb angle upfield of the Koger block is the rest of it.
A year later they're 23rd in rushing defense and ceded just 97 yards on 29 carries to Notre Dame, the only BCS team they've played to date. Ace took a look at that game instead of FFFFing a nonexistent UMass game and came back impressed with Short:
Purdue exacerbated Notre Dame's interior rushing woes by selling out against the run, forcing Golson to beat them with his arm. Kawaan Short played an All-American-caliber game, holding his ground against double teams and blowing up plays whenever he faced a single blocker. He recorded four tackles and two sacks, both coming when he made a lone Irish interior lineman look silly with a quick move off the line. PROTIP: Do not block Kawaan Short with one person.
After Michigan had a similar outing against ND's rushing offense the viability of the Irish OL is in question… but so is the viability of Michigan's OL. They had a tough time with Nix and Tuitt and will be getting a couple of players of that caliber in their face Saturday.
The question for Purdue is: what about everyone surrounding those stars at DT? Ryan Russell was a huge problem last year as a redshirt freshman; this year he's got 4.5 TFLs and two sacks. Improvement or mirage?
The same goes for Will Lucas, currently Purdue's leading tackler as a true junior. He was the MLB mentioned above. He's entering his second year as a full time starter and should be expected to improve a great deal. When Michigan flees from Short—and they will flee from Short if Mike Kwiatkowski's inflated UFR number from the ND game is any indication—will the ends hold up and the linebackers show up? Not so much last year.
Key Matchup: Kwiatkowski, Funchess, Williams, and the tackles sealing those ends inside. That was deadly for the Boilers last year.
[Hit THE JUMP for tiny corners, standard Purdue offense.]
Pass Offense vs Purdue
Johnson picking off Denard last year.
Purdue has a couple of feisty, undersized cornerbacks that are alternately MAKING PLAYS and watching enormous dudes catch balls that are over their smurfing heads. Notre Dame went at the Purdue secondary by turning Tyler Eifert into an enormous wide receiver and lobbing up punts to him, which worked to the tune of 100 yards on four long catches. Michigan could try the same with Funchess or Gardner, and probably will since those are relatively safe ways to acquire big chunk yardage.
The outs and stuff are dangerous. Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen are both among the league's best guys at jumping routes and making routine short stuff hit the ground. Despite giving up a hundred-yard day to Eifert, Ace came away impressed with Johnson (though less so the rest of the secondary):
Boilermakers cornerback Josh Johnson played a phenomenal game despite being given the difficult task of matching up with Eifert one-on-one. He did as well as anyone could expect in that situation—most of Eifert's catches came against other defenders. Johnson also made the critical strip of Golson that led to Purdue's tying touchdown, showing great awareness to reach in and rip the ball out.
The rest of Purdue's defense was less impressive. Corner Ricardo Allen and nickel Frankie Williams can be picked on, especially by bigger receivers, and the linebackers struggled in coverage. They looked very susceptible over the middle—feel free to entertain thoughts of Devin Funchess running wild up the seam.
While the aggressiveness of Purdue's corners hypothetically makes them susceptible to getting hit over the top, Short and company make that a dangerous proposition. Purdue sacked ND five times, with a lot of that pressure coming straight up the middle.
Despite what looks like a lot of pieces that should make a solid run defense, Purdue has struggled to date. Golson had by far his best game against the Boilers, going 21 of 31 for 289 yards and a touchdown. Last week Marshall's Rakeem Cato was 45 of 68(!) for 439 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions. Two of those were pick-sixes by Allen and Johnson, on the other hand… while they give up yards you are playing with fire with the cornerbacks and Short.
The prescription for Michigan will be safety first after Denard's disastrous outing against the Irish. Running, max protection, and play action on pass-friendly downs are their goals. Trying to convert third and fifteen is asking for it. Michigan will bias stuff at the corners to fades and other such plays on which their size is more of a detriment than their agility is an asset; they'll try to work on that third corner and the linebackers. If Michigan is running well, this could be a day for Funchess to break out.
This is not likely to be a game in which you'll be screaming about taking what the D gives you on the edges, as Purdue can afford to have their corners near the LOS. The long-awaited short stuff edge marathon will have to wait.
Key Matchup: Denard versus cripplingly bad decisions. I mean, obviously. Secondary matchups between Short and the interior OL and Gallon/Gardner versus the outside corners.
Run Defense vs Purdue
meet Rakeem, Akeem, and Akeem. L to R: Mostert, Hunt, Shavers
Three of Purdue's four games have been against Eastern Kentucky (I-AA), Eastern Michigan (113th in total D), and Marshall (115th) in total D. So there's not a whole lot to go on other than the Notre Dame game.
That outing was not particularly productive. Suck out the sacks and Purdue averaged 4.3 YPC. No player acquired more than 37 yards, that from Akeem Shavers. Perhaps more worrying for the Purdue offense here was Shavers's output against Marshal: 25 carries for 73 yards. As a team, Purdue squeezed out 3.4 yards a pop with no run longer than 20 yards. That's bad! Ace didn't mention the Purdue running game in either FFFF for a reason.
Purdue did grind EMU into a fine paste… just like Ball State and Illinois State did. Even MSU beat up on the Eagle rush defense. Setting that aside along with the I-AA game leaves you with the distinct impression the Boilermakers are short on playmakers and second-level blocks.
On the other side of the ball, angels descended from the heavens to trumpet hosannas on every two to four yard Notre Dame run two weeks ago. Michigan's defensive tackles got into the backfield some and kept their linebackers clean; bounces were contained by Morgan and Ryan and Kovacs; the defense looked like it was not made of baling wire and spearmint bubble gum. Given the aforementioned weaknesses of the opponent, Michigan actually seems to have the advantage here.
Caveat: if M spends a lot of the game in their nickel package, like they did against UMass, they could get gashed a little. Roh and Black are less adept at not getting blown up by doubles.
Key Matchup: DTs versus doubles. If Michigan can keep their LBs clean it'll be another ho-hum game for the Purdue tailbacks.
Purdue's offense centers around getting the ball in space to a bunch of undersized but quick receivers, and their go-to is Antavian Edison, who leads the team with 285 yards and five touchdowns on 24 receptions; he's also carried the ball eight times this year, though managing only 17 yards. He's a quick slot-type and the recipient of a variety of screens and end-arounds.
You have stopped me. End preview!
Yeah, it's still Purdue. They throw Purdue passes to Purdue wide receivers and get Purdue YAC. Their quarterback is not Purdue Brees, he's more Purdue Kirsch. He's got legs, can pick up 15 yards if you blow an inverted veer, but can't really throw too well:
TerBush didn't have a great game when asked to throw downfield; most of his reads were simple, largely off play-action, and he still missed several receivers. While he only had one bad read (didn't see a waiting safety on a deep out for a near-pick), he had pretty significant accuracy issues, turfing a couple throws and badly overthrowing his tight end on a crossing route for an interception. He had a couple pinpoint throws on the run; for the most part, however, he isn't asked to do much beyond throw screens, and there's a reason for that.
TerBush was pulled against Notre Dame in the midst of an 8 for 19, 79 yard, 1 TD/2 INT day, and it was only a Robert Marve ACL injury—surprise!—that kept him the starter in the next two games. Purdue is making noises like Marve will give it a go this weekend; how effective he can be on a partially torn ligament in his knee is unknown. I'm skeptical the Boilers will turn to Marve unless desperate, which has a 50-50 shot of happening.
Tackling after the catch and showing up in the right zone will be keys for the Michigan secondary. Kovacs provides a security blanket. TerBush's isn't particularly accurate. Purdue can't run. That means there will be several situations in which Purdue is faced with long yardage and long odds to convert. It's hard to see a lot of grinding Purdue touchdown drives.
As for Michigan, pass rush is an issue. Frank Clark showed some promise in a couple games against low level competition before being shut down by Notre Dame, and Jake Ryan will occasionally get some pass rush. Other than that it's a Mattison blitz getting a free guy or nothing. Given this site's opinion of the ND OL—not good—matters don't project to look up this weekend.
The secondary has held together despite the loss of Blake Countess, turning in a good to great performance against the Irish. Raymon Taylor had an interception and gave up a long completion; other than that it was a bunch of nothing for Everett Golson and not much more for Tommy Rees. They seem in good shape versus the Purdue WR corps.
Key Matchup: Mattison zone blitz espectaculo versus TerBush's brain. The Okie package should make a major comeback as Purdue finds itself in third and medium plenty, and the Purdue offense is of the variety that is susceptible to guys dropping out into unexpected zones as an unblocked guy tears at the QB. Purdue can pick up some big chunks here and there by hitting the right dudes when Michigan loads up, as they'll have to—Michigan can get turnovers by winning the TerBush Brain Battle.
here's Purdue blocking an extra point to beat the fightin' Pryors
Purdue is mediocre all around here: 75th in net punting, 84th in punt returns, 61st in kick returns, in possession of two freshman kickers who have attempted one field goal in their careers, both makes. One of the freshman kickers boinked two extra points against EMU, thus losing his job to the other freshman kicker for Marshall. The other freshman kicker boinked an extra point.
Despite the meh punting number, junior Cody Webster is booming them at 44 yards a kick. Michigan will have some opportunities to get returns for a change.
As for Michigan, they're much the same. Zoltan 2.0 is booming kicks well beyond the capability of Michigan to cover them, so a 44 yard gross average deflates to 37 yards net. The kicker is consistent from within 45 but not a star. Punt returns do not exist.
The one slight edge may be to Dennis Norfleet at kick return. Michigan is hovering at 40th nationally, waiting for Norfleet to get that crease he's searching out on the regular.
Key Matchup: COVER THE PUNTS FERGODSAKES
danny hope also grows giant pumpkins
Denard's getting pressure.
Michigan can't seal the edges on runs like they did last year.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
The line continues its mashing performance from the second half of the ND game.
Michigan's running Denard play action on second and five.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; +1 for What If It Happens Again, The Turnover Explosion, +1 for They've Got A Really Big Drum You Guys, –1 for Stadium Atmosphere Not Intimidating, –1 for Run Game Should Be Win On Both Sides Of Ball, –1 for Is Denard Really A Worse Passer Than TerBush?, –1 for Coming Off Bye Chastened And Refocused)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Exhibition Season Is Ova!, +1 for We Can Win This Damn League, +1 for If We Win This Damn League We Can Still Look Back On Denard Without Having To Be Sad, +1 for We Cannot Win This Damn League If We Lose To Purdue, +1 for Win The Damn League)
Loss will cause me to... stare at the World's Largest Drum until it ignites into flame. I'm patient. It'll happen. Give it a decade.
Win will cause me to... wave, say "see you in Indy!"
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I usually stick by the trusty ol' Vegas line when I do these things but this one baffles me. I guess Denard creating all of the turnovers is the reason, and it's one you can't discount as a possibility until it doesn't happen for a couple games straight. –3 feels like an overreaction, though, when the opponent can't run much and probably can't throw much. You build in one real drive when Purdue gets Michigan confused, a big breakdown that always happens, and it's still hard to get the Boilers to 20 points.
Meanwhile, unless Purdue's rushing defense is just tons better than it was last year I don't see how Michigan doesn't rack up a ton of yards. Borges has gone back to the drawing board so we're probably good for the next few games on a Denard first, Fitz second offense that has tweaks to prevent rush defenses from RPS–1ing M all day. I defy you, Vegas!
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Purdue's total rushing yardage is under 120.
Michigan runs on 80% of first downs; Toussaint finally gets back to 20 carries.
It'll probably come down to their head-to-head game. They're the only two who have a shot, since Illinois and Indiana suck and OSU and PSU are ineligible. Wisconsin losing to Nebraska last weekend certainly helps Purdue, but if Purdue loses to us it will be back to square.
I have never seen this before, but I was rooting around the Comcast website and found live HD streaming of Big Ten Network? Has anyone seen and used that before? It appears to be working right now, showing some special while the regular scheduled field hockey game is on weather delay.
I'm a big M fan but I think we get upset tomorrow. I think it will be similar to last years Iowa game (which ironically I also predicted we'd lose and got flamed for it).. we'll go down early and make a late comback that will be too little too late... I expect average play for Michigan across the board. 27-24 Purdue
I went to the Purdue game in 2000! Henson played well until the 4th and then went flat. Purdue came back and won on a last second FG! In the stand from my angle it looked wide left but it must of gotten inside the goal post!
Hopefully, Michigan can pull this one away. Though I'm worried about a close game!
While West Lafayette has been a house of horrors, (Was that awful Drew Brees comeback at Purdue? I think it was. I literally swore in front of my parents for the first time that game), and this Purdue team is more frisky than in years past, I can't see how a defense with two good players and an offense possibly relying on a guy who has had 3 ACL tears will win.
It's definitely possible, but will take the following...
- Regression from the D-Line (or ND was a mirage)
- Denard Turnover Explosion Hour!
- Borges going all last year Sparty with his playcalling
31-21 with a late Purdue TD making it closer than it appears.