Preview: Purdue 2010

Preview: Purdue 2010

Submitted by Brian on November 12th, 2010 at 12:51 PM

Other stuff: Mathlete preview. MGoFootball interviews Boiled Sports.

purdue1_webEssentials

WHAT Michigan at Purdue
WHERE Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN
WHEN Noon Eastern, November 13th 2010
THE LINE Michigan -13
TELEVISION Big Ten Network
WEATHER Mid-60s(!)
40% chance of rain

Run Offense vs. Purdue

At this point Michigan's rushing offense is what it is: ridiculous. Last week Denard Robinson had the worst day of his career (as a starter, anyway) on the ground and Michigan still put up 4.9 YPC against a team giving up more than a yard less than that against other opponents. With the longest run of the day Stephen Hopkins rumbling for 32 on an early zone stretch, Michigan's production was consistent and replicable across 53 carries. Michigan is 9th in rushing offense and in an exclusive club of teams averaging over six yards a carry. (The others: Nevada, Auburn, Oregon, and Nebraska. The spread is dead.) They are on pace to obliterate the best Michigan rushing offense of the past ten years.

On the other side of the ball, Purdue's run defense is surprisingly adept for a team coming off three consecutive bombings at the hands of ground-oriented opponents Ohio State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Boilers are 49th in raw yardage and 34th in YPC, though that latter number is heavily distorted by Purdue's ravenous appetite for sacks (sixth nationally). The Boilers in Big Ten games and against common opponent Notre Dame:

Opponent Carries Yards TD YPC
Notre Dame 33 163 1 4.9
Northwestern 37 101 2 2.7
Minnesota 23 100 0 4.3
OSU 45 202 3 4.5
Illinois 45 203 2 4.5
Wisconsin 36 187 2 5.2

Taking out the sacks makes a huge difference, revealing Purdue to be a thoroughly mediocre run defense that is going to give up four and a half yards a carry to just about everyone.

When I looked at Purdue's humiliating defeat to Toledo (I mean lol amirite who loses to Toledo?) in the bye week I paid scant attention to the Boilers defense, declaring it awful minus Ryan Kerrigan. I think I shorted at least one player in doing that: DT Kawaan Short is a consistent penetrator of the type that's given Michigan problems the last two weeks, albeit one who's probably not in the class of Ollie Ogbu or Corey Liuget. The rest of Purdue's defense is unremarkable; linebackers get their tackles shed, the other DT is a freshman, and the safeties don't leap out at you.

The one concerning bit is that Northwestern, the purest spread n shred on the list (though not very pure under Persa), got clunked. I'm not sure how much relevance that has, but it's a note of concern. Another strategy note: since Marve went down Purdue's moved to an Illinois-style offense with a lot of midline and inverted veer. Michigan tried those a few times against Illinois until Martez Wilson exchanged with another linebacker and baited Robinson into a two yard run, at which point they decided that throwing this new stuff up against the core competency of Illinois was not such a good idea. I'd bet on a similar fate for the newfangled tomorrow.

Key Matchup: David Molk versus Gaston. Last week Molk abused redshirt freshman Akeem Spence on a series of stretch plays. He now gets another freshman tackle, and one who probably isn't as good. Short can play but if Michigan can stretch the field away from him and get Gaston locked  behind Molk it's not going to matter and Michigan will have the usual cruise.

Pass Offense vs. Purdue

ryan-kerrigan

By far the best aspect of Purdue's team is their pass rush. As mentioned, they're sixth nationally in sacks acquired. Ryan Kerrigan leads the way with 7.5; Short has an impressive six from the interior. No one else has more than two but Purdue deploys an array of effective blitzes that have seen 11 players other than Short and Kerrigan register sacks.

Since Purdue's secondary depth chart doesn't look that much different than Michigan's (or at least didn't before the JT Floyd injury), you can explain probably 80% of Purdue's respectable pass defense numbers by pointing at the line. Unfortunately for the Boilers their efficiency numbers are what you'd expect for a secondary with one upperclass cornerback in the two deep, that a backup. They're 96th—i.e., essentially as bad as Michigan. Because NCAA stats are dumb they don't account for the sacks, but the numbers suggest that when you get a pass off it's likely to be complete and go a long way. Results:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards YPA TD Int
Notre Dame 26 19 205 7.9 1 0
Northwestern 41 30 305 7.4 0 0
Minnesota 45 20 214 4.8 2 2
OSU 25 19 305 12.2 4 2
Illinois 24 18 204 8.5 4 0
Wisconsin 19 13 130 6.8 1 1

For reference, the average YPA for a D-I team this year is 7.3. That's one good performance, a couple average-ish ones, two bad ones, and one debacle.

Michigan's now 14th in passer efficiency, mixing hilariously wide open touchdowns with a healthy dose of efficient chain-moving curls and a smattering of frustrating incompletions/interceptions on plays that could or should be hilariously wide open touchdowns. Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway are decent or slightly better Big Ten receivers, and infamous snake oil recipient Roy Roundtree just blew up the single-game Michigan receiving record. Denard Robinson has some accuracy issues and still reads defenses slowly from time to time but has completed a mindboggling leap to become the #11 passer in the country. Meanwhile, Michigan's line and the terror inspired by the possibility of a Robinson scramble sees Michigan tied for fourth nationally with just four sacks allowed.

This should be a good matchup for Michigan because their passing game manages to get big plays without exposing the quarterback to a lot of pressure. QB Lead Oh Noes is a quick pass that gets big chunks and general terror about Denard means that unless Michigan gets stuck in a passing down the defensive linemen are operating at a severe disadvantage when it comes to getting to the QB. The reason Denard never scrambles is because defenses are scared of getting out of position; if the big thing is getting passes off this is advantage Michigan.

Key Matchup: Denard versus His Mechanical Issues That This Guy Explains And Mean That He Leaves Balls Behind His Receivers Not Infrequently. The biggest issue with the offense right now is Denard not taking opportunities in the passing game. This is a little tiny bacteria of an issue compared to everything on defense but it's there.

Run Defense vs. Purdue

dan-dierking-vs-western-illinois

As mentioned, after Marve went down Purdue basically installed the Juice Williams offense, figuring that if Williams and his flippers where arms should go could survive in the Big Ten it must be a pretty good bet when you're down to third-string freshmen and worse. They run a lot of inverted veer and midline, with the quarterback picking up 10-15 carries a game. The rest go to gritty, heady Dan Dierking and a rotating cast of wide receivers, fullbacks, and even quarterbacks(!) with crushed fingers who can't pass. Nine players got carries against Illinois. Meanwhile, the offensive line moved a  6-6 guy to center and is starting a converted defensive tackle.

This rickety contraption wouldn't be street legal in Bangkok but Danny Hope's managed to eke a somewhat good running game out of it. You will yawn expansively at this given Michigan's numbers: they are 39th nationally at about 4.5 YPC. Okay, vast quantities of those yards came against Northwestern and Minnesota and Ohio State hit them over the head and Robinson and Dierking combined for 86 yards on 28 carries against Wisconsin. But still: 4.5 YPC in a car with wheels made of toothpaste. This is MacGuyver level coaching.

Such a mutable running game is difficult to get a grasp on but the Wisconsin game is most recent and provides a blueprint. Dierking will get 15-20 carries and will get about what his blocking gives him. Robinson will get another ten and do the same; he's not on the same level as the athletic Henry. Backups will get another ten carries, some of the end-around variety, and at the end of the day Purdue will have a lot of of zero to three yard carries and a few that break longer. These longer runs will likely be around 20 yards—there was one 60 yarder for Al-Terek McBurse against Illinois but Purdue lacks gamebreakers in a serious way.

Michigan's run defense is susceptible to breakdowns, especially on the edge, and will probably give Purdue a number of opportunities to break those long-ish runs. On the other hand, since Kenny Demens came into the starting lineup quick bursts into the interior of the defense have been few and far between—I can't actually think of any—and this should go like a slightly crappier version of the Wisconsin and Illinois games, where bursts give up yards here and there but there's a lot of third and medium.

Key Matchup: Cam Gordon and Jordan Kovacs containing the veer and any options that Purdue pulls out after seeing it work for Illinois. Keep them inside and Michigan should do well.

Pass Defense vs. Purdue

When Marve went down against Toledo, Purdue was forced to go with third-stringer Rob Henry, a redshirt freshman currently rocking a 51% completion rate and a 5.1 YPA reminiscent of Michigan's Sheridan/Threet combo in 2008. Then Ohio State crushed his finger, forcing the Boilers to peel the redshirt off true freshman Sean Robinson. Robinson is currently rocking a 47% completion rate and averaging an amazing 3.3 YPA. He's got 4 interceptions against two touchdowns. This is Purdue's 2010 season in a nutshell:

sean-robinson

That's fourth string freshman QB Robinson entering a mesh point with third string freshman QB Rob Henry in a real game. A Purdue blog looking for a season postmortem could do worse than just posting that picture.

Henry got some spot duty two weeks ago at Illinois, playing the first series despite not being able to throw and then featuring as an anti-wildcat by lining up next to Robinson as a running  back, but has not thrown a ball the last two weeks. His projected return was for tomorrow but the Purdue depth chart lists him behind Robinson and in an OR situation with redshirt freshman walk-on Skyler Titus. Robinson is expected to start.

You will note the total absence of Justin Siller from this conversation, which is because Siller is still not recovered from a high ankle sprain suffered earlier in the year:

"And we're still not sure where Siller or Rob Henry is at. They weren't able to go on Saturday, and that was only a couple of days ago. I don't know how much their status has changed since then. Both did a little bit on Saturday, but were a long way away from full speed."

You may surreptitiously high-five yourself about this even if it is gauche.

Compounding difficulties for Purdue is a similar ravaging of their receiver position. #1 Keith Smith has missed the entire year due to a knee injury. Siller, who was their second or third guy, is out. Freshman OJ Ross, who you may remember Michigan recruiting for a while last year, is out. That leaves Cortez Smith, now far and away the top downfield threat, Antavian Edison, and tight end Kyle Adams as the main threats. All are averaging around ten yards a catch save Adams, who is somehow managing six yards per. Some of these numbers in the Purdue passing game are amazing.

So. Michigan faces a true freshman quarterback down approximately his top three targets behind a mediocre line (45th in sacks allowed) and I've given you the stats and I know what you're thinking: you hate it when I point out that this upcoming passing attack is awful because then that passing attack goes B-A-N-A-N-A-S on Michigan's secondary and you're just watching it thinking "oh my God this is a walk-on or freshman oh my God." I'm sorry. I cannot change Sean Robinson's age or career YPA.

So… is this a team Michigan can post a respectable result against? And by respectable I mean "allow Robinson double his YPA"? If there's anyone on the schedule this is true for, it's Purdue. If. The Mathlete should have replaced this graph with a picture of a pillow fight:

pillow-fight

Yakety sax all around here.

Key Matchup: Um. What do you go with when the opposing QB is averaging 3.3 YPA? Tackling, I guess. Underneath tackling.

Special Teams

Purdue's return game is awful (105th punts, 112th kicks) and their punting mediocre (65th), so Michigan's array of confused and alarmed on special teams should be able to see them start some drives on or around their 20. As per usual, massive advantage opponent when it comes to field goals: Carson Wiggs is 10 of 14 on the year.

Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL

Intangibles

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this is the purdue running game

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Michigan turns Sean Robinson into Sean "P Diddy" Combs, and by that I mean a real quarterback for some reason.
  • Every Purdue drive starts in Michigan territory because Michigan starts hitting their kickoffs backwards.
  • Insane fate demons decree Michigan turnoverfest.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Taylor Lewan thunks Kerrigan a la Clayborn.
  • Purdue brings a guy into the box and Michigan gets the crazy open guys again.
  • Molk's matchup against that freshman DT goes like you might expect.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for Seriously This Time The Fourth String Quarterback Is Really Bad, Guys, Seriously, –1 for And Almost Literally Every Offensive Skill Position Starter Is Out, –1 for Purdue Secondary = Michigan Secondary, –1 Remember When We Lost To Toledo? Yeah, We Weren't Very Good Then, +1 for General Overconfidence Check, +1 for Turnover/Special Teams Facepunchin' Spectacular, –1 for But Purdue's Pretty Much The Same When It Comes To The Facepunchin', +1 for That Feeling In The Pit Of Your Stomach, You Know What I'm Talking About.)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 Constant Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Winning Season OMG, +1 for It Was Nice To Have A Week Where People Whined About A Victory And How It Shouldn't Save Rich Rodriguez's Job, Relatively Anyway, +1 for If We Lose To This M.A.S.H. Unit It Will Be Very Sad, +1 for Danny Hope Comeuppance Ahoy)

Loss will cause me to... resign myself to the end. Of Rich Rodriguez, people, not me.

Win will cause me to... OH MY GOD PETE FIUTAK THINKS WE'RE GOING TO THE INSIGHT BOWL YESSSSSSSSSS.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Vegas, statistics, and common opponent comparisons…

  • Michigan beats Notre Dame 28-24, Purdue loses 23-12
  • Michigan beats Illinois 67-65, Purdue loses 44-10

…all suggest a comfortable Michigan win. You're nervous, I'm nervous, everyone's waiting for the other shoe to flutter in the window and smack us in the face with a six-turnover day during which Lewan takes sixteen penalties and a disastrous chest bump sees all three Michigan quarterbacks tear ACLs.

But this is not reason! People! Set aside your paranoid fantasies, no matter how justified, and partake of a team that is somewhat hopeful because last week they were within a touchdown of Wisconsin late and only lost by three touchdowns. Even if their incredible passing YPA gets much better, there's no way Purdue can keep pace with Michigan's offense unless most of the aforementioned things happen.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Forcier enters the game by choice for a drive or two.
  • Lewan mostly shuts off Kerrigan if they match the two up, but gives up at least one ugly sack or holding call.
  • Robinson goes ham on the ground—150 more.
  • Michigan, 35-24.