Preview: Purdue 2017

Submitted by Brian on September 22nd, 2017 at 2:06 PM


WHAT Michigan (3-0) vs            
WHERE Ross-Ade Stadium, 
West Lafayette, IN
WHEN 4 Eastern
September 23th, 2017
TICKETS From $58
WEATHER high 80s, sunny
0% chance of rain


I have an aunt who works at Western Kentucky, and most years we go down there for Christmas. As a result I've seen a lot of WKU bowl games, which are odd things in odd places. You may remember this from the CMU-WKU Bahamas Bowl:

It is entirely appropriate that there are a dozen stand-alone versions of this on the tubes, all jankily recorded on someone's phone. WKU football is a trip. Most of the time it feels more like tennis than football: each defensive series is an opportunity to break serve as the score inevitably rises into the 40s and 50s. Coach Jeff Brohm never really left the XFL.

Anyway, now that guy is at Purdue and they're beating Mizzou 35-3. Good hire? Good hire. Enough to take down a vastly more talented foe in year one? We'll see.

At the very least they've taken this spread down, from –22 to the –10 you see above. This has moved the needle on the win-loss a fair bit. Bill Connelly's fancystats—which still appropriately build in a lot of preseason expectations—still have it Michigan –18, which is an 85% shot at victory. 85% feels pretty wobbly for a team that entered the season expecting this game to be a walkover.

Run Offense vs Purdue


McCollum followed Brohm to Purdue

No matter how good Brohm is it defies belief that he, an offensive guy, can overturn Purdue's horrendous run defense in a matter of months. Last year the Boilermakers were amongst the very worst in the country, finishing 123rd in S&P+. And that was with Jake Replogle, PFF fave-rave and projected fifth-round pick*, anchoring the interior. The coaching upgrade counts for something—maybe a lot—but not enough for Purdue to aspire to anything more than, say, 80th, when the dust settles.

The cavalry has not yet come. The swarm of grad and JUCO transfers Purdue brought in (11 in all) barely touches the front seven. WKU grad transfer LB TJ McCollum (65 tackles and 4 TFLs last year) is starting. The rest of the front seven are last year's guys, or guys who couldn't beat out the departed contributors. This should still be a disaster zone.

Results this year have nonetheless been an improvement. Louisville rushed Lamar Jackson 21 times and their running backs just 11 en route to 4.6 YPC. Missouri averaged just 2.9 YPC. Louisville's OL may be horrendous, Ohio did some work (4.9 YPC, is a MAC team), and Mizzou is a dead thing, so the jury is still very much out. You could say the same thing about Michigan's ground game, though.

One thing working in Purdue's favor are some Big Boys. Starting ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley is listed at 260 and plays like the brick you'd expect him to be, and if NT Lorenzo Neal is in the game Purdue can field a four-man line that goes 325-295-280-255, ie: an average-to-largeish DL. They generally stick with three down linemen because Neal is a true sophomore and "uninspiring space eater," per Ace—if forced into heavier duty he might be a guy who fades out due to a lack of conditioning.

Still, Purdue might be surprisingly equipped to go toe to toe with a manball offense. Ace was impressed with Bentley:

At 6'2", 260, MIKE Ja'Whaun Bentley looks like a defensive end at first glance, and he brings the wood against the run. He had seven TFLs last year despite missing three games to injury; so far this season he leads the team in tackles and has recorded two TFLs, five run stuffs, and two forced fumbles.

While he's not the most nimble athlete, which shows up when he drops into zone coverage, he diagnoses plays quickly and takes good angles to the ball—he always seems to end up in the pile. His goal line forced fumble against Louisville was a thing of beauty; watch #4 read the play in an instant, get to the hole with leverage, and stop the back cold in his tracks while knocking the ball free:

He's the best of a solid group of linebackers despite some issues in coverage. With Bentley's size, strengths, and weaknesses, the comparison to Mike McCray is pretty tight.

They have not seen one yet, and here Michigan has an advantage since they have gone up against consecutive 3-4s. They will seek to polish some rough spots down.

It doesn't help Purdue that both of their ILBs are dinged up. McCollum has a hamstring issue; Bentley injury is undisclosed but Brohm did tell reporters that he missed some practice this week. Freshmen are potential replacements if either can't go. Brohm also suggested he might bump an OLB inside and run the 280-pound Robinson as an OLB. That means "play a 4-3" even if one of the DEs is standing up. The potential downgrade there sounds rather steep.

Whatever happens, it's likely to happen across the line of scrimmage. Purdue has just 1.5 non-sack TFLs. That is welcome news for Michigan and its tendency to get in second and forever. Faced with stunts and slants the OL has not yet picked up but capable of busting any particular carry into the open field, Michigan has been a boom or bust rushing offense facing boom or bust defenses. Purdue should be a less chaotic affair as the Boilers seek to bend but not break. Louisville, the only semi-functional rushing offense they've faced so far, had an above-average number of line yards (3.2 vs an average of 2.9) but couldn't pick up much of anything in the way of chunk plays. Ohio had a similar story.

*[Replogle missed three games last year with a head injury and decided to forgo an NFL career as a result. Thus "projected."]

KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN OFFENSIVE LINEMEN vs TWISTS, STUNTS, AND BLITZES. Purdue will throw whatever they've got at Michigan in this department. For them that's going to be an extra linebacker, maybe two, as they try to keep things from breaking big. That still gives them a lot of opportunity to re-gap their DL and hope an inexperienced OL follows them. This is the rushing offense's key matchup until further notice.


Pass Offense vs Purdue


Jallow is new to Purdue [Journal-Courier]

This should be welcome relief to the offensive line. Purdue has just one sack this year and is generally content to sit back and zone, per Ace—though it should be noted that "sit back and zone" is almost everyone's response to Lamar Jackson. Purdue doesn't have a standout pass rusher and isn't an Air Force-style attack defense; Speight should find more time than he has so far this year. Hopefully that will allow him to settle in and start confidently reading.

Here too one wonders how much progress Brohm can make in one offseason. Purdue was a triple-digit pass D a year ago(109th). Wake Forest grad transfer Josh Okonye and JUCO TJ Jallow, a "Last Chance U" alum, step into starting roles. That would be an alarm-bell situation for a defense that had expectations. Jallow, a cornerback, was thrust into the starting free safety role despite only arriving on campus this fall. Okonye was a part-timer at Wake Forest—which actually had a decent defense last year—but it's telling that he decided to move despite two starting spots opening through graduation. Wayne Lyons comes to mind.

Results to date:

  • Louisville: 30/46, 378 yards, 8.2 YPA
  • Ohio: 17/29, 223 yards, 7.2 YPA, 1 sack
  • Mizzou: 12/28, 133 yards, 2 INT, 4.8 YPA

Assuming that Mizzou is in a tailspin of suck, that looks pretty tractable. Ace's FFFF has a ton of zone featuring late-arriving safeties and linebackers taking iffy drops. This should be a game for chunk plays from the tight ends and Perry.

Or it could be another goon-fest. Michigan has been allergic to throws over the middle like Lloyd Carr's running the show. The extant TE hits have been mesh or Y-cross stuff where the target is exiting the space between the hashes. Slants have been nonexistent, and stick routes or hitches between the hashes equally absent. This might be a Pep Hamilton thing—I can't think it's an INT issue since Michigan has a returning starter who threw just seven all of last year. I don't know; I don't get it. Hopefully it's just an anomaly and Michigan starts hitting these things against a 260-pound MLB and a WKU transfer.

KEY MATCHUP: WELL, A LOT OF THINGS vs NOT GOING VERY WELL. WRs, Speight, blitz pickups: all of these have been suboptimal. I guess we'll axe the pickups since Purdue is less aggressive than previous opponents, so Speight and the WRs—any WRs getting on the same page would be lovely. At some point Perry has to have a 10-catch game.

Run Defense vs Purdue


Tario is the long lost brother of Mario and Wario

Don't be fooled by all the whiz-bang. This is not an old-style Tiller Purdue offense where the running game is a sideshow. Last year WKU was 13th in rushing S&P+ and 1st in success rate; primary back Antony Wales averaged 6.8 YPC on 237 carries. His backup had 7.3 YPC on 99 carries. The Hilltoppers got after it on the ground.

Early returns at Purdue are middling, and even that is likely to be ephemeral. Tario Fuller, the main tailback, ripped Ohio for 142 yards on just 16 carries and had 90 on 19 against Mizzou. On the other hand, Purdue ran just 16 times against 57 passes in the Louisville game as they assumed they could not block the UL defensive line. They were correct. Despite the surprise nature of every run they couldn't crack 4 YPC.

This game is going to be like that Louisville game, only moreso. Purdue cannot hide their OL deficiencies on the ground, and they were miserably bad last year in every possible rushing stat. A productive day against a MAC school is progress; it doesn't have much bearing on what happens when Devin Bush, Mo Hurst, Chase Winovich, and Rashan Gary come to town.

Fuller's not bad, though. He's a lot like Karan Higdon, a tough, low-to-the-ground runner whose lack of size doesn't mean he can't grind out some yards after contact. He was little-used as a freshman a year ago, so these are our first looks at his ability.

This is probably more of a problem for the Boiler passing game than the ground game but this section comes first so: left tackle Grant Hermanns is questionable with a "sore knee"; Brohm says he's hopeful Hermanns will play. Hermanns already comes with a teal circle on the FFFF chart; if he's not 100% that matchup will go even worse than it originally projected to.

Brohm will eventually get this up and going and have a complete offense. It won't be this weekend.

KEY MATCHUP: MIKE MCCRAY wsg CHASE WINOVICH vs INEVITABLE EDGE STUFF. Cincinnati got some chunks when Michigan got edged, either by Winovich forming up to contain the QB when he was no longer the guy to contain, or the usual thing where McCray gets outrun to the edge. Fuller isn't the best guy to try this—he is no Ty Johnson—but it's the clear, and only, clear weakness in Michigan's run defense.

Pass Defense vs Purdue

November 7, 2015: Purdue University quarterback David Blough (11) during a NCAA football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Blough! Blough! Blough!

Well, here it is. Brohm is an Air Raid guy and his WKU teams lit it up. He's revived David Blough's career; he also pulls Blough in every game for Elijah Sindelar. Both are bad! Both are making it work because Brohm's offense, per Ace, is a terror:

Brohm's spread features a dizzying array of run-pass options, motion, misdirection, and straight-up gadget plays. They've managed to be good despite fielding two unreliable quarterbacks throwing to wideouts who, with one notable exception, can't seem to hang onto the ball.

Expect the kitchen sink as Brohm tries to take advantage of a vulnerable titan. Michigan demonstrated last week that they're very, very good at maintaining assignments in the face of a bunch of unfamiliar stuff; they also demonstrated a certain fallibility on one play in particular.

Also expect the kitchen sink from Don Brown. In the Louisville game Ace charted a whopping 5 BRXs between Blough and Sindelar, each of which was a potential (or actual) interception. Michigan's 3-3-5 allows them to send rushers from anywhere against a shaky offensive line—8 sacks ceded already and a below-average sack rate allowed despite a ton of quick stuff. If Hermanns is limited or even out they'll have to help the LT a ton against whichever DE is there, allowing Bush free rein on the inside.

Michigan will shut off the possibility of dumb screens to the outside by playing nothing but press; expect a bunch of tunnel screens as Purdue tries to exploit Cincinnati's most successful play. Brown will probably have a response, but he's either going to be compromising another portion of his defense (pass rush) or calling his would-be RPS plays and hoping he calls the same Tecmo play.

Straight up man coverage can be dangerous against an offense like Purdue's, which has a lot of switch routes that can function as rubs, so expect Michigan to alternate man and zone in an effort to produce those BRs that could be disastrous.

Michigan's secondary is still an open question. Brandon Watson's been challenged frequently and played well; both Lavert Hill and David Long have had their moments but remain largely untested. Fortunately, Purdue's WR corps has been ham-handed so far. Slot Jackson Anthrop will be a challenge for Michigan's box safeties, and that'll be the place Purdue makes most of their hay.

KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN'S SECONDARY vs TACKLING. There will be screens. There will be dink routes. Michigan's goal is to set up third-and-anything and make Purdue convert with a shaky running game, and getting guys down after they get their five yards is step one.

Special Teams

Kicker is an open question for the Boilers. JD Dellinger was just 10 of 14 last year, finishing 95th in expected points per kick. This year he's 1/3, with junior Spencer Evans 2/3. Anything other than a chip shot looks like a 50/50 shot for Purdue. Evans has taken over KO duties and is putting 74% of those in the endzone; don't expect fireworks there.

Weirdly good news for Michigan: punter Joe Schopper is launching bombs this year, averaging 48 yards a pop on 12 punts. Donovan Peoples-Jones has been excellent at fielding long ones and returned one for a touchdown last week, with a second impact return later in the game. Schopper was at 41 yards a pop last year and will likely come back to earth somewhat as the season goes along; he is liable to set Michigan up for an explosive play in this one. Five of his punts have been returned for 9 yards a pop.

Purdue has done zilch on returns so far this year. They did zilch last year, too. This should be a major advantage for Michigan as long as Will Hart doesn't add to his list of shanks.




Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Michigan still can't get Perry and their tight ends heavily involved.
  • Purdue runs a triple reverse fake flea flicker wheel route.
  • Speight doesn't improve.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Peoples-Jones fields a 50-yard punt.
  • Michigan caves the pocket in constantly.
  • Purdue's defense is still last year's Purdue defense.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for They Made The Tecmo Bowl Play Work, +1 for They Scared Louisville Pretty Good, +1 for It's Gonna Get Bahamas Bowl Up In Here, –1 for You Can't Fix That Defense In Nine Months, –1 for Pick Sixes Are Waiting To Happen, –1 for Converted CB JUCO Starting Safety, +1 for It Is A Road Game That Will Be Kind Of Road-Like, Unusually, –1 for Thumbnail-Deep Pundit Class Have Declared This Upset Alert, –1 for Dinged LT Against A Michigan DE)

Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Still Unranked, +1 for Still A Double Digit Spread, +1 for I Shudder At My Mentions Even If We Win, +1 for Losing Is Bad, +1 for Real Bad).

Loss will cause me to... campaign for Jeff Brohm to take the Florida job.

Win will cause me to... same, but jollier.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

The line move feels like an overreaction to some early events for both teams. Michigan's redzone O is orders of magnitude worse than the worst-case scenario and this makes things look bad; Purdue has caught a number of breaks that makes them look more improved than they actually are. Louisville outgained them by 150 yards and lost two red-zone fumbles; Mizzou imploded. Purdue made a great hire and is certainly improved; Michigan's defense should be a reality check all the same.

Despite having a polar opposite offense I'd expect kind of the same thing that Air Force managed: a few chunk plays when Michigan gets in the wrong coverage and gets a guy rubbed, or they bust on a trick play, with a lot of not much in-between. Purdue's offense will be more likely to grab 15 yards at once and more likely to end up in third and forever. The end result should be the same, with Purdue getting some more yards and maybe a few more points because this game won't be as short, in terms of possessions.

On offense... ugh, I don't know anymore. I'm going to Officially Give Up On Wilton Speight because that seems like the best way for him to snap out of his funk. It is done. I disavow all positivity about Speight, and expect an erratic outing that Michigan rescues with some broken tackles against the secondary.

The ground game should be consistently productive as Michigan plays a defense trying to contain and not be the worst P5 team by a mile. They might not get the big chunk runs, but second and nine is not going to happen much. Expect Michigan to go over 200 yards on the ground, and punch it into the endzone with frequency.

Special teams should help Michigan distance themselves.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Michigan scores a defensive touchdown.
  • They're good in the redzone.
  • Michigan, 39-22


Everyone Murders

September 22nd, 2017 at 2:11 PM ^

The Brown vs. Brohm matchup seems to be the key to this game.  I'm not an Xs and Os person, but it seems that most of Brohm's trickeration is based on slow-developing plays or causing players to not be disciplined (overpursuit, jumping "routes" that are decoys, etc.).

I like Brown (with a great DL and players in the second year of his system) over Brohm (less talent, and players in the first year of his system), but it will be a fascinating matchup to watch.


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:53 PM ^

True.  Worth noting that the mortal enemies of long-developing trick plays are "Aggressive pass rush" and "Disadvantage against opponent's DL" and Michigan has both.  Our defense is basically Brohm's worst nightmare.  They will get some chunks, and Brohm will attempt to scheme around our overwhelming advantage at DL v. OL, but ultimately the inevitable happens, and both QBs eventually get erratic and/or ground into the dirt.

And that's a damn good thing too because otherwise, a day full of trick plays just might do our young DBs in.

Everyone Murders

September 22nd, 2017 at 4:01 PM ^

Brohm is a very smart guy, though, and will try to exploit our aggressiveness and hope we do things like overpursue. 

Brown, though, will know that.

And what Brohm won't know is that over the years Don Brown has developed an immunity to iocane powder when mixed with trick plays.

(Because iocane comes from Central Indiana, as everyone knows, and Central Indiana is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having football coaches not trust them, as Don Brown is not trusted by Brohm, so Brohm can clearly not choose the play in front of him.)


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:58 PM ^

Long development times is the one thing that stuck out to me when watching various Purdue highlights in these MGBlog previews.

Lots of people can do lots of things when they have lots of time to do them.

Things change when the physical movements and mental decisions are rushed and under stress.


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:20 PM ^

What it comes down to is this: Purdue's offense might be legitimately awesome, Michigan's defense is definitely legitimately awesome.  That could be occasionally scary and cause some bad moments, but for 60 minutes, things should go OK.

Meanwhile, Michigan's offense is possibly bad, but in the sense that it might cost them a New Year's bowl, not in the actual bad, no-talent, might-be-incompetent sense.  Purdue's defense is actual-bad.

Ergo, we will outscore them.


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:55 PM ^

Certainly possible, but would be disappointing.  At this point, it's become clear that we need Speight to get on track to obtain our season goals, and this is one of the only remaining opportunities to work out the kinks.  So I think we could certainly stick to the run game and have a high win percentage on this game, but I think it would do us a disservice down the line.

Certainly possible this happens on Saturday, but it will make me a very sad panda.

I Like Burgers

September 22nd, 2017 at 4:07 PM ^

Feels like this has to be the gameplan though.  The only way Purdue is going to beat Michigan is if Michigan's offense gives them good field position or pick-sixes.  They should try and shorten the game by running the ball and limiting the chances Purdue has to break one against the defense (its gonna happen, just limit the times it does).

So just go conservative on offense, shrink the game, limit possessions, lean on the defense and get out of the game 4-0 and head into the bye week and fix whatever is wrong with the offense.  Trying to fix it all in your first true road game of the season isn't the time.


September 22nd, 2017 at 7:08 PM ^

S&P+ has Purdues offense at 66th, whereas Florida is 74th for some context.  The best defense Purdue has played was the 39th ranked Loisville, who was much vastly better than the 100th rank defense for Mizzu, and a good amount better than the 66th ranking for Ohio. On the other hand Michigan is the number 2 rank defense according to S&P+. This is going to be by far and away the first true test verse a very good defense and they entered with a middle of the pack S&P+ ranking. I thnk we can call them vastly improved but will still probably struggle verse good defenses.

The intersting thing for Michigan's  offense, despite its redzone problems and not really getting on the same page, is it is ranked 49th according to S&P.  Florida comes in at 8th defensively and Cinci comes in at 41th. Air force is a bit surprising though, and comes in at 112th, which seems very high. I mean missouri gave up like 43 points to missouri state, Air force clearly has a better defense than that.

The advanced stats used to create the S&P+ are not the end all be all, but they are a pretty good indicator of how the team is playing. I think this is showing us michigan fans might be overselling the Purdue offense, while underselling Michigan's Offense.


Millie's Cookies

September 22nd, 2017 at 2:27 PM ^

but won't at all surprised, given how things have gone the last few years, if officiating in this game makes it closer than it should be. 

Purdue has the home crowd/darling factor that always seems to work against us on PI calls, targeting, and "play stands as called" situations. 

I mean, would it surprise anybody at this point if Michigan DB's are flagged for more holding penalties than Purdue's OL's are?


September 22nd, 2017 at 3:02 PM ^

My working theory is that down deep all officials are basically dads at a T-Ball game of 5 year olds desparately trying to keep the game "fair".  If one team has better players then they start doing things to keep the score close so the other side doesnt get discouraged and start crying. 

It never ceases to amaze me how officials seem to operate under the working asssumption that a team with larger, faster, stronger and better coached players will need to break the rules to keep up with the smaller, slower and weaker players - especially when they're playing on the road.

Gotta keep things "fair" you know!   



September 22nd, 2017 at 3:34 PM ^

Replace the word "fair" with "close for TV" and I agree with you. The NCAA knows who pays the bills. What you have to do is obliterate your opponents from the get-go so that the refs realize it's going to be a woodshed game and they just call it honestly.


September 22nd, 2017 at 3:46 PM ^

ineligible receivers downfield and illegal pick plays that will go uncalled.

Brohm seems smart and aggressive enough to know that at home, as a less talented team, you might as well push the rules limits and force the refs to make a lot of calls knowing they won't make all of them at Purdue.

This is one of the smart things Sparty did during the heyday.  Put a lot of pressure on the officials.  When you're less talented, nothing to lose, because if you don't cheat, you have little chance, anyway. If you cheat and get away with it, you have a better chance.  If you cheat and get caught, your odds are the same as if you didn't cheat in the first place.


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:32 PM ^

  • Deep balls finally connect to DPJ and Perry.
  • Michigan running game gets over 200 yards.
  • Michigan finally reveals that it can throw passes to running backs too.
  • Tailback Chris Evans re-emerges.
  • Oh look, Kahlid Hill plays TE too and catches TD passes!
  • Purdue has no answer for Michigan's speed on defense.
  • They make Rashan Gary angry.  You shouldn't make him angry.
  • WKU circus clown offense gets booked and taken downtown by Don Brown.
  • Wild thing, you make our hearts sing. You make everything groovy?

Michigan 34, Purdue 13


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:36 PM ^

So in Week 1, Missouri State lost to Missouri 72-43. In Week 2, Missouri State scored 0 points against North Dakota.

This could make you feel better about the relevance of Purdue's win last week. Also, why is Missouri so bad? They win back-to-back SEC East titles then can't recruit anyone?



September 22nd, 2017 at 4:00 PM ^

were very schedule aided too.  2014 was a down year for UF and Tenn and their crossovers were Arkansas and A&M.  This helped them to go 7-1 and finish ahead of UGA despite losing to UGA 34-0 (!!!).

They also lost to IU that year and were blown out by Alabama in the SEC title, something everyone expected.

So their division wins were as paper tigers (pun intended!), and yes, Gary Pinkel retiring was a massive blow to bring them from pretty good to terrible.


September 22nd, 2017 at 5:27 PM ^

this is the third bad year in a row.  They fell hard and fast in 2015 (went 1-7 in conference play after going 7-1 the previous year).

And like Sparty from 2015 to 2016, they had an inflated record thanks to luck in 2015 (which was the point I was adding) and then they lost their coach (a point someone else made) and probably a bunch of players and bombed the following year.  And without a good coach, Mizzou has stayed down.  We'll see what happens with Sparty.


September 22nd, 2017 at 2:38 PM ^

"I disavow all positivity about Speight, and expect an erratic outing that Michigan rescues with some broken tackles against the secondary."

Dear Leader with the old reverse jinx.  Hope it works cause predicting him to throw for over 300 yards these past few weeks sure hasnt.