Already eligible for a bowl game, the 17th- ranked Michigan Wolverines have their sights set on a trip to the inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship Game, but they need to beat the visiting Purdue Boilermakers this Saturday to keep their hopes alive.
Purdue has alternated wins and losses since the start of the season, and coach Danny Hope's squad is currently 4-3 overall, including 2-1 in Big Ten action. Last weekend, the Boilermakers showed a great deal of toughness to knock off Illinois by a 21-14 final.
"To beat a Top-25 team like Illinois is always huge," said Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short. "It speaks to the improvements we have shown as a team."
Two of PU's three losses have come by five or fewer points, so Hope's group has obviously been competitive even in defeat.
As for Michigan, it opened the campaign with six consecutive victories, and Brady Hoke, couldn't have asked for a better beginning to his tenure as head coach. Unfortunately, the Wolverines finally tasted defeat last time out, as they fell to rival Michigan State by a 28-14 final on the road.
"I expect them to act like a Michigan football team, and that means that they will come to work," said Hoke after the Michigan State loss.
It has been two weeks since that game, so Hoke's squad has had plenty of time to prepare for the Boilermakers.
Michigan owns a decided 42-14 series advantage over Purdue, which includes a 27-16 decision over the Boilermakers last season.
Through three outings, Purdue is generating 28.9 ppg and 387.0 total ypg, solid numbers for an offense void of major star power. Junior Caleb TerBush has been solid under center, completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,127 yards and eight scores with four interceptions. Rather than rely on one receiver, TerBush has effectively spread the ball around to many capable targets. The backfield is led by Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers, as the duo has combined for 723 rushing yards and eight TDs.
Against Illinois last week, Purdue scored all three of its touchdowns by the mid-way point of the second quarter and was shut out the rest of the way. TerBush threw a pair of TD passes, and Raheem Mostert had a 21-yard scoring scamper. The Boilermakers posted 304 total yards in the affair and committed just one turnover.
Opponents are generating just 20.0 ppg and 351.7 total ypg against Purdue, which is a solid defensive football team by most standards. The Boilermakers are allowing only 3.7 rushing ypc, and they have eight takeaways to date to go along with 10 sacks. Joe Hollard continues to pace Purdue with 54 total tackles, and Short has notched 9.5 TFL, including 3.5 sacks.
The Boilermaker defense shut out Illinois for the first three quarters of last weekend's game before allowing a pair of scores in the final stanza. Touchdown drives of 60 and 90 yards were surrendered, and while the shaky play late in the tilt was disappointing, the overall effort was impressive.
"They were awesome," said TerBush of his team's defenders. "We can't ask for anything more. They had a huge game. This game was won by the defense."
Michigan got off to a strong start in its clash with Michigan State last time out, as quarterback Denard Robinson ripped off a 15-yard TD run in the first quarter to give his team a 7-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they were only able to reach the end zone once more in the affair, as Robinson tossed a 34-yard TD pass to Roy Roundtree in the fourth quarter. Michigan was driving for the tying touchdown late in the tilt, but Robinson was intercepted, and that pick was returned for the game-sealing score by the Spartans.
The Michigan defense put forth a decent effort against Michigan State, yielding 333 yards and three touchdowns. Two fumble recoveries helped the cause, but the Wolverines didn't come up with a single sack and permitted the Spartans to make good on half of their third-down conversion attempts.
"The thing about this team is, I know for a fact this team will bounce back," said defensive tackle Mike Martin after the loss. "Guys are hungry for the next game, and that's the biggest difference in this team."
Through seven outings, the Wolverines are racking up 34.6 ppg and 427.9 total ypg, thanks largely to the play of the dynamic Robinson. He has run for a team-high 762 yards and nine TDs while passing for 1,253 yards and 11 scores. On a down note, his 53.9 percent completion rating and 10 INTs are both disappointing. There are plenty of talented receivers in the fold, including Junior Hemingway who has racked up 434 yards on just 18 catches.
Opponents are scoring 14.7 ppg while posting 336.0 total ypg against Michigan, which has yielded six passing scores and six rushing TDs. The Wolverines have already logged 14 fumble recoveries to go along with their five interceptions, and they have managed 11 sacks as well. Thomas Gordon, who is second on the roster with 45 total tackles, has three fumble recoveries to his credit.