By Tony Gerdeman
Over the past few weeks, I've said that if Curtis Painter had an accurate day against the Wolverines, Purdue can beat Michigan. I guess we'll never find out if that's true.
Painter was bailing out on his throws from the first "hut!" At times it was hard to tell who the intended receiver was.
And Joe Tiller held out leading rusher Kory Sheets as some type of presumed punishment. So we didn't really get to see Purdue's offense at full strength.
Don't worry, it wouldn't have mattered. It seemed like 2006's defense came back for Homecoming as well.
Don't let the 48-21 score fool you, Purdue's lone scoring drive against the first team defense was a five-yard drive that followed a Chad Henne fumble. The back-ups (and their back-ups) gave up two touchdowns in the final minute, as well as most of the yardage.
And as impressive as the defense was, the offense wasn't exactly out shined. It was a remarkably complete game on both sides of the ball. Things seem to be coming together at the right time for the Wolverines.
They are looking like the team everybody expected at the outset of the season.
When Michigan Was On Offense
I've never quite figured out how Michigan does it, but it sure seems like they can cram an awful lot of work in one half of football.
They did it again on Saturday, saddling Mike Hart with 21 carries in under one half before he left with a lower leg injury.
This being Michigan, the only thing you'll find out about Hart's injury is that something happened to someone at some point in time. We'll have to wait until later in the week before Lloyd Carr even confirms that there actually is a "Mike Hart" on the team.
Hart broke Michigan's school record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games, recording his seventh in a row. His 102 yards against Purdue was a season low, but as I said, it came in only two quarters.
With Hart out, Brandon Minor came in to take his place. He left with a leg situation shortly thereafter, which left them with Carlos Brown to carry the load. Brown was streaky, frequently getting stopped for little or no gain, but he did break a 29-yard run for a touchdown.
It's obvious that the staff is still a little uneasy about Minor and Brown, because when Hart was injured, the Wolverines were up 24-7, so there was no reason somebody else couldn't be giving Hart a breather prior to this point.
And it's not like pounding the ball on the ground was necessary because Chad Henne looked great throwing the ball. He was quick and decisive and I don't know that I've ever seen him more consistently accurate than he was on Saturday.
Yes, pretty much anybody can move the ball on this Purdue defense, but Henne was throwing the ball everywhere, and he was accurate save for three or four throws. He finished the game 21-28 for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
He threw the ball all over the field and hit Mario Manningham several times down the sidelines on perfect passes that only Manningham could get to.
He also threw some jump balls that Purdue wasn't able to defend. Against the Buckeyes, Purdue was intercepting those passes. This week, the secondary made very few plays.
Manningham finished with a career-high 147 yards on eight catches, scoring twice.
Due to the score, the reserves got plenty of playing time this week, as they did last week. Michigan was able to play thirty players on offense this week, getting plenty of young players some valuable Big Ten experience. (Thirty-five players played offense against Notre Dame, but obviously gaining experience against the Irish is like learning how to swim in a puddle.)
On the day, Michigan accumulated 458 yards of total offense. It's becoming apparent that when Mike Debord wants to employ some offensive chutzpah, this offense can crank out some serious numbers.
I'd say we should be wary of heaping too much praise on this offense, given who they've played, but I'm so sick of the whole "who have they played" line of questioning this season that I'll give Michigan a pass simply because the skill is obviously there.
Yes, Henne can be off at times, but I'm beginning to think that we can't expect that to be the case this year like we could in the past. If you want to slow down the passing game, you must get to Henne to get his timing off, because right now he's spot on.
If you want to slow down the rushing offense, maybe hit Debord over the head with a hammer. (Michael Hart may actually thank you.)
When Michigan Was On Defense
When Michigan was on defense, they weren't on defense for very long. They shut Purdue down early and often, holding the Boilermakers to 39 yards rushing. Purdue finished the game 4-16 on third down conversions because nearly every third down was third and long.
Curtis Painter finished the game 17-28 for 113 yards and two interceptions. When the game was out of hand, back-up Joey Elliott came in and went 12-19 for 140 yards and one touchdown. Everything that happened on Elliott's watch can be thrown out because it was against everybody you've never heard of before.
While Painter was only sacked twice, he was under plenty of pressure, though some of it was probably in Painter's head. Because he was pressured, he hurried on nearly every throw and his accuracy was poor because of it.
His receivers didn't really help him much as there were probably a half a dozen drops, most of them by Selwyn Lymon while being covered by Morgan Trent.
The stat sheet obviously wouldn't show it, but Trent had his hands full this week and it was probably his worst week since the Oregon game. But it's not like he was constantly getting beat, because he wasn't. His receivers were generally open, but he was right there to make a play if the ball would have been caught. It's a testament to his play to this point that this week could be considered "off" by his own improving history.
And I'll probably spend every week of Donovan Warren's three-year Michigan career talking about how good he is, all the while trying to find something to tear him down about. And I'm still looking.
The safety play continues to impress as well.
Jamar Adams had his hands full with tight end Dustin Keller, but he stayed with him most of the way, and when Keller did get the ball, he was tackled nearly immediately. Nobody's going to shut Keller down, but the Wolverines kept his yards after the catch in check. Keller finished the day with seven catches for 68 yards, though much of that came late.
Linebacker Chris Graham was back this week, and he didn't seem to be slowed down by timing or health. He was there to stop the running game almost immediately. He finished with a team-high six tackles.
The defensive tackles all had pretty good days for Michigan. Terrance Taylor finished with five tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Earlier in the season, he seemed to happy just to occupy blockers. Now it seems he wants to get in on the sack party that the defensive ends have been having. Will Johnson also had a very good game, including a pressure that lead to an interception.
With Purdue's passing offense, it's hard to sack Painter unless there's just a completely blown assignment. The defense knows this, but they never stopped coming after him.
Surprisingly, Brandon Graham failed to record a sack for the first time since the Oregon game.
Overall, Michigan's aggression on defense seems to matching their recent aggression on offense. The Wolverines will blitz whenever the itch arises, though it will usually only come from a linebacker or Brandon Harrison. Sometimes there will be a corner or safety blitz, but it's rare. Which probably means that Todd Boeckman should get ready to see it.
When Brandon Harrison does blitz, however, he tends to have some trouble securing the quarterback. Because he's coming in so fast, a simple step up into the pocket will usually take him completely out of the play.
The Special Teams
Michigan's kick coverage team had some trouble with Dorien Bryant. Bryant finished with 112 yards in kickoff returns, including a long of 39 yards.
It got to be so bad that Michigan resorted to pooch kicking the ball to about the 30-yard line. This proved much more effective, especially given the fact that Purdue couldn't move the ball.
For the most part, Michigan went away from the twin-safety look on punt returns, going with just Greg Mathews instead. I don't know what this says about Donovan Warren's future back there, if anything. Warren seems to be the bigger play-maker, but I'm not convinced the staff wants him back there in a big game. Mathews provides the reliability that a conservative staff craves.
It's also looking like Michigan has definitely found their kicker--provided they keep it under 40 yards. K.C. Lopata was 2-2 this week, making kicks of 34 and 35 yards. When watching him kick, I get the feeling that he's going to win a game for the Wolverines at some point this season. He seems completely oblivious to the pressure that being a kicker brings.
What Does It All Mean?
Offensively, it means that Lloyd Carr and Mike Debord really shouldn't be afraid to let their senior quarterback go ahead and win a game for them. It's okay to win a game by throwing the ball. Honestly. Obviously you still have some issues with Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, so why not put the game on Chad Henne, especially since he may be playing some of the best football of his career.
Winning time of possession doesn't get you any awards.
Defensively, it means the question marks heading into this season may be turning into exclamation points. Chris Graham was back this week and the run defense was improved because of it. Granted, Purdue went with back-ups, but the defense was still where it needed to be.
But as far as the pass defense is concerned, I'll never not be convinced that the safeties have coverage issues. I am a broken record. I know.
So now here we are, the week Michigan fans have been dreading since the Oregon game. Illinois. The return of the mobile quarterback.
But now the dread probably isn't so prominent.
Michigan's defense looks to be coming together and Illinois is coming off of a loss to Iowa. It is now assumed that Iowa has provided the playbook to stop the Illini running game.
Shawn Crable will be a busy man on Saturday night and he'll probably be the key to a win or a loss.
If you're a Michigan fan, does that worry you or give you confidence?
The Road To The Big One
Sept. 1 Appalachian State 34 - Michigan 32
Sept. 8 Oregon 39 - Michigan 7
Sept. 15 Michigan 38 - Notre Dame 0
Sept. 22 Michigan 14 - Penn State 9
Sept. 29 Michigan 28 - Northwestern 16
Oct. 6 Michigan 33 - Eastern Michigan 22
Oct. 13 Michigan 48 - Purdue 21
Oct. 20 Michigan at Illinois
Oct. 27 Minnesota at Michigan
Nov. 3 Michigan at Michigan State
Nov. 10 Michigan at Wisconsin
Nov. 17 Ohio State at Michigan
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