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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 11/15/2010 3:14 PM
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Football
Michigan Monday

By Tony Gerdeman

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The West Lafayette Goliath finally met his David, and he was slayed.

Purdue's basketball-on-grass offensive attack finally met a defense that it couldn't push around anymore, and that defense's name was the Michigan Wolverines.

They came face to face with a Boilermaker offense that rivaled Joe Tiller's best. They entered this game averaging an unheard of 310.6 yards of offense per game, and the mighty Maize and Blue held them to a scant 256 yards of total offense.

Impressive? Uh, yeah!

Don't believe me? Purdue is SO good on offense that they played THREE different quarterbacks in the game. That's how talented they are. Most teams only have one or two quarterbacks who are good enough to play, but Purdue has three. Because that's just how they roll.

Except this past Saturday, it was the Boilermaker quarterbacks who were getting rolled.

At the end of the game, it was Michigan who stood atop the scoreboard with an improbable 27-16 win. Not only did they shut the Purdue offense down, but they only gave up ONE offensive touchdown.

This was a Boilermaker offense that came into this game averaging 1.9 touchdowns per game, and the Wolverines held them to nearly HALF that!

It was the performance of the season for a maligned Michigan defense that may be showing more than just signs of life. They might also be showing signs of livelihood.

The way things are going for the Michigan defense right now, I'm thinking Wisconsin should have saved some of those 83 points they scored against Indiana.

Come get your whoopin', Bielema.

This new Wolverine defense isn't afraid of you.

When Michigan Was On Offense

The Wolverines jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. It was just the third 14-point lead Rich Rodriguez has had in the Big Ten. The previous two instances also came against Purdue. Both of those ended up as losses, by the way.

Overall, it wasn't a great day for the Michigan offense, but 5% of that can be chalked up to the wet weather. You can chalk another 35% up to Purdue's perennially terrible field conditions. And the remaining 60% can be put on defensive end Ryan Kerrigan's disruptive shoulders.

He dominated the game with four sacks, ten solo tackles, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. It was an amazing performance against an offensive line that has been pretty solid of late, and still had plenty of good moments in this game.

Kerrigan didn't care who he was matched up against. Destruction doesn't discriminate. Right tackle Perry Dorrestein was involved in a couple of the sacks and had no answer for Kerrigan. His teammates seemed to completely understand. Nobody was going to contain him. Though freshman left tackle Taylor Lewan did much better against him than anybody else.

It was just one of those things you can't really do anything about other than try to work around it. Some days nothing is going to work.

It wasn't just Kerrigan that disrupted the Wolverines. As I said, Purdue's playing field is an embarrassment. Clumps of sod pop up like furry green prairie dogs, never to pop back down.

Their field gives more ground than Michigan's defense.

At least it's still grass, so I guess we have to keep the complaints to a minimum. It clearly hindered Michigan's footing, as they rely on the ability to cut more than most teams.

The Wolverines, who came into this game averaging 535.9 yards of offense per game, were held to just 395 yards thanks to a playmaking front four who disrupted much of what Michigan wanted to do.

The Wolverines still rushed for 202 yards. For the second straight week, Denard Robinson was not the team's leading rusher. He was held to just 68 yards on 22 carries, losing 24 yards on the day via sacks and tackles in the backfield.

Vincent Smith again led Michigan in rushing, carrying the ball 18 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. I've been critical of Smith all season long, and even back into last season at times, but his last couple of games, he's looked like a quality running back. He should NEVER be a Big Ten team's number one back, but there's no reason he shouldn't see carries in this offense going forward.

The receivers played well enough, though Roy Roundtree had a drop or two. He might want to rethink wanting that #1 jersey, because he's got Braylonitis bad enough as it is without donning the jersey number as well.

The ultimate story of the game, however, was the turnovers. Michigan turned it over five times and was lucky it was only five. They fumbled the ball six times and only lost three of them.

Denard Robinson fumbled three times, losing two, and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 94 yards for a touchdown. In the second half, the ONLY way Purdue was going to win was if Michigan's offense allowed it. They dang sure tried.

Robinson threw a terrible interception on the second possession of the half in Michigan territory. Fortunately, the Boilermakers could only turn it into a field goal.

Tate Forcier then came in for a possession, but he went three and out and sat back down.

Robinson came back out on the next possession, which started at the Michigan five-yard line, and the Wolverines simply pounded the football at Purdue. They ran it nine times, and moved the ball all the way down to the Purdue 30-yard line.

Then Drive Killer Lewan clipped a Boilermaker defensive lineman and the ball was moved from the 30 to the 45-yard line. Michigan was suddenly faced with a second and 23, and had to go back to the pass. Two snaps later, Ryan Kerrigan is sacking Denard Robinson and forcing a fumble, which Purdue recovered.

The quarterback switcheroo happened a few more times, but after a Tate Forcier fumble that was recovered by running back Stephen Hopkins—which should have been recovered by any of the three Boilermakers who were all by their lonesome trying to pick the ball up—Rich Rodriguez went with Robinson the rest of the way. He responded with the nine-play 49-yard, game-sealing touchdown drive that made it 27-16 with two minutes left on the clock.

In all, it was a weird game. Not something that should have to be seen more than once.

Robinson threw two interception. They were the same type he threw last year, and he's throwing more of them now. He throws interceptions at a higher rate than any other starting quarterback in the Big Ten, and in conference play has thrown eight interceptions in his last five games. That's even without throwing any against Penn State three weeks ago.

The passing isn't the only thing waning with Robinson. Yes, I know he threw for 305 yards against Illinois, but the big plays on the ground have gone away. In his last five games, only against Penn State has he had a carry of more than 17 yards. He's still averaging 102.4 yards rushing per game, though his 4.8 yard per carry average is far short of the 6.9 yard per carry average he has for the entire season.

You can reason that he's simply facing better defenses, or he's just not 100% physically. Both of those are true. Clearly, he is going to have to get better over the offseason in all facets so that his faults aren't as readily attackable, nor his predictability as predictable. The bowl practices will guarantee that happens to a large degree.

There's still a part of me that wonders if Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the type of quarterback who can handle the conditions that come with Big Ten football. It doesn't really get cold here, but late in the season, the weather is rarely perfect. I tend to think that to REALLY excel, they both need perfect weather.

I know Michigan fans have commissioned studies that show Rodriguez's offense isn't prone to turnovers or injury any more than any other offensive system out there. Don't the statistics show that at least in THIS system, here and now, they ARE more prone to those things?

Chad Henne and Ryan Mallett did rotate in 2007 due to injury. Though I don't recall Henne having to leave games six or seven different times throughout the season. Of course, that season was an exception and not the rule.

I don't remember turnovers like this under Lloyd Carr. In fact, the last four seasons of Carr's career, the Wolverines finished 3rd, 3rd, 2nd and 2nd in turnover margin in the Big Ten. Whereas Michigan has finished dead last in every year of Rodriguez's tenure, and are slated to do it again this season.

It's not simply because those Wolverine defenses forced more turnovers. They just didn't turn it over as much. They somehow managed to do it with sophomore and freshman quarterbacks too. In 2004, with freshman quarterback Chad Henne and freshman running back Mike Hart, the Wolverines turned the ball over 21 times in twelve games. This year's Wolverine team has already turned it over 22 times.

The Wolverines have now turned the ball over ten times in the last two weeks. And among Big Ten teams only Purdue (24) has turned the ball over more than Michigan this season. You can blame the defense all you want for the Wolverines' league-worst -7 turnover ratio this year, but you've still forced one more turnover (15) than Wisconsin has.

Take a breath to stop praising your offense for one minute and look at the turnovers. You've turned the ball over 17 times in your last five games, and didn't even turn it over at all against Penn State. The Wolverines are 96th in the nation in turnovers lost. Is that because of the system? Is it because of sophomore quarterbacks? Is it because of Big Ten defense?

Yes.

Will it change? I don't know. Some quarterbacks are just turnover prone. Though I don't think you can really put that label on a quarterback until sometime during their second or third season of starting.

Even then Ricky Stanzis can happen. He was a turnover machine for most of his life, and then this season he nipped it in the bud. Clearly, after seeing him this week, he is still a carrier of the turnover gene.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Let's be honest, this game gives us zero insight into Michigan's defense. Purdue's offense is worse than Michigan's defense at its worst. Scheme, talent, execution—it was all on horrendous display on Saturday.

Purdue came in with a plan to play Wolverine Killer Justin Siller at quarterback, and Siller was lost for the season on the first play from scrimmage.

They then rotated two terrible quarterbacks, and when one of the quarterbacks wasn't playing, he would spend time as the FREAKING RUNNING BACK!

This was not an offense, it was more like a reluctant pay off from some drunken game of Truth or Dare earlier in the week.

The Boilermakers turned the ball over five times, and really only one of those was forced. Defensive end (we can finally say that now!) Craig Roh completely destroyed a zone read attempt and tackled both the running back and quarterback, forcing a fumble which Cameron Gordon scooped up and labored 58 yards down the field for the Wolverines' first score of the game.

Other than that, it was just a disgusting display of attempted offense by Purdue. They couldn't throw down field against a team begging them not to throw down field. They didn't even really try anything deep. Why not take some shots? I didn't get it.

They only threw the wheel route once, and they completely botched it by having a receiver run a corner route in the exact same spot. The sad part was the wheel route would have been open had there not been another receiver and defender in the area. It was just a sad and disturbing offensive output, massive injuries or no.

If I'm looking for areas to compliment the Michigan defense, I would applaud them for only giving up six points following the four turnovers that put the Wolverines in a quick-change situation. In fact, the Michigan defense actually OUTSCORED Purdue in those situations 7-6 thanks to Cameron Gordon's fumble return following Denard Robinson's fumble in the first quarter.

Defensive tackle Mike Martin and linebacker Jonas Mouton didn't even play due to injury, so when a Michigan defense without those two players shuts somebody down, that absolutely says more about the opponent than the Wolverine defense.

To draw any real conclusions regarding this defense based on how they performed against Purdue is dangerous to do, so let's just treat this like a youth soccer game, pat everybody on the back, get in the minivan and listen to some Justin Bieber.

The Special Teams

I'll go ahead and include a coaching decision in this section, and that came late in the first half when Michigan was leading 14-10. Purdue had the ball at Michigan's 29-yard line and on third and nine, they threw an incompletion. The Boilermakers were called for holding, and rather than pushing Purdue out of field goal range and making them throw the ball when everybody knows they can't, Rodriguez denied the penalty and allowed Purdue to kick a 46-yard field goal, which Carson Wiggs did.

I didn't understand it then, and I don't understand it now. Yes, the conditions weren't great, and the footing shouldn't even be called footing, but Wiggs has a big leg and he kicks in this stuff all the time.

Just because Rodriguez has never seen one of his own kickers make a 46-yarder doesn't mean they're all that rare. Kickers are SUPPOSED to make those kicks. In any condition. The field goal made the score 14-13 at the half.

It was a decision that could have demoralized a Wolverine team that knows well how to be demoralized. Here they were in a one-point game with a terrible team, and for what reason? Not that a four-point game at the half was much better, mind you. But I'm sure they felt like they should have been blowing this team out, and not only were they not, but they were only up by a single point.

There are many reasons the special teams has been below average this season, but when you're making your list of why, don't forget to put 'coaching' on there.

While we're talking about the special teams being below average, we of course have to mention place-kicker Seth Broekhuizen, who missed his only field goal attempt (42), as well as one of his four extra point attempts.

Michigan has only made four of their twelve field goal attempts this season. They are the only team in the conference under 60% on making field goals.

The only bright spot continues to be freshman punter Will Hagerup, who averaged 47.0 yards on his four punts, including a booming 72-yarder that was booted from his own 25-yard line and stopped at the Purdue three-yard line.

What Does It All Mean

It means that the Michigan defense had a week off, and the Michigan offense will never have to see anybody like Ryan Kerrigan again. That includes Wisconsin's J.J. Watt next week and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward the week after.

Now that doesn't mean those two players won't have success against this Michigan team, it just means that Ryan Kerrigan is different. In a very, very bad way. Now the coaches also know that they can't let one defensive end disrupt their entire gameplan. They have to give him help—and not in the form of 5'6” Vincent Smith on chips.

It also means that with seven wins now, the Wolverines will most likely be going somewhere warm for their bowl game.

But other than those two things, this game really meant nothing. Sure, the defense might have gained some confidence, but that type of thing doesn't take long to drain from your body once Wisconsin's offensive line sets its sights on you.

Prior to this past week's games, I was leaning towards picking the Wolverines over the Badgers because of Denard and the offense. Now I'm not even sure if the offense I was thinking of is going to show up.

With Michigan's defensive shortcomings, would it even matter?

The season is now down to two games. The mood and trajectory of the entire program will hinge on these two games.

No pressure, Coach.

The Road To The Big One

September 4 Michigan 30 – Connecticut 10 (1-0)

September 11 Michigan 28 – Notre Dame 24 (2-0)

September 18 Michigan 42 – Massachusetts 37 (3-0)

September 25 Michigan 65 - Bowling Green 21 (4-0)

October 2 Michigan 42 – Indiana 35 (5-0, 1-0)

October 9 Michigan State 34 – Michigan 17 (5-1, 1-1)

October 16 Iowa 38 – Michigan 28 (5-2, 1-2)

October 30 Penn State 41 – Michigan 31 (5-3, 1-3)

November 6 Michigan 67 – Illinois 65 (6-3, 2-3)

November 13 Michigan 27 – Purdue 16 (7-3, 3-3)

November 20 Wisconsin

November 27 at Ohio State

 

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