We are officially into B1G conference play this week as the Michigan Wolverines travel to West Lafayette in a showdown with the suddenly boiling hot, Purdue Boilermakers. With the regular season already a quarter of the way completed, let’s see how these teams stack up against one another.
Michigan is coming off a less than stellar performance against the fierce, triple-option toting, Air Force Falcons. The Maize and Blue performance had/has many in the fan base in full-blown panic mode as Michigan struggled to get the ball into the end-zone (from the red zone).
What these fans need to understand, is that a double digit victory over Air Force is nothing to sneeze at. Heck, playoff bound Sparty only won by 2 points a couple of years ago, against the Falcons. Of course, once again, fans are pointing the finger at QB Wilton Speight to place the blame, and this is a very lazy approach to solving the overall struggles of the offense, even for fans.
This is a young team, doing young team things. They are learning and growing. Fans, I beg of you, please learn to grow some patience!
Purdue, on the other hand, is coming off an impressive trouncing of $EC (not-so)power, Missouri. Even though Missouri and their Tigers are not the strongest of opponents, they are still an $EC team. Beating them on their turf, to the degree that the Boilermakers did is eyebrow raising at a minimum.
Coach Jeff Brohm has done a great job with his team so far in the 2017 campaign. They feature an aerial attack that should test the secondary a bit, if and when their QB actually has time to get the pass off.
Without further ado, let’s dive in, shall we?
In this corner we have the Michigan Defense vs the Purdue Offense
Let’s take a quick look at a stat breakdown provided by our very own, Darren Bennett.
If we look at this on the surface, Purdue is a team that will try to be relatively balanced in how they attack a defense. They will establish the run to open up the pass as most teams try to do. They have had some success with this approach to this point. Their only blemish on record is a close loss to open the season against Louisville and reigning Heisman winner/2017 candidate Lamar Jackson. Louisville won that game by airing it out like crazy (Jackson threw for well over 300 yards) and through utilizing the legs of their QB. It was practically a shoot out, with Purdue coming up just short in a game that ended 35-28 in favor of the Cardinals. Purdue offensively, utilized two QBs pretty equally, except that incumbent starter David Blough came in and threw 2 interceptions and Elijah Sindelar returned to the game in the 4th quarter after getting the start, to finish the game.
Blough ended up starting the next game against Ohio (not that Ohio) and had a much better game. He was 11-13 for over 200 yards and 3 TDs. The Boilermakers had much more success on the ground in week 2 as well, racking up 263 yards on the ground, led by RB Tario Fuller (142 yards). Purdue put up 44 points in this one.
Against Missouri, Blough completed quite a few passes, with accuracy, as he was 22 of 28 but only put up 187 yards passing. Purdue had a total of 287 passing yards to 205 rushing yards, which shows their commitment to the balanced attack.
Purdue, under Brohm, will run an uptempo, yet sort of Pro-Style, offense, which uses lots of motion and gimmicky stuff to try to disguise the basic things they try to do. There will be tons of quick passes and underneath routes, so it will be important for Michigan to stay disciplined, while minimizing the yards after catch. Purdue will spread the ball around quite a bit, but their favorite targets are Jackson Anthrop and Cole Herdman. Anthrop is a Freshman, but is the prototypical small, slot ninja type receiver that Brohm covets for his offense. Anthrop has 4 TDs on the young season. Herdman is a 6’4 Tight End, who already has 200 yards receiving on the year.
The other main player to contain is going to be RB Tario Fuller, mentioned earlier, who is not a bad player at the running back position.
So, how does Michigan stack up against this newfangled Purdue attack?
Like the Grinch, pictured above, the vaunted Michigan Defense hopes to steal the football as Grinchy does Christmas. Not only do the Wolverines hope to do this, they most likely will, a few times, as the defense has at least 1 turnover in each of the three games they’ve played so far, with multiple in the first two games and one in last week’s contest.
You’ve heard and seen this story before. Don Brown will send blitzes from all over the field, which causes chaos. Devin Bush will run around the field, the entire field, destroying ball carriers from sideline to sideline. Hurst and the DL will cause anything run up the middle to be stuffed within a yard or two. Michigan will change looks, defensively, to confuse the Boilermakers with alignment, and also as to where the blitzes might be coming from.
The biggest question will be in regards to whether the young secondary, namely the cornerbacks, can stick with the WRs long enough for the pressure to get home. Since it’s no secret that the quarterbacks will not have much time to throw, expect Purdue to rely on getting the run going to open up play action, and I expect them to try very hard to stick to what they’ve been doing in hitting the short passes to move the ball down the field.
Purdue’s best chance at this is to do what other teams have been doing and getting away with, by blatantly holding handfulls of Rashan Gary’s jersey, as well as blocking dudes in the back and trying not to get caught. Opponents have 8 sacks against Purdue this year, and Michigan may have that many in tomorrow’s game.
In any event, this game should be a nice test for Michigan. A road game against an offense that is starting to roll a little bit. The X-Factor may be that one of their WRs, Gregory Phillips put this gem out there as bulletin board material for the Wolverines to use as fuel to fire up (as if they needed that).
According to ESPN, in an interview this week, Phillips had this to say:
“Running the plays Coach Brohm gives us, we don’t have any doubt in our mind,” Phillips told ESPN. “If your coach is aggressive, you become aggressive. If your coach is confident, you become confident.
“It’s going to be a surprise when people see us beat Michigan. I wish we played Ohio State, too, because nobody can stop us right now except ourselves. … If we don’t beat Purdue and turn over the ball, we win every game.”
Good luck with that Mr. Phillips.
Players to watch on Michigan Defense: Rashan Gary (yep him again), Lavert Hill (really coming on at CB, Vert has done a nice job out there but will be tested a bit this week), Devin Bush Jr. (MVP of the D so far)
Players to watch on Purdue Offense: David Blough (QB with experience, playing at home), Tario Fuller (RB mentioned above), Jackson Anthrop (Michigan must limit his YAC!)
Edge: Michigan #5 overall D vs Purdue #45 overall O
And in this corner we have the Michigan Offense vs the Purdue Defense
Purdue gave up 35 points to the high powered Louisville Offense, 22 to MAC foe Ohio, and just 3 points to $EC Mizzou for an average of 19.7 points allowed. Michigan has averaged 32.7 points per game, although some of those points have come from the defensive side of the ball.
Let’s look at DB’s stat breakdown of the Michigan Offense vs the Purdue Defense
If you remember from the Michigan D comparison to the Purdue O, there was much more contrast in terms of how good one was vs. the other, with Michigan’s D being way beyond that of the Offensive performance of Purdue (5 in total D vs 45 in total O).
On this side of the ball, he contrast is not as stark. It’s almost as if Purdue’s Defense, on average, performs to a level that will basically let the Wolverines do what they’ve been doing all year. The OHIO BOBCATS ran for 173 yards on them and passed for 223. Lamar Jackson had a field day against the Boilermakers both rushing and passing. Although Speight isn’t Jackson on the ground, Michigan definitely has the RBs to make up for that.
Purdue only has 8 tackles for loss on the season (Michigan may have had that many last week!), which would seem to point to a lack of ability to get pressure and or stop the run. This is made evident when we look at the fact that they’ve given up so many rushing and passing yards per game; further by the fact that they have 1 (ONE!) sack on the year.
Ja’Whaun Bentley (24 tackles, 2 TFL), Jacob Thieneman (20 tackles, 1 TFL) and T.J. McCollum (19 tackles, 1 TFL) seem to be the leaders of the defense.
This should be another opportunity for Michigan to get things going offensively. That said, they will be without emerging weapon Tarik Black who broke a bone in his foot and is out indefinitely. This is a big blow for the young man, as he was poised to have a tremendous season but it is less of a blow for the team; it is next man up and Harbaugh has loaded this team with WR talent. So much so that Freshman Brad Hawkins, who had great potential at WR moved to Defense, as did Drake Harris.
Look for Chris Evans to break out in this game, and return to the Chris Evans we remember from last year. A fumble cost him some carries last week, and the emergence of Ty Isaac as monster, work-horse back, has definitely impacted the touches that the other RBs receive as well. Purdue will have their hands full trying to stop the three headed monster of Isaac, Higdon and Evans.
If the Purdue pressure, continues to not reach the boiling point, Speight should have plenty of time in the pocket and should be able to have a banner game. I hope for this more than anything so that it can quiet the parts of the Michigan fan-base that need quieting. I do realize that this will only slightly quiet the fans, the same fans that are also panicking about this match-up, and somehow it will turn into “well he still needs to do it in big games”. Wait, aren’t you guys panicking about this ga….. never mind.
The main thing I’m interested in seeing is how Michigan can improve their red zone efficiency. I firmly believe that they will, and that we will see a few more wrinkles in terms of how plays are called. This doesn’t mean trick plays, per se, but the playbook may seem to open up a bit more as we get into conference play. It would not come as a surprise if it feels like someone else is calling some of the plays (wink, wink).
Players to watch for Michigan Offense – Wilton Speight (c’mon Wilt, do numbers), DPJ (took one back on special teams last week, could we see another?), Right Side of OL (could be a good game for these guys to get in sync) BONUS: Nico Collins/Oliver Martin (with Tarik out, it might be time to see what these freshman WRs have. Reports are that both have been solid this week and could get time in the game)
Players to watch for Purdue Defense – LB TJ McCollum, S Jacob Thieneman, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
Edge: Michigan (statistically, it looks like Michigan can run the ball for 150-200 yards and can throw for about the same. The key will be Michigan’s ability to score in the red-zone which has been a struggle to this point)
Final Score: Michigan 35 Purdue 17 (Don’t forget to hit the “Like” button below if you enjoyed this article!)