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Michigan-Purdue: Ghost, Departed

After a trip to West Lafayette and a 31-point thumping, a significant amount of pessimism has been cast to the irascible Midwestern winds.

Sandra Dukes-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

After spending the last week feeding the feeble ghost of the worst case scenario with generous helpings of lukewarm pessimism, Michigan came out and dispensed with said ghost. The ghost, subsisting on this pessimism--often irrational in its genesis but not necessarily unreasonable--to float about elsewhere this week among one of the many other Eeyorish fans/fanbases in college football. No soup for you, Pessimism Ghost.

That ghost, only about a quarter or so into the game, took off in shame. Michigan went up 21-0 only a few minutes into the second frame; it was apparent that this would not be many of many examples from the past when that ghost, the patron saint of pessimism (and, more specifically, justified pessimism), was able to delight in a buffet of angst and all its derivatives. The ghost rubs its belly and reclines, waiting for its next meal, which you will provide, being a college football fan and all...a Michigan fan, no less.

The ghost has been chased away from this Gothic narrative, the skies have cleared for a moment and the paintings on the wall remain perfectly in place, untouched by the unseen hand of that meddlesome avatar of pessimism.

I predicted a close one, an ugly one, one that we would probably win but would not be memorable in any way. Of course, I was wrong, and I am very happy about that. Michigan dispensed the Boilers with ease, and everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do. Borges called Denard's number with regularity, Denard did what he does against teams not named Alabama, and the defense shut down a dysfunctional and limited offense.

Purdue is probably not very good, and so I can't really wax poetic about this in any Big Picture way except to say that it's always nice when Michigan goes out and makes me look stupid for being so pessimistic. Thank you, Michigan: I needed that.

Also, it's pretty fun watching Denard Robinson run around. Even the ghost could not keep up with Denard, each run like a Roman candle: light, wait, wait, wait, WOW.

The Offense

Michigan came out and did exactly what I hoped it would do: run, run, run. In my preview post for this game, I predicted (hoped, really) that Borges would call a run-heavy game, something to the tune of a 65:35 run-pass split. The Gorgeous One blew that figure away, with Michigan running it 51 times (not including the kneel downs) and passing only 16 times, good for a 76:24 run-pass split. It was the perfect gameplan for a team like Purdue: good tackles and good corners (with good playmaking ability) but not much else, particularly at linebacker, is basically a flashing neon sign saying RUN DENARD.

Michigan's opening drive was a 17-play, 78-yard romp down John Wooden Drive that immediately assuaged any lingering sense of concern that I had about this game. Michigan ran the ball 14 times, but the drive did include a key conversion on 4th & 4 on an 8-yard dart from Denard to Devin Gardner, who was clearly physically okay despite that pretty serious looking tumble he took late in the Notre Dame game.

Fitzgerald Toussaint punched it in from a yard out, capping a drive that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Just like last year, Purdue could not stop the run, only this time around the Boilers found themselves without an answer for Denard instead of Toussaint.

Denard ran 24 times for 235 yards (a long of 59) en route to yet another virtuoso performance from him on the ground. Michigan inverted veered its way down the field over and over again, and Denard was crisp and confident in his reads on those plays. He only needed to find his way past the first level of defense (i.e. Short/Gaston); when he did so, there were acres of space to be taken.

Michigan's passing game was pared down like a Hemingway sentence. Denard was 8/16 on the day, good for 105 yards and a touchdown. Michigan didn't need to do much through the air, but, when it did pass, Denard was effective. The aforementioned 4th down conversion was one example, this beauty was another:


2012 Michigan at Purdue Highlights HD (via noonkick)

Since there wasn't that much going on in the passing game, there's not a whole lot to say about the receivers. Gardner made the aforementioned big plays, Gallon pitched in a 28-yarder on that patented back door screen pass, and Funchess reeled in a laser from Denard that put Michigan on the doorstep of the end zone.

The only real negative on the day and something that has transformed into an actual point of concern is the fact that Fitz couldn't get going at all. Fitz carried it 17 times for a net gain of 19 yards, which is more than worrisome. Yes, a serious part of it is attributable to the offensive line not exactly being a vintage unit. Still, it's not all on the line. It's often difficult to explain these kinds of struggles from once productive running backs, and to a certain extent you just have to shrug your shoulders and wait for that game that will seemingly right the ship instantaneously.

I haven't had a chance to rewatch the game yet, but, watching the game live, I did remember some questionable cuts from Fitz. If Fitz doesn't get going against an awful Illinois team next week, it will be time to seriously start wondering what is going on.

The Defense

Two straight games in the Hoosier State yielded consecutive impressive performances for the Michigan defense, which is still a weird thing to type or think or say after the defense that was played in Ann Arbor during the RR era. The Wolverines held Purdue to a measly 213 total yards, which made me right about at least one thing in my preview.

The other macabre details: Purdue went 1/11 on third down, ran the ball at 2.2 yards a pop, and 4.5 YPA from TerBush and Marve. It was like watching the entire 2008 Michigan offense take the field in black and gold.

Purdue was flailing and hopeless like a fish out of water, but Michigan still had to do the work to hold Purdue to all of those aforementioned grisly figures.

Raymon Taylor continues to justify my offseason pegging of him as a Guy To Watch based on nothing other than the fact that: a) he's fast b) my gut said so and c) he played a little bit early on last season and for some reason struck me as a potential player. Taylor took a TerBush pick 63 yards for a score, unimpeded to the point that he could probably had some time to read a passage or two of Kant before anybody in black and gold would have gotten near him.

Not long before that, Jake Ryan and Craig Roh, with Ryan doing the bulk of the work in what was a very Clay Matthews-esque sack:

2012 Michigan at Purdue Highlights HD (via noonkick)

The Boilermakers' only touchdown of the day came after Denard fumbled at Michigan's own 36 near the end of the first half. Otherwise, Purdue managed 9-play and 13-play drives that ended in field goals and not much else. Purdue's longest plays of the day on the ground and through the air were 11- and 20-yarders, respectively. Things were as bleak as a Midwestern sky for the Purdue offense.

Michigan finished the day with seven tackles for loss (Ryan-2.0, Roh-1.5, Morgan-2.0, Washington-0.5) and a pair of sacks, one each from Roh and Ryan. In other encouraging news, Michigan's trio of linebackers led the way in tackles, with each starter pitching in six. It's probably not wise to draw too many conclusions from a performance against an offense as seriously flawed as Purdue's, but the front seven appears to be getting better and accumulating a baseline level of confidence. Even guys like Quinton Washington appear to be getting better with each passing week.

The thing is, Michigan won't have to face a dynamic offense again until the Ohio State game (or Nebraska, depending on what Burkhead's injury situation is at that point). This defense is not really great at the turnover-forcing/general playmaking aspect of the game, but it probably won't matter. As I'm sure you are aware, there are quite a few horrible teams playing cringe-worthy offense in the Big Ten. Michigan will be playing those teams.

With that said, Michigan's defense did what it needed to do on defense to win at Notre Dame but was failed by the offense. This time around, the offense--and by "offense" I mean "Denard"--executed, offering the D a nice cushion early on in the proceedings.

Special Teams

Here's another thing that I was actually right about this week: Brendan Gibbons was 3/4 on kicks, which I called on the dot. I'm basically Nostradamus, you guys.

Punt returns continue to be irrelevant, whereas both teams had success returning kicks; Dennis Norfleet returned three for a total of 76 yards, including a long of 38.

Will Hagerup only punted once but booted another long one for 57 yards. Matt Wile took Michigan's only other punt of the day as Michigan's "short range" punter when the Wolverines were forced to punt from PU's 48.

Wile took eight kickoffs this week but only sent the first one through the end zone for a touchback.

Miscellaneous Minutiae

  • Denard Robinson now has more rushing yards than any quarterback in Big Ten history. He is fourth among college quarterbacks overall, his 3,905 only currently bested by the work of Colin Kaepernick, Brad Smith, and Pat White. MGoBlue's "Notes" section after games like this are like little rays of happiness beamed right into your eyeballs.
  • Other things reminiscent of rays of pure happiness: Denard actually threw one ball away on Saturday. Hey, it's improvement. That's all you can ask for.
  • Kovacs? I was not even aware that Kovacs was banged up, and he finished with only a single tackle on the day. He played, however, and that's all that matters. Plus, it's not as if the Purdue offense was doing much to give Kovacs a lot of work. Still, I'm hoping that Kovacs can rest that braced up knee next week against Illinois, as I'm fairly certain he won't be needed. It will be a nice chance for Jarrod Wilson (and Marvin Robinson, I guess) to get some PT.
  • Speaking of Wilson, he and Delonte Hollowell both recovered fumbles on Saturday. Woo, the randomness of fumble recovery rate! In any case, a game after committing a tough pass interference penalty against ND, it's nice to see Wilson leave his mark on a game in a positive way.
  • Pictures, pictures, pictures. As always, Chewer D has a pretty great set of pictures from the game up over at MGoBlog. Marve's facial expression there is fairly representative of Purdue's day on either side of the ball.
  • Homecoming. I'm assuming all of you will be busy practicing the locomotive cheer while at work this week. I'm probably going to listen to/hum this and sigh a few times.