Talk about glory days.
For years the Michigan vs. Purdue matchup was something to see. Purdue squeaked out an upset victory in West Lafayette in 2000, and then Michigan escaped with a two-point win in 2002. It has featured Wolverines blowouts — like the 28-point thrashing in 2003 or the 31-point whooping in 2012. There were must-see quarterback matchups: Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees. Drew Hensen vs. Brees. John Navarre vs. Kyle Orton.
But I guess those glory days will pass you by.
The 2017 version of this game is already being handed to the Wolverines by sportswriters and fans across the country, but here at Maize n Brew it would be irresponsible of us to write off the Boilermakers without giving them a chance to make their case (in fact, we'll be making it for them).
"How good was Purdue last season?"
Quick recap of last season: Purdue beat a few bad teams, then lost a lot. Their last seven games, to be exact. To be fair, one of those losses was by single digits (though that’s a small moral victory if there ever was one).
They were brutal, to put it plainly. How bad were they? They were in the same conversation as Rutgers and Michigan State. Like I said, brutal. But as our foes from East Lansing showed us in 2016, you can’t always judge a team based off its previous season performance.
"Quite honestly, why should I care about Purdue?"
Big Ten opener? First true road game? (And Michigan had some issues on the road last year...)
OK, OK, I realize the Boilermakers aren't supposed to put up much of a fight. But if Michigan isn't careful, it may wind up with a flashing "upset alert" icon beside its in-game score update before the afternoon is through.
It wouldn't be the first time Purdue pulled out a big game against a superior opponent (though not super recently). In 2009, a 5-7 Purdue team took down an 11-2 Buckeye squad for its only conference loss of the season. Then look at North Dakota State over Iowa in 2016, or Eastern Washington over Washington State in 2016, or Georgia Southern over Florida in 2013.
All I'm saying is be careful.
"What’s the one thing I need to know before the Purdue game?"
You may not recognize this 2017 Boilermakers team if you knew a little about their 2016 squad (and it’s not because Michigan hasn’t actually faced them in five years).
In the middle of last season’s horrendous campaign, Purdue fired head coach Darrell Hazell and in the offseason replaced him with Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm. That’s right, in 2017 I’m predicting Purdue will be at least as good as Western Kentucky! Talk about bold predictions.
But Brohm brings a ton to West Lafayette, including virtually his entire Hilltoppers staff — a bunch that coached a fairly average program to a 23-5 record over the last two seasons. Coming from the Bobby Petrino coaching tree, Brohm flat-out knows how to build a high-powered scoring machine.
Oh, and Purdue's offense just happens to have some key pieces returning in 2017 to help him get started.
"Who will give the Michigan defense the most trouble?"
Let’s start with the obvious candidate and say quarterback David Blough. Purdue is the self-proclaimed "cradle of quarterbacks," according to their official athletics site, and while Blough probably won't go down in Boildermakers lore, he can still make plays.
Brohm loves to attack defenses through the air and Blough has nearly two years of starting experience under his belt. Sure, the receiving corps took a hit, losing its top four wideouts from 2016, but they have their two best tight ends coming back and brought in seven freshmen receivers. Given the fact that their defense is, let’s say, below average, Purdue will likely need to air it out in second halves this season.
If they find themselves competitive, however, remember the name Markell Jones, their top tailback. He does three things really, really well.
He has speed (just ask Michigan State):
He has vision (and athleticism):
And he has strength (or should we call this determination?):
Jones against the Michigan defensive line could be an interesting matchup. The Wolverines should still be very good with Rashan Gary, Bryan Mone, Maurice Hurst and Chase Winovich, but it won’t have the depth of eight or nine studs like it had last season. At least not early in the year.
Jones can grind, and if Purdue can keep itself in this game, he could certainly take a toll on the Michigan defense.
"Can you give me a quick overview of the defense Michigan will face?"
Of course I can! (Glad you asked.) Purdue's defense, like the rest of its team, is a fairly underwhelming unit (that's me being polite). There are some bright spots at the linebacker position and in the secondary, but without any true standout linemen, this will be a defense the Michigan running backs should shred.
The backbone of the unit will be linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley, Danny Ezechukwu and Markus Bailey — though, again, they aren't exactly superstars. I like the idea of Chris Evans and Karan Higdon being able to scoot past the defensive line and make these linebackers chase them down. That's a favorable matchup for the Maize and Blue.
That's not to mention what will happen to Michigan's passing game if they can pound it on the ground. This could be an old fashioned "stat day" for some younger guys like Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Prediction time: How badly will the Wolverines pound the Boilermakers?
Last season this matchup would have had the owner of Ruth’s Chris sweating bullets, but I can see the 2017 version being a little closer.
Closer, of course, is a relative term.
Unfortunately for Purdue, they get Michigan in the conference opener. They'll need a little more time under the new coaching staff to develop their younger talent and live up to some potential.
Michigan players will likely be distracted by the 50,000 fans in the bleachers, seemingly wondering, where are the rest of them? Purdue will score once early, maybe twice. Then the Wolverines will gain their footing and pound the Boilermakers.
Either that, or Michigan will score at will from the get-go and win 49-3. Both work just fine.