After missing out on the first 10 Big Ten Championship Games, the Michigan Wolverines return to Indianapolis for their second-straight appearance as East Division champions. Their reward is a date against the Purdue Boilermakers, an imbalanced matchup very reminiscent of last year’s contest against Iowa.
A year ago, the Wolverines were able to ride the momentum after a cathartic win over Ohio State and keep the foot on the gas, blowing out the Hawkeyes to finally lift the Big Ten championship trophy. The maize and blue will need to replicate this state of mind following the momentous victory in Columbus last weekend, as the reigning champions are big favorites over Purdue and can likely only be defeated by an emotional hangover.
Michigan Offense: Run (throw) it back
Last week I (like the rest of the world) was skeptical of J.J. McCarthy’s ability to win with the deep ball and asked Michigan to keep the routes shorter and scheme open some easy throws. Clearly I was lacking a little faith, as McCarthy finally did what everyone expected him to do the moment he committed, lighting up the Buckeyes down field all game.
While this Saturday should be a little less contentious, there are a few reasons the Wolverines should stick with the aerial attack. First, Purdue is more competent against the run, ranking 34th in rush yards per game in conference play and 52nd in yards per carry, compared to 78th in pass yards per game and 83rd in yards per attempt.
Those numbers do not make this run defense look amazing either, but there is a clearer advantage in the passing game. Add in the fact that Michigan would be wise to rest Blake Corum and limit Donovan Edwards’ touches, and it just makes sense to give McCarthy the reins again. At very worst, the passing game would not hurt getting a few more reps.
Michigan Defense: Fear the Spoilermakers
Purdue has a long history of pulling off the upset against heavily favored opponents, and for Michigan to prevent this script from happening the defense must limit the big plays. The Boilermakers are not equipped to consistently march down the field, so preventing home runs is a theme once again.
Though Purdue ranks 23rd nationally in passing yards per game in conference play, this is largely due to volume. The Boilermakers are down at 91st in yards per attempt and are even worse in terms of running the ball. SP+ has this as the No. 50 offense, which is between Michigan State and Indiana...
Even assuming Aidan O’Connell plays (our sincere sympathies to him), this is not exactly a big-play offense. Purdue has just 10 pass plays over 30 yards this season against Big Ten competition, which is not dissimilar from Michigan’s notoriously flat passing game (up until a week ago, of course). By playing conservatively and trusting the defense to win its battles, it is hard to see the underdogs putting up many points.