Michigan heading back to workPublished 1:24pm Friday, October 28, 2011
ANN ARBOR — The No. 18-ranked Michigan Wolverines return to action this afternoon for their homecoming matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers, eager to bounce back from their first loss of the season at Michigan State two weeks ago.
Last Saturday’s loss against the Spartans extended the Wolverines’ losing streak against their in-state rival to four, a number unmatched since the early 1960s. Although the loss took an emotional toll on the team, the Wolverines have acknowledged that the team needs to move on to Purdue.
“Yeah, we lost a game, but that was just a bump in the road,” defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “If you let it affect you for the weeks following, then you get beat twice and that’s something that we’re not going to let happen as a team.”
The Wolverines (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) will try to avoid a two-game losing streak against the surprise Purdue Boilermakers (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten), who have put together a decent start to their season, including a big win over No. 23 Illinois at home last weekend. The Boilermakers will look to put together a winning streak for the first time this season; Purdue has alternated wins and losses all season, but two of their losses have been by five points or less. With five games left in the season, the Boilermakers have to win just two more to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
Purdue’s offense operates through the running game, as most of the Wolverines’ opponents have thus far. The Boilermakers rank 26th overall in the country with 195 yards a game on the ground, in large part due to the platoon of junior backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers, who have both accumulated more than 300 yards on the ground this season. As a unit, the Purdue offense has started to come together, which has been evident in the past few weeks.
“I think offensively they’re doing a nice job with the football,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “I think they have a lot of skill players and a lot of guys that can make plays from the backfield to wide receivers.”
Leading the Boilermakers under center is junior quarterback Caleb TerBush. In his first season as a starter, TerBush has completed over 60 percent of his passes, while throwing for eight touchdowns and four interceptions. His primary targets have been junior Antavian Edison and senior Justin Siller, who both enter play on Saturday with over 20 receptions and 280 yards on the season. Siller presents a particular challenge for the Michigan secondary due to his size; the Detroit native stands 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, giving TerBush an ideal weapon in the red zone.
Michigan’s defense will have to slow down the running game to have the best chance of winning. Using Greg Mattison’s substitution system that emphasizes fresh bodies over prolonged defensive stints on the field, the Michigan defense has significantly improved its run defense. This season, the Wolverines have stymied the potent rushing attacks of Eastern Michigan, San Diego State, and Minnesota. However, Edwin Baker and the Michigan State offense found a way to break through the strong Michigan defensive line.
With a bye week this past week, the defensive line and secondary will have had plenty of time to learn from the mistakes from two weeks ago. The Spartans converted too many third downs and eventually gained control of the game through running back Edwin Baker. MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins also found ways to exploit the weaknesses of the Michigan defensive backs.
However, the biggest change that the Wolverines must make from the MSU game is on the offensive side of the ball. Against the Spartans, quarterback Denard Robinson and the offense encountered a strong Michigan State defense that made it almost impossible to take advantage of the 125 yards of penalties against the Spartans.
Much of the offensive troubles have stemmed from Robinson’s inability to control the passing game, specifically in key situations. For Robinson to lead the Wolverines to a convincing victory, the junior quarterback must control his feet in the pocket; Robinson has overthrown too many passes this year from throwing off of his back foot.
Michigan relies on the running game, which ranks 12th overall in the country at 239 yards per game. Denard Robinson ranks 26th in the nation and 2nd among quarterbacks with 716 yards, and has a supporting staff of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith to take the load off of Robinson. Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon lead the corps of receivers under offensive coordinator Al Borges.
On the whole, the game could very well be determined in the first quarter. Purdue’s offense has started strong in each game this year, but has faded in the second half. While Michigan has been a second half team for much of the season, both the offense and defense have improved their first quarter play.
As for the actual gameplay, Michigan has the considerable advantage over Purdue in terms of talent and coaching. Brady Hoke and his staff have turned around this Michigan team, and will also be looking to avoid a second half collapse for the third straight season.
(By Scott McMahon special to Daily Star)