Purdue (4-3) vs. #18 Michigan (6-1)
The Big House, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Kickoff 12 pm EST
Forecast:Low 50s, 20% chance of rain
#23 Illinois 14 - Purdue 21. In a Zookian, non-shocking upset, Purdue took down Illinois last week, making bowl eligibility sort of attainable for the Boilermakers. Somehow, despite being outgained by 60 yards and holding even in turnovers Purdue pretty convincingly beat (Illinois didn't score until the fourth quarter) a team that many were picking as a sleeper in the Big Ten. Then again, Ron Zook.
Despite being noticeably worse on the ground (Illinois averaged 3.7 YPC on 33 carries, Purdue averaged 3.0 YPC on 42 carries), Purdue was significantly better through the air. Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush went 16/25 for 178 yards (7.1 YPA), while mediocre passer Nathan Scheelhaase went 22/35 for a measly 6.2 YPA. (Despite drastically improving his numbers this season, I'm not sold on Scheelhaase as anything special. His stat line from this game looked a lot like his numbers from his freshman campaign.)
The weirdest stat of the game? As many Purdue players carried the ball as did catch a pass: eight. Though the majority of the rushing load was carried by star running back Ralph Bolden and TerBush, the Boilermakers are not afraid of opening up the playbook a little bit with jet sweeps and wonky option plays. Despite this, Purdue's stat line was pretty abysmal. Bolden carried the ball 12 times for 28 yards, and TerBush carried it (sacks removed) 9 times for 24 yards.
Seriously, how did they win this game? The powers of the Zook are immeasurable.
Offense vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers run a 4-3 defense but will likely spend most of the game in their nickel package like they did against Illinois. The Purdue defense is led by
Holland leads a defense that's surprisingly competent this season: 55th in rushing yards per game, 27th in pass efficiency defense, 39th in total defense, and 24th in scoring defense. Those are Greg Mattison numbers. Then again, Purdue must have one of the easiest schedules to date: Middle Tennessee, Rice, SE Missouri State, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Penn State, and Illinois. While three losses might seem like an acceptable number with ND, PSU, and Illinois on the schedule, one of those losses came at the hands of Rice where a missed field goal made the Big Ten's already putrid reputation even worse. The point is, don't read too much into those defensive numbers: Notre Dame put up 38 on them and Minnesota managed three (THREE!) scores.
The last time the Wolverines were on the field, they were snap-count-timed to death by the 4-3 defensive front of Michigan State. Purdue will not do that. Given Denard's struggles against pressure, you can be sure that Purdue will bring pressure throughout the game, but there's little to no chance that they are as aggressive or effective as the Michigan State front seven.
4-3 defenses are a wonderful defensive front to throw bubble screens against, but as Al Borges has made it abundantly clear, he won't be doing that. Instead, Michigan will probably continue to take shots down the field, which might be a good idea against Purdue's tiny cornerbacks. The man tasked with covering Junior Hemingway will be 5'11" Josh Johnson who has 5 PBUs on the year but is ripe for jump-ball exploitation.
But Michigan will likely make a majority of their yards on the ground. Notre Dame absolutely torched Purdue on the ground to the tune of 7.2 YPC on 40 carries. However, their last three opponents (Penn State, Illinois, and Minnesota) all averaged between 3 YPC and 4 YPC. If Rice can put up 4.6 YPC on 40 carries, though, something is wrong. Either Purdue figured it out in the last three weeks or this is a highly variable defense. It's the latter. Michigan will be able to get good yardage on the ground between Denard as the running backs, that is if they stay away from the I-formation, which seems custom built for Purdue to stop.
Defense vs. Purdue
Purdue's offense is Purdue's offense: a spread-type substance that has the potential to move the ball but always fails spectacularly in some aspect. While their running game grades out well (26th nationally, 295 YPG), their passing game isn't all there. Unfortunately it's the run that Michigan struggles to contain.
Ralph Bolden is Purdue's (non-)workhorse. Despite being their offense's best player, he hasn't carried the ball more than 17 times in a single game this season. His low was 6 carries against ND, but he averages somewhere in the range of 10 carries a game. On those, he's good-not-great, averaging 4.9 YPC. The problem for Michigan's defense, as it has been all year, will be containing Bolden, a sprite-like scat back who, if he gets outside of the tackles, can make some things happen that will make me very sad. Behind Bolden is Junior Akeem Shavers who is the team's bigger back. His numbers (325 yards, 5 YPC, 5 TDs) are as impressive, if not moreso, than Bolden's.
Fortunately, Purdue's spreadness is hampered by their not-that-mobile QB TerBush. TerBush has 206 yards on 55 carries (2.6 YPC). He's also a mediocre passer. Though he's completing 61% of his passes, his YPA (6.75) is uninspiring. Since neither of Purdue's top-two running backs are receiving threats out of the backfield, TerBush is throwing short hitch and out routes to dink and dunk down the field.
During the past few seasons, this style would've been a problem for Michigan's defense, but this year, it seems to play right into the unit's strength. The defense has been very Bend Don't Break all year, especially in the first half, and have managed to shut down opponents eventually, forcing field goals or turnovers on downs. If Michigan's defensive ends and linebackers can successfully contain the Purdue running backs to the inside of the field, they will produce a lot more field goal attempts than extra points.
Michigan is a 12.5-point favorite headed into this game, which might seem a little optimistic against a team that just knocked off a ranked Illinois team, but that spread sounds about right. Despite the recent success Purdue has seen against the run, I think it's more a function of playing teams that either can't throw the ball (PSU and Minny) or have a sophomore QB who wasn't much of a passer last year and is prone to these types of performances. Michigan will hand Purdue their second-worst defensive performance against the run on Saturday (there's no way they're making it to ND's output), much of which comes from Denard who Borges utilizes more in the running game. This will also be Denard's second game without an interception this season (and because I said that, he'll throw three pick six's).
On the other side of the ball, Michigan's coaches have recognized the containment problems and likely spent much of the bye week in the film room and on the field coaching up Jake Ryan et al. While there will still be a few frustrating outside runs, expect Ryan and the other linebackers to be significantly better forcing runs back to the inside. Otherwise, I don't think Purdue can do too much damage against this defense. TerBush doesn't have the arm to beat them deep and his dinking and dunking will come to an end either when the field compresses or Mattison calls for a zone blitz that forces an interception. Ultimately, they don't have enough firepower to outscore Michigan's offense.
Purdue 20 - Michigan 28