Friday, October 5, 2012

Preview: Purdue 2012

Michigan vs. Purdue
Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind
Kickoff 4:00 pm EST
Big Ten Network
Forecast: Mid-50s, 20% chance of rain

Last week
Marshall 41 - Purdue 51. With 1/3 of Purdue's Big Ten division ineligible to win the conference title and Wisconsin coping poorly with losing Russell Wilson and most of their coaching staff, Purdue was the hot pick before the season to win the Leaders division and potentially the Big Ten. The results to date against three mediocre-to-terrible opponents (and Notre Dame) have been vintage Purdue. The Boilermakers pulled off a late game-tying touchdown against Notre Dame before allowing a game-winning 27-yard field goal a little more than two minutes later. In addition to commanding performances against powerhouses Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, last week Purdue managed to hold off the Marshall Thundering Herd for a 51-41 win.

Despite Marshall's weak schedule (West Virginia, Western Carolina, Ohio, Rice, and Purdue), the pass-heavy squad still rank 60th in the nation in rushing yards per game, and were able to chalk up 95 yards on 23 carries (4.1 YPC) against Purdue. Meanwhile, Rakeem Cato dinked and dunked down the field and racked up 439 yards on 68 (!!!) passing attempts. Meanwhile, the Marshall defense is just as bad as you might expect when Purdue puts up 51 on a team: 98th in pass efficiency defense, 110th in rushing defense, and 120th in scoring defense.

Though Purdue led big early in the game, Marshall eventually cut the Boilermaker lead to 10 points early in the fourth quarter but wasn't able to completely close the gap. If you were looking for reasons why Purdue might be an actual contender in the Big Ten this year, last week's game doesn't offer much evidence.

Michigan: Bye week.

Offense vs. Purdue

Usually, I would put a picture of Denard here and say something like "It depends on how well Denard does", but the most important player on the field when Michigan has the ball will be Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short is a 6'3" penetrating defensive tackle who annihilated Notre Dame earlier this year and already has 4 sacks (tied for 20th in the country). While Denard's performance is still the crux of Michigan's offense, Short will largely be responsible for how this game plays out.

This puts a lot of pressure on Michigan's interior line, namely Elliott Mealer who will spend most of the game grappling with Short (or Bruce Gaston, who is also a load to handle). If Mealer's performances to date are any indication, Short is going to be trouble for this offense. We all know what happens when Denard gets pressure in his face. If Mealer, Patrick Omameh, and Ricky Barnum can't contain short, expect a repeat of Denard's Notre Dame performance: errant, back-foot throws and rushed decisions.

The way to slow down Short and the rest of the Purdue front line is with screens, which Al Borges fucking loves. Expect a lot of those tunnel screens to Jeremy Gallon and a few bubble screens that make you think Borges is changing his ways (hint: he's not). Otherwise, it will be par for the course: some inverted veer runs, high-variance vertical passing game, and plenty of under center stuff.

Purdue's defense is largely untested but might be good+. Notre Dame (Michigan's closest talent equivalent on Purdue's schedule) went 24/39 for 324 yards (8.3 YPC) through the air, but only managed 52 yards on 34 carries. You can thank Short for that kind of performance. Then again, the Irish only managed 3 YPC against Michigan, so it's more likely that Notre Dame's offense is terrible. Regardless, if Michigan is going to win this game, the interior line is going to need to play lots better than they did against Notre Dame and Denard will need to be significantly improved. The takeaway: be scared of Purdue's defensive tackles and basically no one else.

Defense vs. Purdue

With Robert Marve (likely) out with an ACL injury, the quarterbacking duties once again fall on the shoulder of Caleb TerBush. TerBush's statline for the season is very Purdue: 6.64 YPA, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, and 49 yards on 20 rushing attempts. When you think of Purdue, you think of TerBush.

All of that is not his fault, however. He's not working with very many weapons. Hey, remember that time that Roy Roundtree was kind of a "get" for Purdue and then Rich Rodriguez stole him and then he had a good season and then he reminded everyone why he was a Purdue commit in the first place? Yeah, well, Purdue's commits committed to and then attended Pudue, so, when thinking about this wide receiver crops, just think of Roy Roundtree minus the breakout season. Currently playing the role of Best Roundtree is Antavian Edison, who leads the team with 285 yards on 24 catches.

Carrying the rock primarily will be Akeem Shavers who is averaging 4.1 YPC on 58 attempts, but 11 players on Purdue's roster have carried the ball more than twice this year. Key to stopping Purdue's rushing game (which, for the record, does rank 32nd in the nation in yards per game) will be edge responsibility, per usual. No one on the Boilermaker roster is much of a gamechanger though. Michigan will have to contend with wide-receiver jet sweeps and probably a few option looks during the game, but this is the kind of straightforward, non-threatening rushing attack that Mattison should be able to shut down.

The good news for Michigan's defense is that the Notre Dame game was a revelation for the defensive line, though as mentioned above, Notre Dame's offense is probably not very good. If Will Campbell and Quinton Washington can build upon the performance they showed last week, the defense might not be as terrifying every week. The real players to watch, however, will be the linebackers. Purdue's short passing game and rushing attack will test Michigan's young linebackers.

Speaking of Purdue's passing attack, JT Floyd is going to have a good game. Last year, Floyd specialized in jumping short routes and being aggressive on dink-and-dunk teams. Though he's been a borderline liability this season, Floyd has a big bounce back game and returns to the aggressive, attacking corner Michigan fans came to love last year. Raymon Taylor, however, will probably be victimized a number of times tomorrow as his youth will lend itself to cushions that are too big and a few missed tackles on short routes.

How does Michigan win. The key to winning this game is controlling Kawann Short. If Michigan's interior line can shut him down or at least limit his effectiveness, Denard should find plenty of time to find open receivers and running lanes. Stopping Short is just as critical in the running game. Fitz Toussaint has struggled all season, largely because Michigan's offensive line has been getting dominated. Getting Toussaint room to run and space in the backfield will be crucial.

Defensively, Floyd, Courtney Avery, and Taylor need to make sure tackles and break up some of Purdue's short passing routes. The Boilermakers will have some frustrating long drives, but key to stopping them is forcing penalties (on the shoulders of the defensive line) and breaking up a few short passes.

How does Purdue win. Kawann Short. If he plays to his potential, he should crush the Michigan offensive line, at which point, it's up to the Purdue secondary to pick off Denard's sure-to-be errant throws. Short will also disrupt the Michigan running game which hasn't been able to get off the ground all season.

Offensively for Purdue, they need TerBush to take care of the ball, complete everything underneath, and manage the game. TerBush doesn't have the arm or legs to really punish Michigan's defense, even when it becomes undisciplined. If he doesn't have any crucial mistakes this game, Purdue could find a way to march slowly down the field as Michigan struggles to get pressure on short drops.

Arbitrary percentage Michigan wins: 58.34%

Final prediction: It's hard being optimistic about this game given Short and Denard's most recent performance. Michigan's offense is going to stall a lot in this game. But I'm not sure that Purdue's offense will have much success. The over/under for this game is somewhere in the mid- to high-50s, which, if I were a betting man, I'd take the under. This is a low-scoring game with both quarterbacks making a number of mistakes. Short's strength and Michigan's interior line weaknesses actually dictate how this game goes, but Denard breaks a long run that ends up being the difference. Michigan 17 - Purdue 16.


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