Monday, October 8, 2012

Denard, Wolverines Stomp on Purdue, 44-13

Michigan made excellent use of their bye week as they came out healthy, motivated, and prepared to face a Purdue team that many expected (and still expect) to be the favorite for the Big Ten Leaders Division. Despite the disappointing and disheartening loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago, Michigan dispelled the negativity and proceeded to stomp on Purdue's throat, winning 44-13.

The Wolverines ran the ball a net 51 times for over 300 yards, and Denard Robinson only threw the ball 16 times, completing 8 attempts, but accumulating 105 yards in true Denard fashion. He was calm, collected, and made good decisions.

He also had the help of great receiver play from Devin Gardner, Devin Funchess, and Jeremy Gallon. Roy Roundtree even got a few catches in here--much to the dismay of Purdue fans. (Roundree had originally committed to Purdue before switching to Michigan.) Denard's performance allowed him to break the career rushing record for any quarterback in Big Ten history:

Robinson led the offensive attack with 235 yards on the ground to complement his 105 yards and one score through the air. With his effort on the ground, he set the Big Ten career quarterback rushing record with 3,905 yards, eclipsing the previous mark set by Indiana's Antwaan Randle El (3,895 yards, 1998-01).

You can watch highlights of the game here.

If there was one specific area that was lacking in Michigan's offensive play, it was the running game of Fitzgerald Toussaint, who ran over Purdue in 2011. Toussaint seemed hesitant whenever he got the ball and just didn't look like he trusted the offensive line.

The "stutter-step" that Toussaint is known for started to look like a negative feature when there were holes the offensive line gave him to run through, he sees a defender get a little bit around guard Patrick Omameh (although he is still blocked), and Toussaint bounces laterally with nowhere to go until three Purdue linebackers are in his face. Most of the rushing threat came from Denard, and eventually Thomas Rawls, who only ran over Purdue and scored an easy touchdown in garbage time, when the game was already decided.

The defense was also up to par, holding Purdue to 213 yards of offense and only 13 points, most of which were field goals. There is some debate about whether this was largely due to Michigan's more aggressive and more sound defensive performance, or the questionable quarterback play of Purdue's Caleb TerBush, who went 16 for 25 and threw what became a crippling interception that put Michigan up 21-0 in the first half.

Looking to improve from his horrible showing against Notre Dame, Denard threw no interceptions. The sole turnover given up from Michigan came on a botched hand-off to Vincent Smith, who in my opinion didn't fully secure the ball. However, with that being the only blemish in what was otherwise a fantastic game for Michigan in all three phases of the game, it's hard not to be happy with the Wolverines and optimistic about the future.

Brad over at Maize n' Blue Nation felt pretty good about Denard's performance in particular:

A 50% passing percentage for 100 yds and change with 1 TD and ZERO interceptions is fine with me. If we could get that sort of passing output from Shoelace each week, then I'd be thrilled. Of course adding 235 yards on the ground doesn't hurt either.

And the folks at Maize n' Brew were likewise pleased that Michigan came out strong and erased many doubts:

I predicted a close one, an ugly one, one that we would probably win but would not be memorable in any way. Of course, I was wrong, and I am very happy about that. Michigan dispensed the Boilers with ease, and everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do. Borges called Denard's number with regularity, Denard did what he does against teams not named Alabama, and the defense shut down a dysfunctional and limited offense.

I, too, was nervous entering this game. With all the talk from Northwestern, Purdue, and Minnesota fans that 2012 is their best opportunity to win the Big Ten with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, Michigan and Michigan State sputtering through their non-conference schedules, and Wisconsin (who was once the perpetually presumed favorite) struggling to be what they once were, I was maybe starting to think that they were right.

As it turns out, while they may have been more successful in the non-conference, all those teams have since lost in the conference. Minnesota got whooped by Iowa, Northwestern blew a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter lead to give Penn State the victory, and Purdue just got their tails kicked by a few proud Michigan Wolverines. Suddenly it doesn't look like there was any reason to get so discouraged.

I am still concerned, however, about Michigan's chances of getting to Indianapolis. If they prepare for each game, they fully have the chance to do that, with the Big Ten being as weak as it is right now. However, as we have seen from the likes of Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and even Nebraska (who lost to Ohio State depressingly 63-38), a few slip-ups can have disastrous results.

Michigan will have to play every game like they are the underdog and like they have something to prove. That's what they did against Purdue and it worked: with the sting of the Notre Dame loss still fully in their minds, the Wolverines came to West Lafayette with the intention to prove to themselves and everyone that they were contenders for the conference title. Running the table seems like a vain possibility, but if Michigan can be undefeated by the time they go to Columbus, they'll have secured the bid for Indianapolis.

That starts with taking care of business against Illinois, Michigan's homecoming game. The Illini are inconsistent and struggling as new coach Tim Beckman is trying to find something that can work and stick. Michigan State is an absolute must-win for Brady Hoke. The Spartans may have had their confidence shaken by the Buckeyes, but you can bet that no mistake that they made this season will show up when they come to Ann Arbor, where the Spartans attempt more than anywhere else to play a perfect game. And Nebraska, the away game that most pegged as a sure Michigan loss, is not invincible.

After that, Michigan plays Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, and the hated Buckeyes to close out their November stretch--a rare instance where the month of October (Illinois, MSU, Nebraska) is tougher than November (except for the last game). If Michigan can successfully survive through the grinder of October, there won't be many doubters left.

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