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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Purdue

November 16, 2010

If this game were a baby, someone would have had to tie a pork chop around its neck in order to get the family dog to play with it.  Given the rain, the outcome, and the entertainment value of the game, I can see why what seemed like only 3,500 Purdue fans even bothered showing up.  Rich Rod said that any win is a good win, and he’s right.  But I’m glad I didn’t have to fork over season ticket money to watch this one.   There were some bright spots for the Maize and Blue, along with plenty of bad and ugly too…..

 

 

THE GOOD

  • The Defense? – I’m not sure what the inverse question is to what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object, but that’s what happened on Saturday.  Purdue’s offense came into the game ranked 104 in Total Offense and 111 in Scoring Offense.  Our defense came in 114 in Total Defense and 104 in Scoring Defense.  Purdue had scored 23 points in the previous 12 quarters, while Michigan’s defense had given up 124 points in the previous 12 quarters (not including overtimes).  We knew something had to give.  And somewhat surprisingly, it was the Purdue offense.  There is no question this was the weakest offense Michigan has faced all year, but for once, they were up to the task.  The Michigan defense didn’t allow a touchdown for the first time all year, and held Purdue to just 256 total yards.  Sure the conditions were slippery, Purdue was starting their 5th string QB, and Purdue’s other skill positions were decimated by injuries – but we still managed to shut Purdue down.  Considering in the past 3 years we’ve seen Toledo march up and down the field on us, and true freshmen and walk-on QBs carve us up for hundreds of yards, this is a victory for the defense.  Nobody will ever confuse this defense with the Steel Curtain, but for one afternoon they were at least the equivalent of some burlap drapes – not winning any beauty contests, but managing to get the job done.
  • Obi Ezeh? – If ever there was an indication that you should stock up on canned goods, its Obi’s appearance under The Good.  But he earned it.  On Saturday, Obi may have been our most consistent player on defense.  Playing an outside linebacker/defensive end position, Obi led the team with 8 tackles, including a tackle for a loss.  He also had a pass breakup.  Kudos to the staff for finding a role in which Obi could be effective, and props to Obi for accepting his demotion like a man, and waiting for a time to come back and contribute.  I’d love to see a similar performance out of him on Senior Day against Wisconsin.  He’s been nothing but great representative for the University and the football program, even if his middle linebacker skills weren’t always what we hoped they’d be.  For as much as I’ve criticized him, I was thrilled to see him get his day in the sun…er rain.
  • Closing out a win – Something felt vaguely familiar about Saturday’s win, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  It was a feeling I hadn’t had in a couple of years while watching Michigan football, but I knew it well.   That familiar feeling was a Michigan team finishing off a game against a lesser opponent by scoring points to put the game out of reach.  With 6 minutes to go, we took over at midfield up by 4.  We drove the rest of the field in 9  plays, using up all but 2 minutes, and scored a touchdown to give us a secure 11 point lead.  I looked it up, and just as I had suspected, this is the first time that’s happened in the Rich Rod era.  Seriously – every other win we’ve had was either a blowout against an inferior opponent, or a razor-thin win where we either scored late to take a lead, or held on by the skin of our teeth.  This was the first time the team actually put the game away.  You can argue all you want about how it should have been done earlier, but I think it’s an important milestone for a young team.  Putting away a lesser team on the road when you have to is something good teams do.  We may not be good yet, but there’s hope that we’re getting there.
  • Playing with House Money – Most optimistic prognosticators and fans of Michigan football felt this season would be somewhere between a 9-3 and 7-5 season.  Not surprisingly I had us at the upper end – predicting us to be 8-2 at this point, with a split of the last 2 games getting us to 9 wins.  But I also felt like 7-5 was the floor for this squad.  Well the good news is, we’ve made it to the bottom floor! I think for most fans, at this point a win over Wisconsin or OSU would just be icing on the cake (especially OSU).   I’m sure by Saturday I’ll have talked my way into predicting, if not expecting, a Michigan win – but for right now it seems like we’re playing with house money.  Any losses would be unfortunate, but somewhat expected.  And any wins just bumps us closer to respectability and up in the bowl pecking order.  My only hope is that the players don’t take this approach.  Stunning OSU or Wisconsin would likely place us in a New Year’s Day Bowl in Florida, which would be a great momentum booster for next season.

THE BAD

  • Denard – The final numbers weren’t that bad 13/21 for 176 yards, 1 TD and 68 yards rushing.  But when you factor in 4 turnovers, including one interception that turned a Michigan scoring chance into 7 points for Purdue, and Denard was pretty awful on Saturday.  I’m not sure if it was the weather, an injury, or just a bad day, but we won’t survive too many more games from him like that.  To me, it looked like the weather was an issue, as he missed receivers, missed running lanes, and had trouble putting the ball where he wanted it.  Part of his struggles may have been because of the offensive line, which seemed to have its worst day in 2 years.  But even when Denard had time, he made questionable decisions.  To his credit, when the game was on the line Denard orchestrated the drive that put the game away with some nice throws and savvy runs, which probably got him bumped up from “ugly” to “bad”.
  • The Offense (kind of) – When your starting QB is capable of putting up 400 yards of offense all by himself, and you’re averaging 39 points a game, you tend to get a little spoiled.  Saturday’s offense wasn’t good, but calling it bad may be an overstatement. Instead, I’ll opt for pedestrian.  The 27 points were pedestrian for this offense, (especially since only 20 were scored by the offense), as were the 395 yards.  But when you consider that 395 yards is still more than the average for more than half of all FBS schools, it’s still a pretty decent output.  Especially when you factor what was some pretty nasty weather.  But for turnovers, missed FG’s, and mistakes, we probably would have put up another 10-14 points, and been right on track for our offensive average, and a blowout.   I’m willing to give the passing game a partial pass because of the weather conditions, but the running offense really has no excuse.  Again, a 27 point output isn’t disastrous, but we know this offense is capable of better, and so we expect it.
  • The Rush Offense – When you’re the #9 rush offense in the country and you average 273 yards per game, the bar gets set pretty high.  There are plenty of teams that would be thrilled with 200 yards rushing for a game.  But Saturday’s effort was just not what we’ve become accustomed to.  The blame can be spread across several players – but the biggest problem was the offensive line.  I’m not sure if it was Purdue’s All-American Ryan Kerrigan that was such a huge problem or just a bad game by the offensive line in general, but 3.7 yards per carry is bad not only for this offense, but for all offenses.   The only bright spot was Vincent Smith, who is now 1 year removed from a torn ACL, and is starting to get some of his burst back.  He had several nice runs, including a 19 yard touchdown on his way to 99 yards and a 5.5 yards per carry average.  I’m thrilled that I get to complain about 200 yards on the ground like we were completely shut down, but I’m hoping this is a one week anomaly.

THE UGLY

  • Turnovers – What was originally a mild case of the drops has become a wide scale epidemic that appears to have infected the entire Michigan offense.   Over the last 5 games, we’ve given the ball away an astonishing 17 times – almost 3.5 times a game.   What’s even more frustrating is that it’s not just limited to one player.  During that stretch, 5 different players have given the ball away – including both of our QBs, two running backs, and return man Jeremy Gallon.  Protecting the football is something that we are absolutely abysmal at.  It likely cost us the games against MSU and Iowa, and could have very well done the same the last two weeks.  10 turnovers over 2 games is not just unacceptable, its downright embarrassing.  The fact that we still managed to win both of these games is unbelievable.  At least this week the defense helped our cause by forcing 5 turnovers of our own.  Just once though, I’d love to see what happens when we manage to protect the ball, and actually win the turnover battle.
  • The Game In General – Most college football games tend to take on a particular theme or pace.  The game against Illinois was a high scoring affair with no defense.  The Notre Dame game was a back and forth slugfest.  In both games, both teams eventually found a rhythm that made for a relatively entertaining game to watch.  Saturday’s game was the awful instance in which neither team finds a rhythm.  Instead of a back and forth well-played game, the result was a 10 turnover, penalty and mistake filled game.  The weather clearly played a part, but the offenses for both teams never got in sync.  And this wasn’t a case of a defensive battle where the offenses couldn’t get moving – there were plenty of open receivers and running lanes, it’s just that the QBs and running backs never found them.  Instead, they found ways to fumble the ball repeatedly, and throw the ball to the opposing team.   If you listened close enough, you could faintly hear the Benny Hill theme playing in the background throughout the game.  It’s not unusual for Michigan games in West Lafayette to take on this persona; we’ve had some real clunkers there in the past.  Saturday may have taken the cake however.  Throw in the lack of homework from the broadcast team that the Big Ten Network sent along, and it was an afternoon to forget – except for the win.
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