WOLVERINES BEST GAME OF THE YEAR SO FAR
The sixth week of the 2012 season is already completed, and before Saturday’s game no one could be reasonably sure as to how good the 133rd edition of the Wolverines could be. How likely were prospects for a competitive run at a Big Ten title to materialize? Would the Wolverines at 2-2 get out of the gate faster than 3-1 Purdue? They not only owned a better record at 3-1, but almost beat the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium. The Boilers also harbored visions of winning the Big Ten, and had the comfort of their home crowd at Ross-Ade. This was a crucial opener for both teams and, without doubt, the Wolverines played their best game of the year, offensively, defensively, and on special teams.
- The shadow of Michigan’s missteps at Notre Dame still lingered. Denard came off what he called his worst game ever, and no one could argue that. For once, he was not the hero of the game, his 4 interceptions and red zone fumble put him in unfamiliar territory. He owned up to his responsibilities and promised improvements. Could the Wolverines limit their remarkable number of offensive turn overs ? Actuality: Denard was at his best, and lived up to his promises as his running paced the Wolverine victory in spectacular fashion. His passing complemented his running with a TD and 105-yards. He ran twenty four times for 235-yards. It was his 5th career 200-yard rushing game, and produced but a single turnover, a fumble recovered by the Boilers. He produced a number of long and spectacular runs, breaking Michigan and Big Ten yardage records.
- Would the receivers produce and would the other than Denard’s ground game prosper? Devin Gardner snagged 2 for 31-yards and a made a great catch for a 38-yard TD. Jeremy Gallon had 3 catches and 37-yards with a long of 28-yards. Roy Roundtree came up with a couple. Devin Funchess had one for 14-yards. The game plan set Denard’s legs in motion, used passing sparingly, and was an outstanding success, putting the Wolverines on path to an important win in alien territory. While Fitz Toussaint had 17 carries for a paltry 19-yards, and a 1.1-yard average, he scored two TDs. The lack of running back production is a concern expressed by Coach Hoke. Jeremy Gallon ran some end arounds in addition to receiving, and was very elusive. Thomas Rawls’ TD came in mop up time, but he ran with authority.
- The Notre Dame loss set some to wondering about Coach Borges’ management of the passing game. At Notre Dame, in the first half Denard, threw 4 interceptions. Why were 2 more long passes called to be thrown by an obviously rattled QB, after the first two were intercepted? Why wasn’t Denard rested for a series? Would all this become forgettable water over the dam in the Big Ten opener? Actuality: Its now water over the dam. M’s sparse passing game was well managed and effective. Denard actually threw one away when trapped.
- Could the offensive line provide better pass protection and better run blocking to provide the points necessary to win away from home, an area in which the offense has struggled? Against a hurry up spread offense? Can they tackle in space? Cause turn overs? Is our defense tougher than theirs? Actuality: An emphatic yes to all the above, except the better run blocking for all but Denard. Purdue lost four turnovers- two interceptions and two fumbles. M fumbled once when Denard possibly held the read option too long on a play where he got intense pressure. M won the TO battle. The defense was workman like and effective. They are progressing.
- Was Kirk Herbstreit wrong picking Purdue to win? Actuality: It is most satisfying to say yes to this one, but it was hard to tell before the game as Purdue sports some decent football assets, like QB Caleb TerBush. Prior to Saturday he took over the position after Robert Marve was injured in the 20-17 loss to Notre Dame. The Boilers were alleged to be blessed with the best receivers M has faced this year, and they have a jumbo and talented defensive line. Actuality: QB TerBush was rushed and sacked, and had a few catchable passes dropped by receivers. He had 105-yards on 16 throws, and one TD, with one interception returned down the sideline for a 63-yard TD by M’s Raymon Taylor. On this day his performance appeared fairly ordinary, but that is a credit to the Michigan defense, which played very well. Purdue did not throw down field much. TerBush was relieved late in the game by Robert Marve, who returned from prior injury with some effectiveness, but also threw an interception to Thomas Gordon. That one was returned 19-yards. Marve completed 5 of 8 for 43-yards, returning to action after recovery from a torn ACL. He did provide a lift to the Boilers when he came in, but fortunately not enough to change results. Defensively, the Boilers LB’s are not as good as their down linemen.
- Was home field advantage significant? Actuality: The Ross-Ade denizens are relatively close to the action in their 62,500 seat edifice, which is surfaced by prescription athletic turf. Ross-Ade ambience is enhanced by the Golden Girl, and her companions in silver. Actuality: Not a factor as the Wolverines went up early, the Purdue students were on break, and there was plenty of Maize and Blue to behold. Only a crowd of approximately 50,000 attended on a great fall day.
- Was the bye week helpful to the Wolverines? Actuality: As M has won nine of its last ten outings after a bye week, it was business as usual.
- Would special teams play be a factor contributing to victory or defeat? Actuality: Purdue kick-off returns were good enough to draw the attention of Coach Hoke in his on field after game remarks. The Boilers routinely had great return results. They had many opportunities and too often started their offense at the M 35. They ran 8 KOs back for 183-yards. M’s Norfleet (3 returns for 76-yards with an average of 25.3) was no slouch either. Will Hagerup punted superbly. M’s Delonte Hollowell scooped up a Boiler muffed KO in the second quarter. Brandon Gibbons hit FGs of 29, 42, and 27-yards, missing one of 44-yards that hit the cross bar.
Michigan kicked off and the defense forced a Purdue punt. They also made the most of their 1st offensive opportunity, holding the ball for eight minutes and 48 seconds. This 17-play drive extended 78-yards and resulted in a 1-yard Fitz Toussaint TD.19 offensive players participated, providing perhaps the lengthiest drive since 1976.
With 111-yards of offense, and 12 minutes, 11-seconds of ball control, the first quarter was an almost perfect M start.
The combination of a Purdue penalty, DRob running, Gallon and Garner receptions, and the short yardage TD by Toussaint, put M ahead and they never looked back. They ended the 1st quarter up 7 to nothing.
The Wolverines made up for any shortage in points in the second quarter, scoring 21 points. Fitz Toussaint scored on a one yard run, after an 8-play 60-yard drive which included a Devin Funchess grab, and a 38-yard Denard run, making it 14 zip Wolverines.
Then Raymon Taylor grabbed a Purdue throw and scampered 63-yards down the sideline for a TD, and it was 21 zip. Taylor showed why he has latched onto a starting cornerback spot. This was a fantastic start. There was hope for a blowout. Purdue moved downfield easily, but the Wolverine defense held them to a 40-yard field goal to make it 21-3.
Before Robinson’s fumble (at the M 36) gave Michigan’s momentum a cold shower, he tossed a great 23-yard TD to a leaping Devin Gardner crossing the end zone. A beautiful catch! Think Braylon Edwards. Gallon contributed a 28-yard reception during the drive. 28-3 has a nice ring to it. But Robinson’s fumble provided the Boilers a short field opportunity, and they made the most of it on a 4-yard TD pass. The half ended 28-10.
That half was the result of a great offensive and defensive effort, a great half of football against a decent team. Robinson was simply magnificent, notwithstanding the fumble.
The third quarter was a bit of a standoff with M getting 3 on a 29-yard FG which completed an 8 play, 61-yard drive for a 31-10 lead. Denard contributed an exciting 46-yard jaunt.
Early in the 4th, the Boilers answered with a 37-yard FG. The defense stopped a drive which looked to go all the way, and Gibbons answered with two FGs of his own, One FG which covered 42-yards (Robinson had a 59-yard run to the Purdue 16), and one FG from 27-yards out. Now it was 37-13. The concern was that M did not complete these drives in the end zone. Hoke referenced this in his post game comments.
Thomas Rawls capped the scoring late in the game, with an outstanding 7-yard run to complete a 4-play, 33-yard drive for the 44-13 final score. The entire 33-yard drive belonged to Thomas Rawls.
ROBINSON BREAKS RECORDS
Denard is revising the Michigan and Big Ten record books. He now owns the Big Ten career quarterback rushing record with 3,905 career rushing yards. He has tied Mike Hart for career 200-yard rushing games. He is now in 5th place among M’s all time rushing leaders, passing Butch Woolfolk and Chris Perry.
WHERE DO THE WOLVERINES GO FROM HERE?
It now appears the Wolverines will be able to compete well in the Big Ten, as long as they are reasonably healthy at key positions. They have an influx of young talent that is beginning to step up. Note Funchess, Taylor, Norfleet and others. Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan are improving every week as is Q. Washington.
The Wolverines will return to the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium to host Illinois. Forget the Illini record, they will provide excitement and competition.