MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2017: M SAVES BEST FOR LAST HALF-M-28, PURDUE-10

On Saturday, the Wolverines traveled to West Lafayette, Indiana to meet the Purdue Boilermakers for their first Big Ten game of the season.  This game called an end to the “exhibition” season, as now each game affects the chase for the Big Ten title, and all the other goodies consistent with Big Ten Championships.

The players knew the consequences of losses in Big Ten play, and were well motivated for this important contest.  The Boilers were also steaming, and in the first half outplayed the struggling Wolverines.  The half ended with Purdue up 10 to 7.  Purdue owned the yardage as well as the score, having piled up 179-yards to M’s 131-yards.  While Wilton Speight engineered a scoring drive in the first half, the offense looked off kilter.  The offensive line was as leaky in pass pro as it could be, finally exposing Wilton to damage. In mid first quarter he was leveled, injured, and forced out of the game.

THIS YEAR’S BOILERMAKERS: Excitable first year Boilermaker Head Coach Jeff Brohm, who is noted for his trickeration,  managed a respectable performance in a season opening win over Ohio.  Then came a respectable loss, if there is such a thing, to a good Louisville team, and then they traveled to Columbia, Missouri to take out Mizzou by knockout, dominating 35-3.  Caging the Tigers at home by that score was an impressive feat, even though this was not a vintage Tiger team.

They could throw the football, as evidenced by the fact that 13 Boilers made receptions against the Tigers.  Their defense had been creating fumble recoveries and interceptions.  Their defense had been rising, and over the first three games offensively, they had amassed 583 rushing yards, producing 4 TDs.  They had gained 734 passing yards, producing 10 TDs. 

Those good times ended Saturday for the Boilers with a splat in the second half against the bigger, stronger, and more talented Wolverines. There was a nice throwback pass for Purdue to the QB on the first play of the game.

Starting Purdue Quarterback David Blough had produced 600 passing-yards and 6 TDs before meeting the Wolverines.  He then had a passing completion percentage of 61%, and for this season it was 76%, prior to the Wolverine’s adjustment of his statistics.

A measure of the strength of the Wolverine defense is that he did not fare well Saturday against the Wolverines, and was replaced early.  His replacement, Purdue’s Elijah Sundelar, saw the most Purdue quarterback snaps Saturday.

There was a lot of fight in the Boilers, but the Wolverines defense punished them sufficiently on a hot day, and they paid the price for a couple of targeting hits as their desperation grew, and their poise and prospects waned. Those errors helped enable late game Michigan scoring, as the offense banished their red zone blues.

The Football Boilers are no longer pushovers, especially at home.  They can do more than beat that famous giant drum, display a lovely Golden Girl, and blow train whistles. But on one of the hottest September days in West Lafayette since 2011, the Wolverines displayed their depth and talent to let the steam out of the Boilers.

THE M DEFENSE CLAMPS DOWN. At first, Purdue Quarterback Sundelar was more successful than Blough, but in the second half, the M defense was the star of the show.  They held Purdue to just 10-yards of offense in that half.  Purdue had 30-yards rushing in the game. Purdue was zero for 12 on third downs.  The Boilers had no first downs in the second half.  This was an outstanding performance by a young defense that is fast becoming a well-oiled machine.  This was a team defensive effort.  Mike Devin Bush was active and effective as usual, Kaleke Hudson had a good game at Viper, and the defense line was dominant.  The defensive backfield played well.  Chase Winovich,  and Mike McCray played well.  Rashan Gary continued to draw double teams.

THE OFFENSE SPUTTERED IN THE FIRST QUARTER, BUT RECOVERED: After Wilton Speight’s early injury, understudy Quarterback John O’Korn revived the sputtering M offense by converting three for three red zone opportunities into touchdowns. Two were rushing TDs and one was through the air.

The Tight Ends were often targeted by O’Korn.  M’s Sean McKeon caught 5 for 82-yards, and Zach Gentry caught 3 for 48-yards, and a TD.  Zach Gentry is becoming a notable tight end.

The Wolverines compiled 139-yards rushing, and threw for 284.  Purdue had 30-yards rushing and 159 thru the air.

Spieght was 2 of 4 for 71-yards.  O’Korn was 18 of 26 for 270-yards, and a TD.  His lone interception bounced off Perry’s chest.  Chris Evans had a great game, hauling 14 times for 97-yards, and two TDs, with a long run of 49.  Ty Isaac had a TD.

Grant Perry gathered in three passes for 39-yards, with a long of 23, and Nate Schoenle got 2 for 29-yards, with a long of 15-yards.

THE QUARTERBACK COMPETITION TAKES A TURN:  Understudy John O’Korn was handed the reins when Wilton fell injured in the first quarter, and O’Korn never looked back.  He was 18 of 26 passing for 270-yards and a TD. 

Upon entering the game, O’Korn produced a splendid 13-play, 83-yard drive on five throws and five completions, and he had a remarkable second half.

Many fans have clamored for John O’Korn, and now they have their wish gratified. Most fans will appreciate Wilton’s many accomplishments. He has gotten some fine wins in the past, and it may be the Wolverines will need him sooner or later this year. 

Right now, John has the hot hand, while, according to Coach Harbaugh, Wilton has a soft tissue injury.  We need two experienced, healthy QBs.

Wilton had been struggling for some time now, too long.  John had a fine day Saturday, an admirable day.  He has to do it again. The competition will continue.  The best player will play.  O’Korn has done nothing to prove that he is not the one at this time, but has a lot yet to prove. He will have to prove it day in and day out.  It will be interesting to watch this revitalized competition play out.  It is not every team that can lose its starting QB early and still make the win.

Brandon Peters got a few snaps late in the game. He was one of one for four yards.

HOW THEY SCORED: Michigan’s first score came on John O’Korn’s first drive upon entering the game midway in the first quarter.  His 12-yard TD pass to Zach Gentry culminated a 13 play, 84-yard drive, and the Wolverines were up 7.  What a relief it was.

Purdue quickly answered with a 10-yard TD pass to tie a 7-7.

An M fumble led to a 29-yard Boiler field goal, and it was 7-10 at the half.  That ended the Purdue scoring for the game.

The Wolverines had won the toss before the game so they naturally elected to defend, thereby gaining the ball to start the second half.  Unfortunately, they did little with it for a couple of series.

A defensive stalemate developed, but was broken by a terrifically athletic move by John O’Korn.  On third and six, while inside his own twenty-yard line, he evaded a sack, bolted toward the sideline, and discovered Grant Perry for 12-yards and a critical first down.  The Purdue defense lost its poise, and was flagged for targeting, after Sean McKeon had grabbed a 30-yard pass. The infraction turned a 30-yard gain into a 45-yard gain, and the offense was in business near the red zone.  Later in the series, Evans scampered 10-yards into the end zone for six.

Now 14-10, it finally seemed that the Wolverines might pull off a win.  The defense held.  A long drive was enabled by a nab by McKeon on second and 17, and by Gentry on first and 25. Ty Isaac secured the score from a yard out and it was 21-10.

The capper came on a Chris Evans 49-yard TD burst.  He made a nice early move, and then outraced everyone 49-yards into the end zone.  28-10 went into the books as a hard-earned Wolverine victory.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  The unit performed relatively smoothly.  The punting was substantially improved as Brad Robbins took over that job.  He hit 7 for a 40.6 average.

SPARTANS UP NEXT: After a bye week, the Wolverines will face the Spartans that were demolished at home by Notre Dame Saturday.  The Spartys will want to do likewise to the Wolverines to restore their season.  If they do that, in their book, all has been righted in their football world.  For them, the Michigan game is always the game of games.

Whether it is Speight or O’Korn at the throttle, the Wolverines will have to be at their best, regardless of the Spartan’s record.  The Spartans will battle, put up a good fight. They will be rattling their swords, and desperately searching for Wolverine insults, in the next two weeks.  They have that constant chip on their shoulder.  

Go Blue!