The Wolverines are 8-0 and coming off a bye week, giving them time to rest up and prepare for the Purdue Boilermakers. Heading into the home stretch, the Wolverines know that there is no room for error.
While Michigan is undefeated and impressively dispatching teams week after week, Purdue’s season has been quite grim. The Boilermakers are in the midst of a three-game skid and stand at 2-6. Purdue is led by Ryan Walters after Jeff Brohm left last offseason to coach the Louisville Cardinals. But while the Boilermakers have struggled this year, they remain a capable team looking to play spoiler Saturday night.
Let’s take a look at the key matchups.
Michigan’s OL vs. Purdue’s pass rush
The Wolverines have not run the ball as effectively this season as they have in the past. This has not resulted in an inefficient offense, though; JJ McCarthy continues to perform at a Heisman level and Michigan has been able to move the ball through the air at will. Fortunately for Michigan, a scrambling McCarthy has resulted in a magnitude of positive plays. He may have to work some of that magic on Saturday night.
Purdue, like many other teams Michigan has played, doesn’t do anything particularly well. One thing you can surely count on, though, will be its efforts to get to the quarterback. The Boilermakers have 24 sacks through eight games, good enough to rank No. 17 in the nation. The linebacker duo of Kydran Jenkins (seven sacks) and Nic Scourton (five sacks) is largely responsible for these gaudy numbers.
Michigan’s offensive line has done a pretty decent job in pass protection this season. They have only allowed McCarthy to be sacked eight times through eight games. Several of these sacks were also the result of McCarthy attempting to turn a broken play into a positive gain. With Michigan’s toughest games ahead, it will be on the o-line to help keep him upright.
Purdue has seen most of its success this season when putting pressure on the quarterback. In their two wins this season, the Boilermakers combined for eight sacks. They are committed to living and dying by the pass rush and have no issues with leaving their secondary in one-on-one matchups in order to bring pressure.
Michigan should prepare for a variety of blitz packages and needs to play disciplined. It is very likely McCarthy’s ability to just throw it away and not force anything will be tested in this matchup.
Michigan’s LBs vs. Michigan’s LBs Devin Mockobee
The Wolverines have faced a couple different dual-threat running backs this season and will do so again on Saturday night. Devin Mockobee is the Boilermakers’ RB1 and has 112 carries for 520 yards and four touchdowns. He is an experienced running back with good hands, catching 14 passes for 94 yards this season.
Mockobee, a senior, had a pretty good outing against the Wolverines in last year’s Big Ten Championship Game, where he accumulated more than 100 all purpose yards. The Boilermakers will likely deploy him in a variety of ways in order to move the ball. He is an impressive back but he will need to step it up a notch against the best defense they will have faced.
Michigan’s linebacker play has been impressive this season. The trio of Junior Colson, Ernest Hausmann and Michael Barrett is not giving up many chunk plays and has been good at keeping everything in front of them, while leading the team in tackles by a large margin (101 total combined). If they can make Mockobee a non-factor and force Purdue to beat them through the air, the odds are in Michigan’s favor.
Michigan’s secondary vs. Purdue’s WRs
The Boilermakers, similar to how Michigan views its defense, is a “no star” offense. They have a trio of talented wide receivers in Deion Burks, TJ Sheffield and Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen that have combined for more than 1,000 yards this season, and each averages more than 10 yards per reception.
Having multiple reliable wide receivers can create challenges. This trio is speedy and will force Michigan’s secondary to play sticky coverage if it wants to prevent giving up chunk plays. If Michigan’s defensive front can keep the run game bottled up, look for the linebackers to drop into coverage regularly.
Michigan’s defensive backs match up well with Purdue’s wide receivers in both size and speed. The Wolverines have all the tools they should need to shut down Purdue’s passing game and put pressure on quarterback Hudson Card, whose accuracy this season has been less than stellar. If Michigan shuts down the run game and makes Card force some balls downfield, the secondary should have no issues adding to its interception total.