Purdue wants to keep the offense rolling in matchup against Michigan
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh sang the praises of first-year Purdue coach Jeff Brohm at his weekly press conference Monday, calling Brohm a “favorite for coach of the year.”
Saturday’s Big Ten opener between the Boilermakers and Harbaugh’s eighth-ranked Wolverines could be Brohm’s best opportunity all season to stake that claim.
It’s the Boilermakers’ homecoming and Brohm’s first glimpse of Big Ten competition.
Purdue (2-1) has already gained national attention by winning back-to-back games for the first time since 2012, including a dominant 35-3 road victory against Missouri last Saturday. It was Boilermakers’ largest road win since Sept. 4, 1999, when they defeated Central Florida 47-13.
Michigan (3-0) seeks its second 4-0 start in three seasons under Harbaugh and will rely heavily on its defense and special teams to get there.
Purdue leads the Big Ten in red zone efficiency, having scored on all 13 of its trips, 10 of which ended in touchdowns. The Boilermakers rank third in the conference in passing, averaging 298.7 yards per game, and fourth in scoring at 35.7 points per game.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jackson Anthrop is one to watch. He has scored a touchdown in each of his first three games, emerging as quarterback David Blough’s favorite target.
The Wolverines defeated Air Force 29-16 last Saturday but only had to defend nine passes from the Falcons’ run-heavy offense, which rushed 49 times for 168 yards. Still, Michigan boasts the second-best passing defense and total defense in the conference, making Saturday’s matchup an intriguing clash of football ideologies.
“You just change the channel,” Harbaugh said of the difference in game plans. “One scheme to another. Change our scheme to adapt. Improvise. Adjust.”
Brohm knows what he’s up against in facing Harbaugh’s gritty, NFL-style defense, and stressed a balanced offensive attack as the key to victory.
“Coach Harbaugh is as good as it gets when it comes to knowing football and how to coach,” Brohm said. “Right now, in order to succeed and win, we’ve got to have balance.
“They’re very good,” Brohm added about the Wolverines. “Those defenses, you’re probably not going to be able to work the ball down the field. You’re going to have to find a way to make a big play here and there to spark you, get something going, otherwise you’re going to be punting real fast.”
Despite its record and top-10 ranking, Michigan has been a strange and somewhat stagnant team offensively, particularly in the red zone. Although the Wolverines rank fifth in the conference in overall red zone efficiency at 90 percent, they have managed just one touchdown in 10 trips, converting on 8-of-9 red zone field-goal attempts.
Against Air Force, kicker Quinn Nordin tied a school record with five field goals, four of which came from inside the red zone.
“(Air Force) was doing a really good job of disguising coverages,” Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight said. “Often in the red zone, they would show one thing, and at the last second, they would bring another look or bring the house. They fooled us. We just have to push forward in the red zone.”
Speight has yet to find a groove and the Michigan offense has scored only five of the team’s nine total touchdowns. The junior is completing just 54.6 percent of his passes with three touchdowns against two interceptions, and the threat of being replaced by senior backup John O’Korn still looms.
It doesn’t help that true freshman wideout Tarik Black (team-best 11 grabs for 149 yards) is potentially lost for the season with a foot injury.
Michigan running back Ty Isaac has 336 rushing yards through three games, the best start by a Wolverines back since Mike Hart totaled 502 at the start of the 2007 campaign.
While Purdue’s defense in recent years has arguably been the weakest link — the Boilermakers ranked 126th nationally in rushing yards allowed in 2016 — Brohm’s impact on the program appears to be felt on both sides of the ball.
“This is one of the best defenses I’ve been around,” Purdue defensive end Gelen Robinson said. “I think that’s clear to a lot of fans. They’re seeing a defense that plays hard, runs to the ball, and really wants to compete to win, not just to stay in the game.”