A loss to its in-state rival sent Michigan into a tailspin in each of the last two seasons. The team is determined to avoid another letdown.
Coming off a bye week - and a fourth consecutive loss to Michigan State - the 17th-ranked Wolverines look to get back on track Saturday when they face a confident Purdue team trying to win two straight in Ann Arbor for the first time in 45 years.
Michigan (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) had its undefeated start snapped by the Spartans in each of the last two years under former coach Rich Rodriguez - 4-0 in 2009 and 5-0 in 2010 - with both seasons hitting rough patches following that defeat. The Wolverines finished 5-7 two years ago and 7-6 last year.
They’re hoping to avoid a similar fate under Brady Hoke after falling 28-14 in East Lansing on Oct. 15.
“There’s not going to be a crash and burn,” senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen said.
The Wolverines, though, will need improved play from quarterback Denard Robinson, who is completing just 53.9 percent of his passes and has one fewer interception this season (10) than he did in 2010.
The junior threw for 123 yards with a TD and an INT against Michigan State, and his 9-for-24 effort was his lowest completion percentage (37.5) as a starter. His 42 yards on the ground were also a low as a starter.
However, Hoke has no plans of giving backup Devin Gardner - who had his most action of the season against the Spartans after Robinson was roughed up - extended time under center.
“Denard is our quarterback,” Hoke said. “We’re 6-1, and a lot of that is because Denard is our quarterback.”
Purdue coach Danny Hope saw how Michigan State contained Robinson and held Michigan’s 12th-ranked rushing offense (239.0 yards per game) to a season-low 82, but he’s not underestimating a dual-threat quarterback whom he called “one of the best players in college football.”
“You’re not going to stop him,” Hope said. “You hope that you can minimize his production enough to give yourself a chance to compete and win. He can be a difference maker in any ball game on any play.”
The Boilermakers (4-3, 2-1), though, did a nice job on Robinson in their 27-16 home loss Nov. 13, holding him to 68 yards on 22 carries while forcing two fumbles and picking off two of his passes.
Purdue will try to pressure Robinson as much as possible after recording a season-best four sacks in a 21-14 victory over then-No. 23 Illinois on Saturday.
With quarterback Caleb TerBush getting all the snaps - Robert Marve didn’t rotate in for the first time in five games - and passing for 178 yards with two scores, the Boilermakers defeated a ranked foe for just the second time in 24 tries.
“We’re still in control of our own destiny,” said Hope, whose team is tied with No. 12 Wisconsin for second in the Leaders Division - trailing 4-0 Penn State. “It would be really hard to go down and play in the championship game in Indianapolis with two losses already. It’s a milestone win in some ways, just to beat a ranked opponent at home.”
While the Boilermakers haven’t won two straight since Oct. 9 and 16, 2010, they’ve made some nice headway since a 38-10 home loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 1 that had some calling for Hope’s job.
“For three weeks in a row now we’ve taken the field with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm,” Hope said.
Purdue will take that same approach as it makes its first appearance in Ann Arbor since snapping a 17-game skid at Michigan Stadium with a 38-36 victory on Nov. 7, 2009.
The Boilermakers hadn’t won on the road in this series since a four-year run from 1963-66.
The Wolverines are 42-14 all-time versus Purdue.