Purdue defense shows strength again, until tiring late in loss

Kyle Charters, GoldandBlack.com staff
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Through two-and-a-half quarters on Saturday evening, Purdue’s defense had matched Michigan’s, perhaps exceeded it.

But it wore down, probably a combination of its lack of depth, Michigan’s physicality and the Boilermakers’ own offensive issues. Yet, despite a 28-10 loss to the Wolverines Saturday, when UM pulled away with 21 unanswered points, Purdue’s defense can head to the bye week feeling confident.

“We did a good job getting in there more,” Coach Jeff Brohm said, noting Purdue’s four sacks and eight tackles for loss. “We played hard. We prevented some big plays, but we were on the field too long and second half we wore down.”

The Boilermakers, however, were outstanding early, limiting Michigan to only seven first-half points and 131 yards. And they forced a punt, then a turnover on the first two drives of the second half.

But after Ja’Whaun Bentley slipped off a would-be drive-ending sack on UM’s third possession of the third quarter, the Wolverines started to take over. They scored on three straight possessions, totaling 226 yardto nearly double their previous output.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re tired or not, we have to keep executing on defense and that’s something we sort of failed to do in the second half,” linebacker Markus Bailey said.

Purdue’s offense likely contributed to the late defensive issues, having only 10 yards of total offense after halftime. It left the defense on the field too long.

“We wore them down,” QB Elijah Sindelar said.

But it doesn’t erase the solid play early. Purdue knocked UM starting quarterback Wilton Speight on the first of Bailey’s two sacks. Purdue added two other QB takedowns, including one by safety Jacob Thieneman and one from Danny Ezechekwu. Plus, as Purdue has done frequently during the first four games of the season, it controlled the line of scrimmage. Michigan had only 29 rushing yards on 21 attempts in the first half.

But it didn’t last.

Purdue lost Thieneman and Bentley to targeting penalties in the second half, leading to the ejections of both — they’ll miss the first half of the Minnesota game in two week, also — and the Boilermakers started missing tackles and assignments. One was Chris Evans’ 49-yard touchdown run that ended the scoring in the fourth quarter, when Purdue missed its fits, leading to a big hole.

Purdue gave up 139 rushing yards for the game.

“Our defense, we pride ourselves on being able to stop the run. I think we did a decent job of that,” Bailey said. “They popped a few runs here or there, especially that big one in the second half.”

And quarterback John O’Korn, after replacing Speight, was effective, hitting for 270 yards on 18-of-26 passing with a touchdown and an interception. Safety Navon Mosley had the first of his career, setting up a go-ahead field goal in the second quarter.

But O’Korn particularly had success finding his tight ends, with Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry combining for 120 yards on eight receptions. With Purdue playing more man coverage than it had in the first three games, the Boilermakers struggled to keep track of the Wolverines in the middle. Bailey, in particular, says he could have been better; he allowed a 25-yard pass to Gentry in the fourth quarter, one that set up a Michigan touchdown two plays later. And he got lost in another coverage in the first half.

“I have to win my man-to-mans and I would have made more plays,” he said.

But the Boilermakers have much to work with, feeling the defense has largely played better than many anticipated through four games.

“We’re never going to be satisfied with being a decent defense,” Gelen Robinson said. “We’re going to continue to make progress and continue to develop these younger guys to play just as well as the starters. I’m looking forward.”’

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