Jeff Brohm knew exactly what was coming.
So did Elijah Sindelar.
So did Grant Hermanns.
So did all of Purdue’s offensive pieces.
They’d studied Michigan’s defense extensively, and Brohm did his best to devise an offensive game plan to counter a scheme Purdue hadn’t seen yet this season: One that was going to play man coverage, tightly, on the receivers, and be incredibly aggressive and multiple in the front seven, including blitzing from all angles in hopes to confuse the offensive line.
For a brief period Saturday, the Boilermakers looked like they had the solution, scoring on back-to-back drives to take a lead into halftime.
And then No. 8 Michigan locked it down.
Purdue managed only 10 yards in the second half — 10 — and was sacked four times as the Wolverines pulled away for a 28-10 victory in front of a sold-out Ross-Ade Stadium.
“If you look at the first half, we had a little bit of trickery and some misdirection. We had some screens, because of how aggressive they are, and they worked. You go to the second half, and they were smarter and none of those worked,” Brohm said. “We were able to make some plays, and the second half we weren’t. The credit goes to Michigan. They were much more sound, fundamentally, and still challenged everything we did. And got after the quarterback. And got sacks. And pressed us across the board. And we had a hard time getting open.
“In the second half, they stoned us.”
And, with that, some of the momentum the Boilermakers (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) had built is gone.
Not that it’s all gone — Michigan still is Michigan and still was a top-10 team, which Purdue hasn’t beaten since 2009 — but maybe Saturday served as a bit of a reality check.
Though the Boilermakers have made considerable strides in Brohm's first season as head coach, this still is a rebuilding project. This still isn’t a team that’s ready to go head-to-head and beat a team like Michigan man-up, in terms of physicality and athleticism.
Brohm, simply, said afterward the better team won.
Purdue players, who were riding a buzz of attention and confidence entering the game, said the same.
How could they not?
“Just because we beat an SEC team on the road … maybe we did think we were too good. And they showed us,” said linebacker Markus Bailey, who had nine tackles and two sacks. “They’re a great football teams that knows how to finish games.
“We need to get to that level.”
A big part of that next step could be the offense’s ability to produce against legitimate defenses.
Brohm’s first play call was a throwback to quarterback David Blough that gained 24 yards.
His reasoning: “I didn’t think we were going to be able to earn it the old-fashioned way a whole lot.”
So Brohm had misdirection and rolled out the quarterback right to throw back left — that’s how Purdue scored its only touchdown, when Sindelar connected with a wide open Brycen Hopkins. Brohm did massive shifts. He used personnel groupings without running backs. He tried a flea flicker, which only got the QB drilled.
But Michigan firmed up against those deception plays.
And, then, Purdue really was in trouble because it couldn’t produce yards traditionally on first and second down. That meant the worst-case scenario: Third-and-longs against a defense that was built to confuse and blitz.
And Michigan did.
And Purdue’s line couldn’t hold up.
“This game was on us. We just weren’t as physical up front like we needed to be,” left tackle Grant Hermanns said. “We knew what they were going to do. We saw it on film all week, and we saw it out here (Saturday). We just have to come out and execute and make plays. They’re a good football team. We’re a good football team. They just made more plays than we did.
“We knew that Michigan, they wear down teams in the second half. They wear you down, they wear you down. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to keep our offense out there and keep drives going. Keep our defense fresh and keep them off the field. We didn’t do that. It showed.”
Brohm tried to find a spark by switching quarterbacks, like he has all season. He started Blough for the second consecutive game, but Sindelar was in by the second quarter. That seemed to be when Brohm opted to roll out the quarterback more, and Sindelar had a touch of success.
But in the second half, no one did.
With Purdue trailing 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Blough returned to the game. But Purdue promptly went three-and-out, and on the next series, Blough was sacked on the first play, got drilled into the turf on a second-and-long — after which he immediately clutched his right shoulder, which he’d injured in training camp — and then was sacked on third down.
His day was done.
And, ultimately, so was Purdue’s.
The Boilermakers finished the game with only 189 total yards, didn’t convert any of their 12 third-down attempts and had the ball for only 21 minutes.
“They had a good game plan, but we knew what they were going to do,” said Sindelar, who completed 7-of-16 passes for 103 yards and a TD. “They were going to man us up and press on the outside, and they were going to bring pressure. They pretty much did exactly what we thought they were going to do. We just didn’t execute.
“We had some long third downs, and that makes it tough on an offense. We’ve got to make sure we have a little bit more production on first and second down, to make third down manageable. When we’re going third-and-15, third-and-12, it makes it much harder, especially with a great defense like Michigan.”
Though disappointed with the missed opportunity to pull an upset in front of a rocking home crowd, Purdue players weren’t defeated afterward.
They have a large enough sample size now, with this new coaching staff, to feel like they’ll be OK.
They just need to regroup, Hermanns said.
They just need to refocus, Brohm said.
They just need to take the bye week to heal up.
They just need to keep plugging.
“I think we’re going to be just fine,” Sindelar said. “I think we’ve made our place. I think we’ve got to be able to come every game and give great effort. We’re not a team that can just flip the switch, we’ve got to prepare and we’ve got to come ready to go every game. I think our effort was there. Unfortunately, we fell a little short. Michigan’s a good team.
“Offensively, I think you’ll see us come back hungry and ready to go against Minnesota.”
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