It looked like it was going to be a case of here we go again for the University of Michigan football team.
The 17th-ranked Wolverines began the season 7-0, then lost to Michigan State its last time out. After a week to lick its wounds after a bitter loss to its instate rival, Michigan faced unranked Purdue at the Big House on Saturday.
Michigan celebrated homecoming with a 36-14 win over the Boilermakers in front of 112,115. But it didn’t start well and the Wolverines had to make some adjustments to secure the win.
In recent years, Michigan has started fast but faded badly once the Big Ten conference season has rolled around. This year’s team, under first-year head coach Brady Hoke is determined to end that trend.
On Saturday, Purdue took the opening kickoff and drove 67 yards in five plays to take a quick 7-0 lead when Boilermaker quarterback Kyle Terbush hit Gary Bush for a 48-yard score.
“We got the team (first-string defense) together on the sidelines and had a talk,” Hoke said. “We didn’t have to yell or scream at anybody, it wasn’t like that. We just talked about being focused”
Purdue wouldn’t score again until there were 15 seconds left to play. By that time, Michigan had scored 36 straight points and the first-string defense was resting on the sidelines.
Michigan’s early struggles including consecutive interceptions on drives from quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. So, Michigan went to the run and it paid off.
The Wolverines ran for339 yards, including a breakout performance from junior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who had a career-high 175 yards on a career-high 20 carries and a career-high two touchdowns.
His 59-yard scamper was a thing of beauty,t he most electrifying play of the game on a cutback.
“I just saw the daylight and ran,” said Toussaint.
“What I liked about the run was more than just Fitz,” said Hoke. “He made a great read but we had some great blocking on that play.”
Robinson, usually Michigan’s top rusher and among the nation’s leaders, had only 76 yards and a touchdown.
“The offensive line was tremendous today,” he said.
All season long, Michigan has looked for a running back to take charge, with the spotlight shifting to Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith. Now all eyes are on Toussaint, who has missed much time at Michigan because of injuries. He’s completely healthy now.
“I still have a lot to prove,” Toussaint said. “Whichever back plays best on Tuesday at practice will play the most on Saturday.”
Hoke isn’t ready to crown Toussaint yet.
“We’ll see,” Hoke said. “Fitz had a tremendous game today.”
Michigan’s defense held Purdue to just 117 yards rushing and one of the game’s biggest plays was safety recorded by Mike Martin on Puirdue quarterback Tersush in the second quarter.
“That was a big momentum play,” Hoke said.
Michigan, 7-1 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten Legends play, is tied for the division lead with Michigan State and Nebraska. The Wolverines play road games against Iowa and Illinois before returning to the Big House next month to play Nebraska and then the traditional closer against Ohio State.
“Every week is a championship game for us,” said Hoke. “That’s just how it is.”
Purdue falls to 4-4, 2-2. The Boilermakers haven't won two games in a row all season.
For more info: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn