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October 6, 2012They donned "Road Warriors" T-shirts, and the Wolverines were determined to rule the highway in their first Big Ten travel test. Purdue happened to get in the way, and wound up flattened.
Michigan pounded out 304 rushing yards on Ross-Ade Stadium's well-trod sod - 235 of them by Denard Robinson - and flat-out embarrassed the Boilermakers at home, 44-13. Robinson (8-for-16) threw for 105 yards and a touchdown, and just as importantly, didn't pitch an interception in his first outing since a four-pickoff nadir against Notre Dame.
Michigan's defense kicked in forcefully, scoring a touchdown itself and chilling the Boilermakers with 213 yards, 56 on the ground. A game that featured the majority of ESPN GameDay analysts picking Purdue produced a lead pipe to the throat of the notion that Michigan can't compete for the Big Ten championship.
"It's kind of embarrassing losing like that in Ross-Ade, with a lot of people visiting and just getting blown out," noted Caleb TerBush, the first of three Purdue quarterbacks on the afternoon.
TerBush matched Robinson's 105 yards passing and one touchdown, but he also tossed a TD to the wrong team and saw the rest of his offense going nowhere fast.
Michigan's opening drive developed like a tribute to early-1970s forays into West Lafayette. The Wolverines methodically chewed up the Boilermakers, going 78 yards in 17 plays (all but three of them runs). Fitzgerald Toussaint (17 carries, 19 yards, two touchdowns) capped the march with a one-yard touchdown plunge at the 4:40 mark of the first quarter.
Hoke wouldn't settle for a field goal on fourth-and-four at the Purdue 22, instead directing the Wolverines to convert. They did, spreading four receivers out and allowing Robinson to gun an eight-yard throw to Devin Gardner, saving kicker Brendan Gibbons for extra-point work.
"I think it's confidence in both sides of the ball," Hoke said of the decision. "I felt good how we were going along a little bit, but good that our defense was going to play."
His team's confidence only grew after Purdue's second straight three-and-out. Robinson burst away for 38 yards, igniting an eight-play, 63-yard touchdown drive on U-M's second possession.
Robinson executed a senior-to-freshman hookup on the other key play of the drive, facing third-and-11 on Purdue's 15. The U-M quarterback gunned one over the middle to tight end Devin Funchess, who reached back to pull in a tough catch and hang on, setting up Toussaint's second one-yard TD dive.
"We went off what was working today," Robinson said. "We were running the ball well so we kept doing it, and we took some shots when we needed to."
Purdue head coach Danny Hope has been compared to Wile E. Coyote, seeing all of his best plans blow up in his face. That's precisely what happened when he tried to show some fourth-down bravado of his own.
On fourth-and-two at the Michigan 43, TerBush tried to throw into the left flat for receiver O.J. Ross. The ball tumbled off his hands, directly into those of sophomore defensive back Raymon Taylor. Taylor grabbed it, then raced down Ross-Ade Stadium's eastern sideline 63 yards for a touchdown.
At 21-0, the Wolverines looked every bit like the roadrunner, while the smoke billowed off an increasingly hopeless Hope.
"That's a big play," safety Jordan Kovacs assured. "He made some big plays. It's really important for him to make a play like that, a young guy. It helps him get comfortable and get some confidence."
The Wolverines had a chance to cash in on back-to-back Boilermaker blow-ups, Akeem Hunt fumbling the ensuing kickoff and Delonte Hollowell diving on it for the Wolverines. But Brendan Gibbons' 44-yard field goal attempt into the wind banged off the crossbar, slowing the opening-half barrage.
Purdue finally answered, Paul Griggs knocking through a 40-yard field goal to get the Boilermakers on the board, at 21-3.
The Wolverines weren't waiting around, immediately driving 74 yards on seven plays for an answering TD. Robinson jump-started the drive with a screen to Jeremy Gallon, who raced away 28 yards.
The senior quarterback then found Gardner split left with single coverage. The converted wideout cut across the middle, taking the 23-yard touchdown pass in stride to make it 28-3.
"The coverage rolled, and I prayed he'd find me," Gardner said.
Robinson did, but just when Purdue's giant drum appeared ready to shrink to Lifesaver size, U-M absorbed a reminder of how quickly turnovers can turn into misery.
Robinson fumbled an intended handoff to Vincent Smith, and Purdue pounced on the ball at the U-M 36. Seven plays later, TerBush gunned a four-yard TD to Ross with just 10 seconds remaining in the half.
Hoke might have been fighting off d? vu in the halftime locker room, up 28-10. He was on hand when the Wolverines led by that margin in 2000, only to experience a second-half meltdown resulting in a 32-31 Purdue win.
Hoke was having none of it.
"He made it seem like we've got to keep punching them," fifth-year senior linebacker Kenny Demens said. "We can't let up. They are a great football team, and they could have easily gotten back into the game. He made it a point to go out there and keep punching."
In fact, an anonymous wise guy among the Purdue press corps noted any comparison to 2000 involves an "I knew Jack Kennedy, and you're no Jack Kennedy" moment, regarding the Drew Brees-led 2000 squad and the present Boilermakers. U-M kept punching, and proved that point.
Gibbons pounded home a 29-yard field goal with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter. Robinson set it up, bursting free on a 46-yard run that left the home team looking like it had half a dozen Joe Tillers in tepid pursuit.
Purdue didn't crack the scoreboard in the second half until 12:46 remained in the game, Griggs booting a 37-yard field goal to make it 31-13.
As if to assure the score marked the start of precisely nothing, Robinson jetted away for 59 yards on the very next play from scrimmage. That scorching scamper set up Gibbons' 42-yard field goal, pushing the edge back to 21, 34-13.
Thomas Gordon's pickoff of a tipped pass by substitute quarterback Robert Marve set the Wolverines up again. Gibbons delivered, this time from 28 yards with 6:02 to play, and any Ross-Ade nightmares melted away like the lukewarm Boilermakers crowd of 50,105.
Thomas Rawls added a late touchdown on a seven-yard blast, running through two tackles on his way to the final score. He took his cue from his teammates - this day, nothing was going to block the road.