October 5, 2012

Borton's Blog: Boiling point

Purdue as a "statement game" for Michigan - that's a strange proposition, historically speaking. It's kind of like Grenada serving as a statement war for the U.S.

The Wolverines lead the all-time series between the schools, 43-14. The Boilermakers have won two Big Ten championships in football since 1952, during which time the crew in the winged helmets scooped up 22 league title trophies.

Yes, Michigan loses to the Boilermakers on occasion. Just ask Rick Leach about 1976. Or see if Will Carr is hanging onto memories of 1996. See if you get a wince out of Drew Henson by mentioning 28 points in one half, three in the next.

For the most part, though - excluding the undefended stretch of time in which Michigan emulated Purdue more than its decades-of-dominance self - the Wolverines didn't go into contests against the Boilermakers overly concerned, or with something extra to prove.

That's not the case on Saturday. This one may not rank up there with Hoke vs. "Ohio", Round I, but on multiple levels, it's a big deal.

From a confidence/positive advancement standpoint, it's the first game since the toughest game of Denard Robinson's career. He issued the post-Notre Dame apologies to anyone who would listen, and has repeated the proper mantras ("Throwing it away isn't bad, tucking and running isn't bad…") for the past two weeks.

Now he has to show it on the football field. Obviously, he's not the only actor on this stage, but he always grabs the spotlight, good or bad.

All around him, the supporting cast has to step forward and do more - thus Hoke's challenge to Michigan's offensive line, the talk about re-firing tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint's engine, fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree's vow to shore up everything possible with his crew, etc. Through scheme and execution, whatever it takes, Michigan has to demonstrate the South Bend meltdown to be an aberrant footnote to a Big Ten surge.

It needs to show that it can go on the road, take control of the game, and avoid experiencing multiple turnovers heading forcefully back towards its own goal line, like it did not do against Alabama and Notre Dame. When sudden-change situations make Robinson a safety, that's the worst possible position switch.

In other words, U-M - especially on offense - needs to make the break between non-conference and conference seasons a clean and complete cutoff.

On a practical level, Michigan has to win this one. If it has any designs on reaching the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, this can't be one of "those" games in West Lafayette, when the winged helmets tarnish in the presence of the Golden Girl.

Some might call that an overly bold statement, especially in a season that could feature a Legends Division champion with two league losses. But look at the schedule. The Wolverines still have to pack their bags for Lincoln and Columbus, as well as hosting Michigan State.

On the list of potentially affordable losses, Danny Hope gets no circle.

The guess here is, Michigan makes the statement it intends - a forceful, risk-averse, emotional bounce back from the sins of South Bend. If not, the Wolverines will themselves be searching for a little hope.

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