ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team insists it’s ready for the challenge posed by Purdue.
The Wolverines are taking Purdue seriously, as are others who have taken notice of the Boilermakers, who have emerged as one of the country’s surprise programs this season.
In the Big Ten, a conference of obvious haves and have-nots, Purdue has hovered near the basement in recent years — when they weren’t entrenched in the basement. Michigan went through a similar short-term dip when many of its current players were freshmen or sophomores in 2014, when the Wolverines limped to a 5-7 record.
Then came a coaching change. Jim Harbaugh changed the culture and revived the program into a national contender. Michigan’s opponent on Saturday could also be at the start of a renaissance. Purdue, under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, is 2-1 and hosts No. 8 Michigan (3-0) at 4 p.m. ET in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
“With a new coach coming in, that coach brings a lot of energy, like Coach Harbaugh did,” Michigan linebacker Mike McCray said. “It kind of changes the demeanor of the team, on and off the field. I can’t really compare who the coach is, but they’re probably just feeling good about themselves right now, and that’s a great thing for them.
“A coach coming in, changing the confidence, changing the program.”
Michigan is a 10-point favorite against Purdue. Michigan’s players and its coach, however, aren’t perpetuating the idea that they’re a favorite.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence right now,” McCray said. “They’ve got a lot of things on offense. They used two quarterbacks in the game I watched, and the few running backs they have, they’re athletic, fast. The offense uses great technique and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The Wolverines maintain a certain level of respect for the Boilermakers. It could be a product of Michigan’s past games against teams some would normally overlook.
|2015||Indiana||Michigan by 13||Michigan won, 48-41 in 2OT|
|2013||Connecticut||Michigan by 17.5||Michigan won, 24-21|
|2013||Akron||Michigan by 35.5||Michigan won, 28-24|
|2012||Air Force||Michigan by 21.5||Michigan won, 31-25|
In Michigan’s 33-14 win against Cincinnati on Sept. 9, the Bearcats put to rest any thoughts of an early blowout by cutting the lead to 3 points in the third quarter. Michigan was favored by upwards of 34 points.
Michigan could be nervous this week. Purdue has one of the Big Ten’s most productive offenses, and is in search of a signature win after thumping Missouri 35-3 on the road.
Given the tone of Harbaugh’s voice during his press conference Monday, Michigan doesn’t even sound like a favorite against the Boilermakers. Harbaugh was almost deferential and practically verbose when asked about Purdue and Brohm.
“The team’s done a tremendous job,” Harbaugh said. “The coaching staff should really be favored for coach of the year. They’ve done a tremendous job.”
Michigan hasn’t faced Purdue in five years. The Wolverines might not know exactly what they’ll get in the Boilermakers, outside of a productive offense that averages nearly 460 yards a game.
“You prepare the best you can on what you have to go on,” Harbaugh said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference. “In this case, the three games. Sometimes, [it’s] what teams have done previously and with different employers, and then be ready to improvise and adjust.”