Opinion: Rich Rodriguez's rivalry with Purdue intensifies as Michigan football hits low point
If there ever is a day when Rich Rodriguez leads the Wolverines to the top of the college football world, he’ll remember Saturday as the day the rise began. Remember it as the day that nobody outside his close-knit group of coaches believed.
Remember it as the day outsiders lost faith, the day his team extinguished its bowl hopes for the second straight year, the day his team froze in fright and collapsed for the second straight week. Rodriguez will remember it as the day a piddly little pretend program like Purdue grabbed its first Big House win since 1966 - then rubbed Rodriguez’s nose in the outcome.
This is the low point, everyone. It’s not possible to fall any further. A third-quarter disintegration, a postseason for all intents and purposes kissed goodbye, bad play-calling and a confrontation between coaches during the post-game handshake. Saturday’s 38-36 loss had it all. How bad are things in Ann Arbor? Consider this: Michigan’s fiercest rivalry during the Rich Rodriguez era is not with the traditional stalwarts, Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame.
Purdue is Michigan’s chief rival right now. Barring the inconceivable over the final two games, this marks the second consecutive season the Boilermakers took pleasure in ending Michigan’s bowl hopes. Last year, Purdue sent then-coach Joe Tiller toward retirement with a 48-42 victory over Rodriguez in a back-and-forth game in West Lafayette, Ind. Tiller, you may remember, is the coach who went berserk when Rodriguez swooped in late and convinced a recruit to sign with the Wolverines instead of Purdue. “If we had an early signing date, you wouldn’t have another outfit with a guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil get a guy at the last minute, but that’s what happened,” Tiller said. The recruit in question, of course, was Roy Roundtree, a reserve sophomore receiver who curiously started Saturday in the second annual Snake Oil Bowl. No matter the motivation for his start, Roundtree delivered. He became just the second Michigan receiver with a 100-yard game this season, catching 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. That was all the kindling needed to ignite first-year Purdue coach Danny Hope, who served on Tiller’s staff. After the game, when Hope met Rodriguez at midfield for the traditional post-game handshake, he instead disrespected Rodriguez on his own 50-yard line and intensified a recent spat between the schools. “He came over and shook my hand, and then introduced me to (Zach) Reckman, and said, ‘Thanks coach. Really appreciate what you did,’” Rodriguez said. “Whatever.” What did Rodriguez do? Earlier this season, Rodriguez refused to act when Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton threw a punch against a Notre Dame player. Rodriguez’s inaction prompted the Big Ten to step in and suspend Mouton for a game, which, in turn, spurred an incredulous Rodriguez to demand that the conference treat every team with equal scrutiny. The next week, Rodriguez offered this analysis of Reckman throwing a forearm jab against Northern Illinois: “Now is that a non-football act? It probably is.” The Big Ten suspended Reckman for a game, and the Boilermakers didn’t forget. “I was a little disappointed that after the game their coach seemed to bring the lineman over like I was the reason his lineman got suspended for that one game,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know where that came from. But what are you going to do? I usually go over and shake hands and tell you good luck in the next game. To come over and say something about that? Whatever.” Of course, the hot-headed confrontation and the fact Rodriguez brought it up himself without anyone asking - or even knowing about it - only distracted from the real issue. Bad blood and close losses with bowls on the line may be fueling the Purdue-Michigan rivalry, but the real problem is that Michigan will likely spend its second consecutive season missing a bowl. There are reasons to believe Rodriguez will be successful at Michigan. But a second consecutive bowl-less season would be a low mark for this program, and understandably leave the Michigan faithful wondering if this second-year coach and his spread offense have something substantive to offer the school, or whether they’ve fallen victim to some snake-oil scheme.