Michigan football team melts down again, loses to Purdue
Another second-half meltdown, another slew of unforced errors, and maybe another December at home. The Michigan football team lost its fifth straight Big Ten game Saturday, collapsing under a Tate Forcier fumble, a missed extra point and a surprise on-side kick to fall to Purdue, 38-36. The Wolverines (5-5, 1-5) are in serious jeopardy of missing the postseason for a second straight year. They need one more win to qualify for a bowl and they close the season at Wisconsin and home against Ohio State, two top-25 teams.
Michigan, which started 4-0, hasn’t beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since Sept 26. "Our heads ain't down,” running back Brandon Minor said. “We're not like no 12-year-old boys, we're in college. We can handle this mentally. I don't think none of us need to see Dr. Phil or Oprah." Michigan’s demise Saturday started early in the third quarter with the Wolverines nursing a 24-10 lead. Brandon King deflected Tate Forcier’s option pitch to Minor deep in Michigan territory and recovered the fumble for Purdue. Ralph Bolden scored one play later on a 19-yard run. Forcier answered with a 6-yard touchdown run for Michigan, but Jason Olesnavage missed the extra point and Purdue rattled off 21 straight points. The Boilermakers (4-5, 3-3) scored on a 14-play, 91-yard drive, capped by another Bolden touchdown run, then stunned Michigan with a pooch on-side kick. David Pender recovered the kick for Purdue, and Joey Elliott hit Cortez Smith with a back-breaking 54-yard touchdown pass one play later to give the Boilermakers a 31-30 lead. “That was momentum,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The onside kick, that was really disappointing because we say it every time you go out there. ‘See the ball kicked.’ I mean every time.” Elliott added an 8-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for Purdue.
Minor answered with his third touchdown run with 2:10 to play, but Forcier was sacked on a two-point conversation attempt and Michigan failed to score on a desperate final possession that began at its own 10-yard line with 29 seconds left. Michigan has been outscored 75-12 in the second halves of its last three games, losses to Penn State, Illinois and Purdue.
Against Illinois, the Wolverines allowed 31 unanswered points after getting stopped on four plays from the 1-yard line. “It’s embarrassing,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “But at the same time we just know we’re way better than that. We’re just trying to prove it to y’all, let people know that we work every day. We just got to be in position. We got to have a little bit better technique and just a little bit better conversion on third down.” Elliott threw for a career-high 367 yards and Bolden added 98 rushing for Purdue, which amassed 494 yards of total offense and won at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1966. The Boilermakers entered Saturday with an FBS-worst 11-game road losing streak. “We didn’t have any second thoughts about winning here today,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “The bottom line was the team that wavered first or most often was going to be doomed. That wasn’t going to be us today.” Minor finished with 19 carries for 152 yards for Michigan, and receiver Roy Roundtree, who originally committed to Purdue two years ago, caught a career-high 10 passes for 126 yards. Rodriguez said he's frustrated with his team's play recently, but not out of hope with two games left. “I don’t have a magic wand and can’t fix this right now,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said it a bunch of times - some of our problems are going to take a little longer to fix than anybody wants. But we’re going to fix them, just give us time. It’s not going to happen right now. It’s not going to happen right now, I wish it would.” Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.