Chris Perry is enjoying a big senior season for No. 5 Michigan.
The 6-1, 228-pound senior tailback leads the Big Ten in rushing at 131.3 yards per game, and ranks second nationally, less than 10 yards behind North Texas Patrick Cobbs.
Perry has gained 1,313 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. And he is coming off a record-setting performance in UM s 27-20 victory against Michigan State 12 days ago in which he ran for 219 yards on a school-record 51 carries and scored one touchdown.
The Wolverines, 5-1 and tied for the Big Ten lead with No. 4 Ohio State and No. 11 Purdue, will play Northwestern on the road Saturday after being idle last week, then finish up with the Buckeyes at home on Nov. 22.
If UM wins its final two games it will earn at least a share of the conference title and, more importantly, the Rose Bowl bid that comes with it.
Coach Lloyd Carr, who was at odds with Perry his first few seasons, said he s not surprised Perry has turned his career around.
“Where it all started for Chris was two years ago, after his sophomore season,” Carr said. “It was a disappointing season, and for the first time he really addressed the issue of his weight and conditioning. Don t get me wrong - I don t think he was in bad shape - I just don t think he understood, at that point, the significance of conditioning.
“Then the bowl game on Jan. 1 last year was another eye-opener for him. In that game, B.J. [Askew] went out early with a broken hand, and Chris played more snaps in that game that he had ever played.
“After that game he realized the toll it takes when you play that many snaps. To be ready to do that over the course of a season, he understood that he needed to get into the best shape of his life. There s no question in my mind that s been a big part of his success.” Carr said Perry has a work ethic similar to that of former record-setting Michigan tailback Anthony Thomas, a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2001.
“As a running back, [Chris is] much different than Anthony, but both of them are great football players without the ball,” Carr said. “You want a guy at their position who is unselfish, and they re team players, both of them.”
MOVING UP: Ohio State has inched closer to defending its national title, but the Buckeyes - ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series standings - still need some help.
They must win their final two games against Purdue and Michigan, then have No. 2 Southern Cal lose in order to play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
“It s in the back of our minds,” tight end Ben Hartsock said. “But we have two huge games left, so all we can do is focus on them.”
One thing is for certain. By winning out, OSU would assure itself of its first outright Big Ten title in nearly two decades and a berth in the Rose Bowl, which certainly wouldn t be a small consolation prize.
“The Rose Bowl isn t the Toilet Bowl,” offensive tackle Shane Olivea said. “It s still a prestigious game. It s not like going to the Outback Bowl.”
LINEBACKER U: Purdue s three senior linebackers - Landon Johnson, Gilbert Gardner, and Niko Koutouvides - have combined for more than 100 career starts.
“You combine the experience with the foot speed and the physical skills, and they re pretty good,” said coach Joe Tiller, a Toledo native. “They re real good. We couldn t be more pleased with the way those three have played.”
The Boilermakers start nine seniors on a defense that ranks seventh nationally against the run (82.6).
EXTRA TOPPING: Shortly after booting a 35-yard field goal to beat Wisconsin 37-34 Saturday, Minnesota kicker Rhys Lloyd made a mad dash across the field, grabbed Paul Bunyan s Axe and circled the Metrodome in celebration.
Lloyd s game-winning kick, which lifted the 19th-ranked Gophers to their first nine-win season in 98 years, carried an unusual payoff.
“[Coach Glen] Mason said, If you make this, you can have all the pizza you can eat, ” Lloyd said. “I was like, Fair enough. ”
Mason recalled a different conversation with Lloyd.
“I said the snap is going to be good, the hold is going to be good, the protection is going to be good, and the kick is going to be good,” Mason said. “Now, don t forget to go get the axe. I m just glad he didn t go get the axe before he kicked the ball.”