BRENT DRINKUT / AP Enlarge
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A fake punt and hook and lateral effectively ended Michigan's prized streak of consecutive bowl appearances and sent the Wolverines quickly spiraling toward the worst season in program history.
UM lost 48-42 to Purdue yesterday for its seventh loss in nine tries. The Wolverines are eliminated from bowl contention after 33 straight postseason games and are one loss away from setting a school record for defeats.
UM was again torn apart by an opposing team's spread offense but was ultimately done in by the Boilermakers' two gimmick plays on their final two drives.
With the score tied 35-35 midway through the fourth quarter, Purdue coach and Toledo native Joe Tiller called for a fake punt on fourth-and-eight from his own 32-yard line. A direct snap went to linebacker Anthony Heygood, who rumbled 61 yards to set up Justin Siller's go-ahead, four-yard touchdown pass to Greg Orton.
The Wolverines needed their own fourth-down conversion and two devastating Purdue penalties for Brandon Minor to score on a one-yard run and help forge another tie, but those good fortunes were short-lived.
With the Boilermakers already on the move, Siller completed a pass at the UM 28 to Orton, who stunned the Wolverines by pitching the ball to a streaking Desmond Tardy. Tardy took it the rest of the way for the game-winning score with 26 seconds left.
"Just couldn't believe it," Minor said.
UM had one last crack at tying it, but Steven Threet's final pass from the Purdue 47 into the end zone was knocked away - and with it any chance of avoiding the program's first losing season since 1967. The Wolverines (2-7, 1-4 Big Ten) are losers of five straight (which also ties a school record) and have three games left.
"There's nothing I can say about it," UM senior linebacker John Thompson said. "It is what it is. We can't go to a bowl. We've just got to stick together and play for each other."
Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez is dangerously close to captaining the ultimate season of infamy in his first year in Ann Arbor - UM has lost seven games four times since 1879 - but is refusing to take a defeatist approach.
"We're going to go back to work," Rodriguez said. "What do you want me to say? You want to look at the finality of it all? I've been here nine, 10 months. We've had great tradition, and we still have great tradition, and we're going to do all we can to uphold it."
Siller, a redshirt freshman from Detroit who was working as a running back a few weeks ago, made his first-career start and dominated the Wolverines. Filling in for the injured Curtis Painter, whose nation-leading streak of 40-consecutive starts was snapped yesterday, Siller completed 21-of-34 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 77 yards and another score as Purdue snapped a five-game losing streak.
UM, which has failed at every opportunity to defend against the spread offense this year, employed a look of three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs yesterday that didn't work.
The Wolverines twice built 14-point leads and lost them both. They also wasted Minor's career effort of 155 yards and three touchdowns, and freshman Martavious Odoms returned a punt 73 yards for UM's first touchdown on a kick or punt return this year.
If Siller and Orton (eight catches, 89 yards) weren't picking the Wolverines apart, then it was Purdue running back Kory Sheets causing problems. Sheets rushed 30 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns.
The Boilermakers (3-6, 1-4) tallied 522 total yards despite entering the game ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total offense and 10th in scoring.
"It doesn't matter what [defensive] scheme you run," Rodriguez said. "You've got to get off blocks, break on the ball, tackle better."
Rodriguez's defense actually stopped Purdue on its first fourth-quarter possession and appeared to have done it again the next time the Boilermakers had the ball. UM's coaches were warning their players against a fake punt because of how Purdue was aligned, but there was no stopping Heygood when he got the snap and took off.
As it turned out, there was no stopping the Boilermakers after that play, either.
"We have been waiting all year to run that play," Heygood said.
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