ANN ARBOR — Michigan backup quarterback Devin Gardner stepped forward and heaved a lousy pass down field that shifted the momentum in Saturday's 36-14 homecoming win over Purdue. It was a regrettable choice — but not for long.
No one could have sensed at the time that Josh Johnson’s easy interception at the 5-yard line on a ball overthrown for Jeremy Gallon would actually benefit Michigan. On the next play, Wolverines nose tackle Mike Martin flattened center Peters Drey before wrestling quarterback Caleb TerBush to the ground in the end zone for a safety that sparked three quarters of domination for the Wolverines.
Two weeks after admittedly getting beaten up at Michigan State, Michigan (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) flipped the script and administered a whooping on a Purdue team coming off its biggest win of the season at Illinois.
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The Wolverines allowed touchdowns on their first and final defensive possessions but had their way with Purdue (4-4, 2-2) everywhere in between, winning big at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to close October with a share of the lead in the Legends division.
Everything seemed to go Michigan’s way after Martin’s two-point take down of TerBush made the score 9-7. Assisted by the short field on the ensuing punt, the Wolverines tacked on a 37-yard field goal by Brendan Gibbons — his first of two.
In a thought that undermines traditional thinking, Gardner’s interception netted his team five points.
“It was great momentum,” coach Brady Hoke said, not referring to the turnover but Martin’s sack. “When you score defensively, it brings great momentum and great morale and all of those things.”
Martin credited end Ryan Van Bergen for recognizing a pre-snap tip that indicated how Purdue’s line would block the play.
“We were looking for [a bootleg run], we were looking for a few things, but he did a good job of figuring out where they were going to slide the protection,” said Martin, who had two sacks.
“When it came down to it, we just were aggressive off the ball and good things happened.”
Needing to establish a diversified ground game now that the weather is getting cold, the offense received a banner day from Fitzgerald Toussaint, who carried the ball 20 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yarder in the second half in which he made several nifty cuts to get to the middle of the field before accelerating through a gap between two defenders.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan created a running lane for Toussaint, as did tight end Steve Watson.
“Coach Jackson always stresses when you see a crease, shoot through a cannon,” Toussaint said, referring to longtime running backs coach Fred Jackson. “That’s what I did. Credit goes out to the offensive line for creating that for me.”
In all, the Wolverines wracked up 339 yards on the ground, with just 63 coming from quarterback Denard Robinson, the team’s top rushing threat. Michael Shaw had 56 yards on five tries, and Vincent Smith, who has been hampered by a sore ankle, had 28 on six.
In scoring a touchdown on its opening drive for the fifth straight game, Michigan evened the score at 7-7 with Robinson barreling up the middle from the 2. Shaw scored Michigan’s other touchdown, a 37-yard jaunt on his first carry, to cap his team’s scoring with 12:32 left in the game.
“[The line] didn’t get it done [against Michigan State],” right tackle Mark Huyge said. “The key was to move on as quickly as possible from that and make the necessary adjustments. We were under a little bit of pressure. We knew if we played our game and executed to how we’re capable of, we’d be fine.”
It will be paramount that Michigan continues to have productive rushing days as it enters the final month of the regular season facing a difficult four-game stretch with road games at Iowa and Illinois before Nebraska and Ohio State come to town. Michigan shares the top perch in the division with Michigan State and Nebraska, all of which have suffered one league loss.
“One of our goals is to get some tailback yardage,” Huyge said.
“When we can get our tailbacks out and take some pressure off Denard that’s a big thing and that’s a big key to our success.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.