Michigan Surges In Second Half To Win Big Ten Championship

Photo Credit: Max Siker/SkyBoat

INDIANAPOLIS — It was a rainy July afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.  Michigan’s Head Football Coach, Jim Harbaugh, stepped up to the podium at Big Ten Media Days.

“So our goals would be to beat Ohio State and Michigan State in the same year, win the Big Ten Championship, and win the National Championship. Those are our four goals.”

On Saturday night, in that same stadium, Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverine football team fulfilled their third goal by beating Purdue en route to winning the Big Ten Championship for the second straight year.

Coming off a dominating victory against # 2 ranked Ohio State, Michigan wasted no time setting the tempo of the game by squashing Purdue on their first drive of the game, three plays resulting in negative 10 yards for the Boilermakers.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and the Wolverine offense immediately went to work from the Purdue 45, needing all of 3 minutes – 48 seconds to secure the game’s first score.  McCarthy connected with tight end Colston Loveland on a 25-yard touchdown pass, and the Wolverine cheers could be heard 68 miles northwest in West Lafayette.

The heart and soul of teams and players show best in how they respond to adversity.  Aidan O’Connell, the 6th year senior Purdue Quarterback, had just returned from bereavement after the passing of his oldest brother.  Unshaken and focused, O’Connell lead the Boilermakers on a 92-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by RB Devin Mockobee.  Michigan fans were silenced for the moment – the score all tied up at 7-apiece.

It’s often said that defense wins games.  Not to be outdone by the Purdue offense, the Boilermaker defense came to light, limiting Michigan’s running game to only 7 yards rushing in the first quarter.  The loss of Michigan’s All-American running back, Blake Corum, is starting to take its toll.

No stranger to taking risks, Purdue Head Coach Jeff Brohm called for a fake punt on 4th-and-4 with 1:30 left in the opening quarter, and it paid off big, allowing the Boilermakers to continue their drive.  A 25-yard pass to WR Charlie Jones set up Kicker Mitchell Fineran for a 33-yard field goal.  10-7 Purdue early in the second and holding steady against powerhouse Michigan.

With the Wolverine running game anemic, J.J. McCarthy went with the aerial attack, completing passes of 20 yards and 9 yards to jump-start the offense.  The Purdue defense appeared to have held Michigan to a 48-yard field goal attempt, but a critical offsides call kept the drive alive for McCarthy and the Michigan offense.  McCarthy went back to what had worked well and completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to TE Luke Schoonmaker, allowing Michigan to reclaim the lead 14-10 with minutes to go in the half.

Odds makers overwhelmingly favored Michigan, and how can anyone in their right mind blame them?  The way undefeated Michigan dismantled # 2 Ohio State a week earlier, it was tough imagining the Wolverines caving to a team that lost to Syracuse, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  After all, Michigan held opponents to just 12.7 points per game on average – pretty tough to win if you can’t score.

Credit the Purdue offense, defense, and special teams units for keeping it close early.  With minutes left in the half, Purdue Kicker Mitchell Fineran completed his second field goal of the game, this time a 45-yarder.  The Purdue defense held Michigan to just 45 yards rushing and 90 yards passing in the first half.  14-13 Michigan at the break.

Jim Harbaugh knows better than anybody that one half does not make a game.  He also knows that games are won on big plays.  On Michigan’s first play after the break, Wolverine RB Donovan Edwards broke free for a huge 60-yard run, which eventually led to a Kalel Mullings rushing touchdown.  After a quick three-and-out for Purdue, J.J. McCarthy connected with TE Luke Schoonmaker for a 40-yard pass completion.  McCarthy then handed the rock back to Edwards, who rushed 27 yards for his first touchdown of the game.  Two scores in less than 5 minutes for the Wolverines to take a commanding lead early in the second half, 28-13.

“No matter what happens, no matter what adversity we face, we’re always going to get through it together with that perseverance he talked about,” said McCarthy after the game.

With Michigan seemingly in control, it appeared McCarthy could do no wrong, but a forced last-minute pass was intercepted by Jamari Brown at the Purdue 24-yard line.  However, O’Connell and the Purdue offense were again not able to capitalize.  28-16 Wolverines heading into the fourth with the Purdue rushing game limited to 52 total yards after three quarters and the Boilermakers struggling miserably in the red zone.

O’Connell took a page out of the Michigan playbook and focused on the passing game, connecting on three of four attempts midway through the third.  However, Purdue was again not able to convert in the red zone and was forced to settle for yet another Mitchell Fineran field goal, this one from 27 yards out.  Fineran would convert a 5th field goal late in the fourth and set a Big Ten Championship record by going 5 for 5 on field goals.

After the game, Brohm commented, “I think probably the main one is that’s a really, really good football team. Once you get inside the 20, it’s tough to run the ball in the first place on them; and then, secondly, they tighten up the coverage.”

Purdue had their chances to muster a comeback, but an O’Connell interception at the Purdue 6-yard line was arguably the final death blow to the Boilermakers’ chances for an upset.  McCarthy subsequently converted a 17-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Bell, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Luke Schoonmaker.  Michigan’s Kalel Mullings would later scamper 3-yards for another Wolverine touchdown to put the game out of reach.  With the Wolverines up by three scores, Michigan fans began to celebrate, yellow and blue confetti falling from the rafters.

What happens next remains to be seen as Michigan heads into the College Football Playoff, currently ranked # 2 in the country.  With Ohio State still in the mix, it’s possible the two teams could meet again.  As for McCarthy’s thoughts on a rematch with the rival Buckeyes, “Please. Please. Bring it on. That would be truly a blessing if we get a shot to play those boys again.”

Having beaten Michigan State and Ohio State in the regular season and having secured the 2022 Big Ten Championship, Harbaugh and his Wolverines have one final goal left to achieve on their list – win a National Championship.

Michigan Statistic Round-Up:

-Net total yards of offense:

-QB J.J. McCarthy: 11 for 17 for 161 yards

-RB Donovan Edwards: 25 carries for 185 yards, 1 TD, crowned game MVP

-WR Ronnie Bell:  5 receptions, 67-yards, 1 TD

-TE Luke Schoonmaker: 3 receptions, 58-yards, 1 TD


Purdue Statistic Round-Up

-QB Aidan O’Connell: 32 for 47, 366 total yards

-Kicker Mitchell Fineran:  5 for 5 on field goals, record setting stat for Big Ten Championship Games

-WR Charlie Jones:  13 receptions for 167 yards

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