Perfection Meets the Wild West in Big Ten Championship

Big Ten Championship

Season-long perfection meets the Wild West in Indianapolis for the 2022 Big Ten Championship game. Michigan entered the Horseshoe last weekend and handed the Buckeyes a 45-23 loss. It was the Wolverines’ first win in Columbus since 2000. On the other side, Purdue was given the keys to the Big Ten West following Iowa’s loss on Black Friday. They took care of business on the road in Bloomington, clinching their first Big Ten West division title. These two teams each had very different roads to Indianapolis, but their paths will meet inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday in primetime. 

Aidan O’Connell

Purdue starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell is dealing with a difficult loss off the field after his brother unexpectedly passed away last week. O’Connell was seen in tears following the Boilermakers’ emotional win on Saturday over Indiana to secure the Big Ten West, having learned of his brother’s passing before the game. O’Connell did not travel home with the team following the victory. Instead, he returned home to Illinois to be with family this week. 

Purdue’s sixth-leading all-time passer has not yet returned to campus despite his team beginning preparation for the Big Ten Championship game. At this point, his timetable to return to the team is in question. However, it has been confirmed that he will start on Saturday. Also, reports are that no one in the locker room doubts how well he will play, despite missing out on practice time. O’Connell will have extra motivation for this weekend’s game. 

Purdue Against the Nation’s Best

Since 2018, and since head coach Jeff Brohm took over in West Lafayette, Purdue is 3-0 against top three teams. In fact, all three of those wins were by an average of 19 points. They beat second-ranked Ohio State and Iowa in 2018 and 2021, respectively. Their other top-three win was against third-ranked Michigan State in 2021. In each of these victories, their air attack was the difference, and one individual receiver was the catalyst.

In 2018, David Blough threw for  378 yards and three touchdowns on 43 attempts. Rondale Moore had 170 of those yards. Against Iowa last season, O’Connell threw for 375 yards and two touchdowns on 40 attempts. David Bell had 240 yards receiving on 11 receptions. Three weeks later against Michigan State, O’Connell threw the ball 54 times for three touchdowns and a career-high 536 yards. Bell again had north of 200 reception yards.

Air Jones

This season, Charlie Jones has been the beneficiary of the Boilermaker passing attack. The First Team All-Big Ten wideout has 12 reception touchdowns this season with 1,200 yards receiving. Ten of his 12 touchdowns have come in the Boilermakers’ eight wins. When Jones is catching touchdown passes, Purdue is winning games. Michigan might be the heavy favorite entering Saturday’s Big Ten Championship, but their success will come down to how well they defend Jones and the passing game.

Wolverines in the Big Ten Championship

Michigan is making its second-straight appearance in Indianapolis, seeking back-to-back conference titles. This season, it was J.J. McCarthy that led them back to Indianapolis, this time with an undefeated record. McCarthy’s passing numbers haven’t been world-beating, but he has limited mistakes and gotten the ball to his playmakers effectively all year. He has 17 passing touchdowns to just two interceptions and 2,215 yards on the season.

The Wolverines will be without backup quarterback Cade McNamara for the conference title game. The quarterback of last year’s Big Ten Championship team entered his name into the transfer portal following the team’s win in Columbus, leaving their quarterback room thin.

Michigan Run Game

In his backfield, Blake Corum has been putting up Heisman-caliber numbers all season. He has 18 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards, averaging six yards per attempt. However, his status is in question heading into the title game. After sustaining an injury against Illinois two weeks ago, he only got in for two carries against Ohio State before coming out for the remainder of the game. If he is unable to suit up against Purdue, Michigan will also be thin at tailback. 

He was replaced by Donovan Edwards, who will likely start on Saturday. Edwards carried the ball 22 times for 216 yards and two scores against the Buckeyes last week. Notably, 160 of his 216 yards came on two plays. The remainder of his 20 rushes were good for just 2.80 yards per carry. For the most part, Michigan was stuffed in the run game last week. Other than those two explosive runs, they averaged just 2.78 yards per attempt as a team. Credit to the Wolverines, however, for creating those explosive opportunities. Purdue’s run defense is ranked only slightly behind the Buckeyes. They give up about 3.8 yards per carry compared to Ohio State’s 3.4 per carry. 

Explosive Run Success

Purdue’s defense has been stout against the run all year. They have allowed an average of 128 rushing yards per game, but have only given up 31 rushes of more than 10 yards this season. That is fifth-best in the nation and better than top defenses including Iowa and Illinois. On the other side of the ball, the Michigan offense has 82 rushing plays that have resulted in 10 or more yards on the season. That’s second best in the Big Ten behind Minnesota which has 83 total. 

The Wolverines heavily rely on their run game to be successful in their football games. On the season, Michigan has run the ball 522 times compared to 318 passing attempts. Michigan runs the ball nearly 63% of the time. If Purdue can keep the explosive runs to a minimum, they will have a chance to keep the Big Ten Championship competitive. The Boilermaker defense has done a good job of that this season. Ohio State was not able to do that last week, and the explosive runs cost them the game. 

Big Ten Championship Game

There have been 14 Big Ten games in the last two weeks, and the point spread model has gone 11-2-1 against the spread in those games. While this is not betting advice, the spread predictions have been solid to round out the season. With one Big Ten conference game remaining, the model makes Michigan a 12.5-point favorite in the title game. This is within the 17 points that various sportsbooks are giving Purdue in this game. In this instance, the model would lean toward Purdue in this matchup. 

The Big Ten West has never won the Big Ten title game since the introduction of East and West divisions in 2014. The closest finish was a three-point Michigan State win over Iowa in 2015. That said, the average scoring margin in this game is 20 points in favor of the East division team. Last season’s 39-point beatdown of the Hawkeyes has Michigan knowing the taste of victory in the Big Ten title game. However, Purdue is a much different opponent. Their prolific passing attack and sound defense have proven to be a problem for top-ranked teams in recent years.

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