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Loss to Purdue would end Michigan's bowl streak

Friday, October 31, 2008

By CLIFF BRUNT

AP Sports Writer

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Michigan and Purdue enter Saturday's game in the unusual position of having to win out to earn postseason consideration.

Both perennial bowl qualifiers have 2-6 records, and at best could win the six games necessary to draw a look.

A Michigan loss would end the school's streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances and give the Wolverines their first losing record since 1967.

"We're struggling a little bit," first-year coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It's been a long time since our guys -- maybe the first time our guys -- have been and a long time since I've went through something like this, but it's not the end of the world."

The schedule doesn't help the Wolverines. After Saturday, the Wolverines play at No. 20 Minnesota, at home against Northwestern, and at No. 13 Ohio State.

Purdue has reached postseason play in 10 of the past 11 seasons under Joe Tiller. The Boilermakers close at No. 22 Michigan State, at Iowa and at home against Indiana.

The Boilermakers don't plan to give up on going to a bowl game.

"I don't think you're out of it until you're out of it," Tiller said. "As a competitor, whether you're at the University of Michigan or Purdue University or any other university that has the opportunity to be involved in postseason play, you think about it and that is the focus of your attention."

Tiller, who is retiring at the end of the season, is 1-6 against the Wolverines. His only win over Michigan came in 2000, the year Drew Brees led the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl.

Michigan appeared to turn the corner this season with its comeback win over Wisconsin, but the Wolverines have lost four straight since, including a humiliating loss to Toledo at home. Rodriguez said things aren't as bad as they seem.

"I'm going to stand up here and look at the silver lining," he said. "The only thing that you all see and that the fans see, unfortunately, is our play on Saturday, which has not been very good, but I see the progress made daily during the week. Now, I hope there's going to be a point where the progress during the week shows up on Saturday."

Tiller said Michigan's offense is struggling because many of its veteran players ran out of eligibility after last season.

"They're probably suffering because they have so many new faces in the offensive line, and just new faces in their offense, period," Tiller said. "They look to me like they're a talented players, but you know, they're totally lacking experience."

Purdue might have to maintain its bowl hopes with a third-string quarterback.

Curtis Painter suffered a separated shoulder last Saturday against Minnesota, and Tiller will let him decide whether he will extend his nation-leading streak of 40 consecutive starts at quarterback.

If Painter can't go, the starter will be Justin Siller, who was playing running back until No. 2 quarterback Joey Elliott suffered a season-ending shoulder separation against Northwestern.

Purdue's quarterback will face a squad that ranks 101st out of 119 teams nationally in pass defense.

"Some of it is defensive packages, having different guys in there," Rodriguez said. "Some of it, too, is still trying to get the production we want, both at safety and corner. The disappointing part is it's almost the same as some of our games have gone; the inconsistency. Sometimes we're playing pretty well and sometimes we're not."

Michigan's defensive struggles go beyond the secondary. The Wolverines rank 79th in total defense and 93rd nationally in scoring defense.

Purdue could hurt the Wolverines with Kory Sheets. The senior has rushed for 808 yards and 10 touchdowns for Purdue this season.

Michigan's offense features freshman quarterback Steven Threet. He has passed for 960 yards and seven touchdowns and has run for 183 yards.

Running back Sam McGuffie might miss Saturday's game after suffering a slight concussion last week against Michigan State. McGuffie has run for 518 yards and three touchdowns.

Purdue's defense might make the difference. The Boilermakers have held Penn State, Ohio State and Minnesota under 21 points. Michigan averages just 19 points per game.

Tiller said his team won't use the game to start preparing for the future.

"We have significant numbers in our senior class," Tiller said. "I think you owe it to that group to be your best and to be as competitive as you can be. You owe it to the current seniors on your roster that have been with you four and five years out of loyalty to the university and to the program. You owe them your best shot."



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