ANN ARBOR, Mich. - It's been awhile since Big Ten teams had to worry about Purdue, but as Michigan football takes its perfect record on the road for the first time, the Boilermakes look like a worthy opponent.
Jeff Brohm has Purdue on its first two-game winning streak since 2012, and the fan base is starting to jump on board.
Michigan's trip to West Lafayette wasn't expected to pose much of a problem, but Purdue has become a popular upset pick for this weekend.
Here are five reasons Michigan football will avoid an upset and beat Purdue.
1. Defense travels
Even though this will be the first hostile environment Michigan has played in, this team is built for success on the road.
Don Brown's defense is obviously the strongest unit on the roster, despite replacing 10 starters from last year's group. The Wolverines have only allowed three offensive touchdowns in three games this season.
Crowd noise will only be a problem for the offense, and the defense will try to quiet Ross–Ade Stadium for good. Michigan is among the best teams in the country at limiting big plays, so it's possible the defense will completely take the crowd out of the game.
2. Stacked defensive line
So far this season, Purdue has been extremely successful in the passing game, with quarterback David Blough completing more than 75 percent of his passes for 597 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Rashan Gary of the Michigan Wolverines is congratulated after a sack during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Michigan Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan beat Cincinnati 36-14. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Blough has never completed even 60 percent of his passes, so it's been a drastic improvement under Brohm. But Michigan's defense offers a major problem that the Boilermakers haven't had to deal with up to this point.
Purdue hasn't seen a defensive line as dangerous as the one it will see Saturday. Not only does Brown have an embarrassment of riches in terms of defensive line talent, he's also notorious for blitzing the quarterback.
Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich have been excellent on the edges this season. Gary has 14 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and contributed to two sacks. Winovich has 16 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks.
Blough has been very comfortable in the pocket this season, but Brown will do his best to change that.
3. Donovan Peoples-Jones
Two weeks ago, Donovan Peoples-Jones was removed from the punt-return role and didn't have a single catch. Now, he looks like the team's top offensive weapon.
Donovan Peoples-Jones of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after running a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against the Air Force Falcons at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 16, 2017. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Peoples-Jones changed the entire game against Air Force last weekend, returning a punt 79 yards for a touchdown and putting Michigan ahead by two possessions. He also caught his first two career passes for 52 yards.
With Tarik Black having foot surgery, Peoples-Jones will be asked to do even more going forward. It's never good to lose a player such as Black, but it will be a silver lining it if forces Peoples-Jones to flourish in the offense.
Purdue doesn't have the athletes to defend Peoples-Jones, so if Wilton Speight can get him the ball, Michigan will be in good shape.
4. Purdue's pass rush
While Purdue has been extremely impressive in its first three games, the pass rush is perhaps the worst in the entire country.
Purdue is the only defense in FBS that has played three games and doesn't have multiple sacks. The Boilermakers are tied for last place in the country with only one sack this season, and they're the only team in that group that has played three times.
The lack of a pass rush didn't burn Purdue against Ohio or Missouri, but it clearly played a role in the loss to Louisville. When a team gives time to a Heisman-caliber quarterback such as Lamar Jackson, he'll pick the defense apart.
Speight isn't close to as talented as Jackson, but his struggles under pressure have been well-documented. When he gets solid protection, Speight is much more accurate. This weekend's game is the perfect opportunity for Speight to break out of his slump and build up some confidence.
5. Quinn Nordin
Michigan teams of the past have been burned by missed field goals on the road, but this year, the kicking game is in good hands.
Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin converts a 55-yard field goal against Florida (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images).
Lost in the frustration over Michigan's inability to turn red zone possessions into touchdowns is Quinn Nordin's excellence. The redshirt freshman kicker has hit the ground running as Michigan's starter, converting 11 field goals in his first three games.
It took Nordin one game to become the first kicker in Michigan history to convert two field goals of at least 50 yards in the same contest, and since then, he's been steady. He hasn't tried another 50-yarder, but he did make an attempt from 49 yards against Air Force, and went 5/5 overall in the game.
Most importantly, Nordin makes the kicks he should make. He's 8/9 in attempts closer than 50 yards, and hasn't missed an extra point attempt.
If Michigan continues to struggle in the red zone, it's important that Nordin turns those possessions into points, and that's exactly what he's done so far.
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