5 things we learned about Michigan football in win over Purdue

Wolverines cruise past Boilermakers with dominant second half performance

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Sean McKeon of the Michigan Wolverines reacts after making a 23-yard reception for a first down to set up a 4th quarter TD in a game against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium on Sept. 23, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - A third of the college football season has come and gone, and Michigan is undefeated heading into the bye week.

Michigan's road hasn't been easy, as it either trailed or came within three points of trailing in the third quarter of all four games. The latest example was in West Lafayette, where Michigan took down an upstart Purdue team.

Here are five things we learned about the Wolverines during win No. 4.

1. Sure enough, defense travels

It was no surprise that Purdue got out to a fast start, gaining 36 yards on their first drive, and going 75 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, but Michigan locked the Boilermakers down for most of the night.

A quarterback tandem that had been completing around 75 percent of its passes looked lost against Don Brown's defense, competing just 13 of 30 chances. David Blough was held to five of 13 passing for 32 yards and an 8.2 quarterback rating.

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Purdue ran a ton of trick plays in the first half, but when Michigan made adjustments at halftime, Jeff Brohm had no answer. The Boilermakers mustered just 10 yards and one first down in the second half, going three and out on four drives, punting five times and fumbling once.

Purdue had one long scoring drive, but other than that, Michigan's defense completely dominated the game.

2. Lockdown on third down

Michigan wasn't great on third down, converting six of 15 opportunities, but that pales in comparison to Purdue's struggles.

The Boilermakers went an unprecedented 0-12 on third down, which was one of the main reasons Michigan was able to stay close when the offense struggled early.

Defensive success is defined on third down. A defense that can get off the field on third down will win football games, while teams that struggle on third down are more likely to get worn out and allow long scoring drives.

When the play matters most, the best defenses get off the field. Michigan proved Saturday that it has one of the top third-down defenses in the conference.

3. Adversity? No problem!

Many of the top teams throughout the country haven't dealt with much adversity to this point in the season.

For example, Washington is ranked No. 6 in the nation without proving anything through four games. The Huskies have played a cupcake schedule, and all four games have been basically in hand shortly after halftime.

Winning by an average of 32 points looks great to poll voters, but Washington hasn't been battle tested in close games.

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Michigan has gone through the exact opposite. In the opener against Florida, the Wolverines had to bounce back from two straight pick-sixes that put them down by a touchdown. Against Cincinnati and Air Force, Michigan got off to slow starts and flirted with being upset in the third quarter.

This week, Michigan went on the road for the first time with a young team and trailed at halftime in front of a hostile crowd. On top of that, starting quarterback Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game by a late hit.

But Michigan's response was emphatic, roaring out of the break with 21 unanswered points. Purdue fans hoping for an upset were filing out of the stadium early in the fourth quarter.

Jim Harbaugh's team isn't going to win pretty, so making plays in close games will be critical.

4. Running game isn't fixed

There were signs during the nonconference season that Michigan had an improved running game, but that wasn't the case against Purdue.

Sure, Michigan finished the game with 139 yards and three rushing touchdowns, but the team averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, which triggers memories of last season.

Ty Isaac wasn't playing at 100 percent, as backup Karan Higdon got the start. Isaac still received 10 carries, but picked up just 20 yards and didn't look nearly as explosive as the previous three games.

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The one bright spot was Chris Evans, who broke out of his slump to lead the team with 14 carries, 97 yards and two touchdowns. Evans finally showed what he can do in space, as he took advantage of the two biggest holes he saw and turned them into touchdowns.

Michigan has all kinds of question marks in the passing game, so the rushing attack needs to set the pace.

5. Pass blocking was dreadful

By far the most concerning takeaway from Michigan's win was the performance of the offensive line, which contributed to the struggles in both the running and passing game.

Purdue came into the game with one sack in three games -- the worst ratio in the entire country. It seemed like an opportunity for Speight to settle in and find the consistency he displayed early last year.

The opposite proved true. Michigan's offensive line was so bad in the pass blocking game, Speight was knocked out with an injury. The Boilermakers racked up four sacks in the game, and it should have been even more, as backup John O'Korn evaded at least two hits that would have toppled most quarterbacks.

Purdue clearly played its best game against Michigan, but it's a bad sign that the offense allowed four sacks to a team that couldn't get pressure against Ohio and Missouri.

Harbaugh has been experimenting with new pieces along the line, including Jon Runyan Jr. and freshman Cesar Ruiz. After Saturday's performance, it's clear something has yet to click.

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