WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Michigan's defensive backs have bullied and beaten Purdue's receivers in three straight wins over the Boilermakers.
The Boilermakers know that streak will continue Saturday if their high-powered offense struggles again.
"Their secondary has basically controlled us over the last couple years," Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton said.
Orton threw two interceptions and was sacked seven times in last year's 31-3 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines confused him by disguising their coverages and frustrated the Boilermakers' receivers with their physical style of play.
No. 12 Purdue can expect more of the same from No. 13 Michigan.
"I think it was a very aggressive game plan last year," Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson said. "I think the coaches probably have the same thing in mind."
The result was familiar for both teams. Michigan has won 17 of the 20 games in the series since 1980 and is 4-1 since coach Joe Tiller started to rebuild the Boilermakers eight years ago.
This time, however, the Wolverines (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) will be facing a different Orton. The senior has thrown for 1,877 yards, 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
"I think right now he has got such great awareness of what every guy on his team is going to do," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "He knows where they're going to be, he knows what the coverages are, he knows where the hot receivers are, and he's got a great arm. I mean, this guy can make every throw you want him to make."
Michigan-Purdue is Saturday's only game involving ranked teams but 20 other members of the Top 25 will be in action, including the entire top 10.
No. 1 Southern California hosts Washington; No. 2 Oklahoma plays Kansas at home; and No. 3 Auburn is also home against Kentucky. All three are heavy favorites. No. 4 Miami faces a potentially difficult road game against North Carolina State.
No. 5 Florida State is at Wake Forest and No. 6 Wisconsin puts its unbeaten record on the line at home against Northwestern.
Elsewhere, No. 7 California is at Arizona; No. 8 Texas is at Texas Tech; No. 9 Utah hosts UNLV; No. 10 Georgia plays at Arkansas; No. 11 Tennessee faces Alabama; and No. 14 Virginia goes to Duke.
Also, No. 17 Texas A&M plays Colorado; No. 18 LSU goes out of conference to face Troy; No. 19 and unbeaten Boise State faces Fresno State; and No. 20 Florida is at Mississippi State.
No. 21 Arizona State visits UCLA; No. 22 Oklahoma State is at Missouri; No. 24 Notre Dame hosts Boston College; and No. 25 Iowa plays at Penn State.
As for the Boilermakers, Orton believes this offense is better equipped to match up against Michigan.
"Right now I have a great grasp of the offense," Orton said. "I'm not getting fooled on coverages like I used to."
Like last season at Michigan, where he threw a costly interception in the end zone that essentially started Purdue's demise.
This season, Orton is making much better decisions, and has a deeper receiving corps to throw to thanks to the emergence of Kyle Ingraham and freshman Dorien Bryant.
The Boilermakers (5-1, 2-1) are averaging 37.7 points a game, third in the nation, and 485.3 yards. But they haven't had much success against talented defenses thus far.
Last week, No. 6 Wisconsin held Purdue to 17 points, forced three turnovers by Orton, and shut down star receiver Taylor Stubblefield.
Now Michigan comes to town with the top rushing defense in the conference and, as usual, a bevy of talent in the defensive backfield.
"Overall it's the best," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said when asked to compare Michigan's defense to those the Boilermakers have faced this year. "They are just as talented today as they've ever been and just as deep as they've ever been."
Jackson, Ernest Shazor, Leon Hall and Markus Curry form a hungry Michigan secondary that can't wait to be tested by Purdue's passing game.
"I know they are going to throw the ball anywhere," Jackson said. "Their offense is a spread offense, where they throw the ball around all over the field, so they aren't going to be avoiding anybody. That's fun, knowing the ball is going to be coming my way."
The Wolverines will also rely on their offense, led by two freshmen, to keep Orton and the Boilermakers off the field. Quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Michael Hart are playing with composure and moxie that's rare for freshmen.
"They are a much more dangerous team today than they were a month ago," Tiller said. "We'll be tested to the max this week."
A win would put the Boilermakers right back in the thick of the hunt for the Big Ten title, while a loss would all but wipe out their best start since 1945.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, will be looking to keep pace with Wisconsin as the only two remaining teams with undefeated conference records.
"Everything is still at stake," said Hall, who intercepted Orton twice last year. "The Big Ten championship is still up in the air."