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Lately the atmosphere around Purdue has resembled that at Republican headquarters. In losing to Michigan State 45-13 the week before, even Agase admitted, "We lost our respect." But he encouraged his players to go out against the Wolverines and "get your respect back." Mission accomplished. "They couldn't have had a better team in the country to do that against," Agase said late Saturday afternoon.
You have to respect a team that out-gains the nation's leading offensive machine 360 yards to 335 and comes from behind twice to win. Michigan scored first, driving 58 yards after the Boilermakers fumbled on the game's opening series. Leach rolled left for eight yards, and the Wolverines, who had outscored their last two opponents 80-0, seemed on their way to another rout.
It was not to be. Purdue marched resolutely downfield, only to give up the ball at the Michigan 10. And when the Wolverines' Russell Davis fumbled at his 48, the Boilermakers stormed back. It only took four plays: Quarterback Mark Vitali's 20-yard pass to Ray Smith, a five-yard swing around left end by Scott Dierking, a 19-yard burst by John Skibinski and a four-yard run by Dierking.
Purdue's FOOLs (Fraternity of Offensive Linemen) had never blocked better, particularly on Purdue's fourth possession of the half, when the Boilermakers went 54 yards for the touchdown that put them ahead 13-7. Dierking scored that one, too, barreling the final 25 yards on a draw. "I stepped left at first," he said, "but when I saw their linemen slanting that way, I cut back. With a slanting team like theirs, you can't have any slow-developing plays. You have to be quick out of the backfield, and we were."
The Boilermakers took more than a lead into the locker room at halftime: they carried the confidence that they could win. "We just went crazy in there," Dierking said. "We knew it could be, because we knew we could run on 'em."
It helped that Dierking was back in top form for the first time in four games. He was Purdue's leading ground gainer the past two years and had had some big games this season before suffering tendon damage against Wisconsin. He finished the afternoon with 162 yards rushing and a feeling of vindication for Agase. "I felt like I was playing for him today," Dierking said. "He got a lot of bad-mouthing around campus and in the papers this week. I think we deserved it, but the ribbing he took made me feel bad. I'd do anything for him."
Dierking was not out there alone, though. When the Wolverines took the second-half kickoff and drove to a first down on the Purdue four-yard line, the Boilermaker defenders stiffened and recovered a fourth-down fumble. The Purdue offense could do no better than punt, however, and back the Wolverines came. After four straight running plays by Harlan Huckleby gained 13 yards, Leach connected with Jim Smith for a 64-yard scoring pass. With his boys back in front 14-13, Schembechler was having nothing bad to say about passes quite yet.
In the fourth quarter the Wolverines lost a chance to put the game away—and helped set up Purdue's drive for the winning field goal—when Rob Lytle fumbled on first down at the Boilermaker 29. As Vitali, Skibinski and Dierking brought Purdue upfield, Supan waited for the opportunity to redeem himself. And when that opportunity did come, Supan was up to it.
Whether or not the Wolverines can regain the No. 1 spot they held for so many weeks will depend on their ability to rebound—and a little help from someone else. Assuming a victory over Illinois this week, Michigan must then beat Ohio State in Columbus, thus qualifying for the Rose Bowl, where they can knock off the Pac-8 representative, UCLA or USC. At the same time they need someone—perhaps Penn State or a bowl opponent—to beat Pittsburgh, the new No. 1. It's a tough combination, but certainly no tougher than playing Purdue turned out to be.