Oct. 25, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Just over two weeks ago, Purdue was undefeated and looked to be shifting the balance of power in the Big Ten.

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Wisconsin and Michigan had other ideas.

The Boilermakers had Bowl Championship Series aspirations heading into their two-game homestand against the Badgers and Wolverines, but those hopes were dashed after two losses by a combined five points.

Purdue (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) has slipped from No. 5 in the AP Top 25 to No. 17 and now is left looking for answers.

"Things haven't really gone our way lately," running back Brandon Jones said. "We've made a couple key mistakes in key situations. We just have to look past that and bounce back as a team."

The Boilermakers lost 16-14 on Saturday to streaking Michigan (7-1, 5-0). The Wolverines have won six in a row and every week look more like the most complete team in the Big Ten.

Michigan kept pace with Wisconsin as the only teams with perfect conference records.

The Wolverines' two freshmen -- quarterback Chad Henne and running back Michael Hart -- have led the way, improving with each game.

Hart has been sensational the last two weeks, running for 234 yards against Illinois and 206 against Purdue. And he's benefiting from the considerable talent around him that has come together after an early season loss to Notre Dame.

"I think Michael Hart has a good offensive line in front of him, he's got good receivers that will block well, and he's got coaches that always seem to design a way to get him the football," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "He's a special kid."

Purdue's defense would find it hard to argue after being carved up by the teenager.

"He's a freshman, but that boy has three more years of dominating," Purdue safety Bernard Pollard said. "He's a very good back."

And the kind of player that always seems to choose Michigan over Purdue.

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In his eighth season at Purdue, coach Joe Tiller has helped the once-moribund Boilermakers move into the upper echelon of the conference. But after being pushed around by the bigger, stronger, faster Wolverines for the fourth consecutive time, it's clear he still has some work to do.

"All we need is to be able to recruit everybody two inches taller than (the Boilermakers) are today, 25 pounds heavier than they are today and two or three-tenths of a second faster than they are today," Tiller said. "All of those guys happened to be on the other sideline. So we will continue in our system, and our guys playing their tails off. Given the ability they have, we'll continue to fight the good fight."

The Wolverines defense again controlled Purdue's high-powered offense, sacking Kyle Orton three times and holding the fading Heisman hopeful to just 14-of-30 for 213 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

"We've made a lot of strides," Carr said. "And yet, we've played great defensive football from the beginning."

Things are shaping up well for the Wolverines, who host Northwestern and Michigan State before finishing the season at struggling Ohio State.

Purdue, meanwhile, has to shake off the close losses to try and salvage a season that started with such promise.

"We still have a lot of goals we can attain," receiver Taylor Stubblefield said. "If we can run the table and go 9-2, that's not a bad season. We just have to refocus and come back next week and play hard against Northwestern."