Michigan rolls over Purdue to stay in race

Updated: October 26, 2003, 3:51 PM ET

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Once Michigan's national championship hopes were ruined with a loss at Iowa, the Wolverines knew they had to win their final six games.

That strong finish would send Michigan to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1997 season. The Wolverines are halfway there with two tough tests remaining: a trip to No. 9 Michigan State next Saturday and a home game against No. 8 Ohio State on Nov. 22.

The Wolverines started their quest with a 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback -- the biggest in school history -- at Minnesota. Then they routed Illinois. Michigan beat then-No. 10 Purdue 31-3 Saturday but realized its race for the conference championship is far from over.

"The Big Ten title was at stake in this game," said John Navarre, who threw two touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards. "And it will be at stake in the next game, and every other game."

The Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) are the only undefeated team in the conference and the 11th-ranked Wolverines (7-2, 4-1) are alone in second place.

The rivalry always excites -- and divides -- the state, but with first place on the line and the high rankings of both teams, the matchup will attract national interest.

Navarre said the Wolverines can't get caught up with the hype.

"You have to block it out," he said. "It's got to go in one ear and out the other."

As if the game needed added intrigue, people are still talking about the way Michigan lost in 2001 at Spartan Stadium.

On the final play, Jeff Smoker, scrambling and off-balance, lobbed a 2-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Duckett as time expired. The play was set up after officials ruled that 1 second should remain on the clock after Smoker spiked the ball following a 1-yard scramble.

How long does Edwards think the final second remained on the scoreboard?

"Eight seconds," he said.

Two years ago, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he was sure the Big Ten would make some a statement about the finish because the play should not have been allowed to run. The next year, the conference stopped allowing home teams to have their own timekeepers.

It didn't take much time for Michigan to put Purdue away on Saturday.

The Wolverines scored twice in the first quarter, and with a strong defense and solid special teams, they didn't give the Boilermakers chances to come back.

Purdue (6-2, 3-1) hasn't won at Michigan Stadium since 1966.

"I thought our defense and special teams were the difference," Carr said.

The Boilermakers, who had won six straight, had a chance to be 7-1 for the first time since 1978 and to be 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in 23 years. They are ranked 18th this week, down eight spots.

"It's devastating," Purdue's Stuart Schweigert said.

Navarre was 17-of-30 for 225 yards with TD passes of 14 and 26 yards to Edwards, who caught six passes for 86 yards.

Michigan's standout safety Marlin Jackson was in uniform on the sideline but did not play for the second straight game.

"I'll be ready to play next week -- no matter what," said Jackson, who would not reveal the nature of his injury.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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