Photo courtesy of Purdue athletics
Considering there have been so few wire-to-wire No. 1s in college football history, the nation’s No. 1 team goes down most years. On this day 45 years ago however, Purdue pulled a stunner that no one saw coming.
The Boilermakers were heavy underdogs against a Michigan team that appeared unstoppable. In the end however, a missed field goal would be the difference as Purdue prevailed, 16-14.
Setting the Stage
Michigan was 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country as it arrived in West Lafayette on Nov. 6, 1976. To that point, Michigan had pitched four shutouts and outscored opponents by a staggering 342-58 margin.
Purdue on the other hand, was just 3-5. The Boilermakers were on a 3-game losing streak and had just been embarrassed by Michigan State and Ohio State. If Michigan was expecting another rout however, it was sorely mistaken.
Purdue Pulls the Stunner
The high-powered Michigan attack had been held in check for three quarters as Purdue took a 13-7 lead into the final period. The Wolverines drew first blood on an 8-yard keeper for a touchdown, but Purdue’s Scott Dierking scored touchdowns of four and 25 yards to give the Boilermakers the advantage in the second quarter.
Following the second touchdown however, Rock Supan missed the extra point. Supan was a defensive back and forced into the kicking duties by injury. Early in the fourth quarter, it looked as though that miss could prove costly.
A 64-yard touchdown pass from Leach to Jim Smith gave Michigan a 14-13 lead. Later in the finale quarter, the Wolverines threatened to put it away, but a fumble by Rob Lytle inside the Purdue 30-yard-line gave the Boilermakers new life.
Purdue proceeded to mount a long, time-consuming drive that ultimately stalled inside the Michigan 10-yard-line. Supan atoned for his earlier missed PAT and put the Boilermakers back in front with a 22-yard field goal.
Trailing 16-14 with more than four minutes to play, Michigan needed just a field goal, but nearly had a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Leach’s long pass for Smith was dropped inside the 10-yard-line. Still, Michigan made its way into the red zone.
With just seconds remaining, kicker Bob Wood came on to try a 37-yard field goal to try to preserve the perfect season. Wood appeared to hit the ball well, but it drifted left.
The kick was no good.
The Boilermakers had done the unthinkable. They had taken down mighty Michigan.
Michigan would bounce back with wins over Illinois and Ohio State to claim the Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines came to Pasadena ranked No. 2 and was alive for a national championship, but fell to third-ranked USC, 14-6.
Purdue would go on to finish just 5-6, but the victory over Michigan served as its second win over a top-2 team in three seasons. It came on this day 45 years ago.