Monday, November 27, 2006
This was a disappointing return to the Purdue football that loses close games that we all know and love. This was a game we had every chance to win, and by all rights should have won, but fell apart with critical turnovers that ended up costing us the game. We took advantage of all three of Hawaii's turnovers, but ours ended up being more costly because the early fumble cost us a near certain touchdown.
I find it hard to believe that we had a drive early in the game where we overcame 20 yards of penalties, essentially making it a 108-yard drive, and we still didn't come up with any points. That was an awful lot of work on what may have been our best drive for the season for nothing. Dan McGowen was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time on the pitch, and it cost us seven points. It was a fantastic drive because it gave us a chance to rest a defense that had been getting torched to that point. If we get the game tied there, it is a huge moral victory for us. Instead, we turned the ball over and gave up a four play, 96-yard scoring drive that looked just as easy as it sounds.
Now I knew Hawaii's offense was good. They obviously had the stats to back it up after going nuts against everyone in the WAC and even hanging 30+ on a very good Boise State team. But to hang over 650 yards on a Big Ten defense, even one as suspect as ours? That was one of the most impressive things of the night. Even worse was that we gave up over 200 yards on the ground. Their running back ran wild early on for two TD's, and only his two fumbles made things bad for him. We were lucky to be in this game because the only time we stopped them is when they stopped themselves. They gave us opportunities with three turnovers, but other than that we forced them into one punt and a bomb of a field goal attempt. I don't count the field goal right before the half because that, much like ours at Northwestern, was a time-driven field goal. I felt they had time get one more play off, but they elected to get the sure three.
The first half couldn't have gone worse for us. It was disappointing, to say the least, that Tiller once again did not go for it on a fourth and short situation in enemy territory. At that point we were down by two scores and had shown that we weren't going to stop their offense. What did we have to lose by going for it? At worse we were going to give them a shorter field to score from. Since they had already driven 96 yards against us it was obvious that field position was unimportant to them. Thankfully, we managed to force one punt in the first half and at least keep their offense off the field for the rest of it with our long, fruitless drives. We were incredibly lucky to be down only 17 points at halftime.
In the second half we had the most dramatic shift in momentum I have seen from us all season. At the tail end of the first half we started to get to Brennan just a little and he had to hold on to the ball and go through his progressions more than he wanted. The touchdown that was called back in the first half because of a penalty, where he had all the time in the world and scrambled around for about 10 seconds before launching a perfect throw for a score was one of the most amazing plays I've seen a college quarterback make. The ineligible receiver downfield had nothing to do with the play, and it didn't matter anyway because they still eventually scored. That type of play was not their early in the second half, and that was thanks to Cliff Avril. While their line was able to contain Spencer, Avril broke through and simply had a monster second half of wreaking havoc in the backfield. I counted at least three pass breakups and a sack.
We needed to force turnovers to have any hope of getting back in the game, and we did exactly that. I give credit to the defense for coming out and really hitting in the second half after Hawaii did the same to us in the first half. In the first half our guys were getting hit and driven back at the end of nearly every play. In the second half we finally started hitting back and hitting ball carriers like we should have been doing all season. It led to the first fumble. I also give credit to the offense for taking advantage of both turnovers early on. We were able to turn all three turnovers into touchdowns, and that was critical. The second half offense was perfect for the first 26 minutes of the second half. Our receivers made some very tough catches in coverage, catches they had not been making all season. Painter was as sharp as he has been all year. About the only disappointment I could find was that we didn't run the ball more.
It was very nice to see Justin Scott get his third interception of the year, especially right after a play where he could have had a pick but simply knocked the ball down. It was also nice to see almost everyone get involved offensively, even the rare Desmond Tardy to Kyle Adams combo. Again though, we went away from the running game too often. While the final touchdown pass to Lymon was a great play, I would have preferred to have used that drive to take some more time off the clock and get a score. I am not saying we should have gotten all conservative entirely, but try to find some kind of balance to take at least two or three minutes off the clock.
I did want to hit on our second half attitude though, as once things started going our way we really played with an emotion I have not seen us have all year. Chris Summers was leading the way on kickoff by bouncing up and down and getting the rest of the kickoff team to do so. There was a fire and a swagger there, at least for a few minutes that allowed us to feed off the emotions of the moments and start to roll over Hawaii. It was enough that we almost rode it victory as we ripped off 35 second half points based almost solely on emotion and momentum.
All the good, in the end, did not outweigh all the bad. As mentioned earlier, we got torched defensively in every facet. We once again showed a propensity to lose close games when we have a chance to close them out. Yes, we played a ranked team more than 5,000 from Ross-Ade until the final minute, but we should have beaten that ranked team. Hawaii showed great resolve. They had not been challenged in the second half of a game in months and found themselves trailing, but they responded and drove twice late to get the win.
Officials have been mentioned as being a problem on the islands, and they were not on this night as most of the questionable calls went Purdue's way. There were several key plays that turned the tide though, and almost all of them went against Purdue.
1. The fumble in the second quarter was a complete disaster, as mentioned earlier. If we score there, we win the game going away in the end.
2. The 52-yard field goal by Hawaii in the third quarter. It didn't seem like much at the time, as we went right back down and scored to take the lead, but it ended up being huge. You simply can't count on a long field goal like that at the college level, and you have to tip your hat to the kicker that makes it. In a close game, those three points were huge as it allowed Hawaii to tie with less than four minutes left instead of simply cut the lead to three. If we have the lead and the ball instead of being tied, it is an entirely different game at the end and maybe Painter doesn't throw two picks.
3. Brennan's running on the final two drives was huge. We just couldn't wrap him up in the backfield. He got lose and tore us up, when one tackle for a loss could have ended one of those last two scoring drives.
4. Hawaii's lone sack came at a critical time. I think it was directly responsible for setting up Hawaii's first interception at the end of the game. It was the first time in the second half that we were stopped for a significant loss, and it killed all our offensive momentum. This was definitely a game-changing sack.
5. Finally, just the defensive breakdowns after we went up 35-27. Much like against Minnesota last year, we were in control on both sides of the ball and completely collapsed.
I will give credit to Hawaii's fans, as at the end of the game they were incredibly loud and made it a true home field advantage. The Warriors are a tough team for anyone to face in Aloha Stadium even when you take away the travel factor. They play very well at home and both the crowd and the players were pumped up from the opening kick. They were regularly louder and in smaller numbers than any Purdue home game this season. The Haka dance that the players did as Purdue left the field during warm-ups was simply a sign of things to come. They took care of business at home and they were very pumped up to play a "name" team with a national ranking for the first time in four years. Colt Brennan is also the real deal, and may be the best quarterback we faced all season.
I also want to give credit to their fans, as many of them stood and applauded as we left the field. Many of their fans expected a blowout because they have had so many blowouts this season, and they were excited to simply have a good game. As we left the stadium several fans congratulated us on having a very good team and for playing a great game. The cockiness they exhibited in the media leading up to the game was severely tested, and many admitted they were lucky to get out of there with a win.
So where do we go from here? It's frustrating that we could have come away with an unexpected win, but once again fell short. We also are more banged up going into our bowl game than we would have been without the Hawaii game. We have one more shot to make some noise by winning our bowl game, but it will take a complete game to do so. We can't afford another slow start like our last several bowl games, nor can we afford to have empty drives like we have had all season. We showed for most of the second half last night just how good of a team we can be against some very strong competition. Now we need to keep growing and put it together. Winning the Champs Sports Bowl will give us a positive jumping off point for next season. That needs to be our sole focus now, as the game will be a winnable game.
NEXT UP: Regular season wrap-up, hopefully sometime before I head back to the mainland on Thursday.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Basically, we have two things that we can gain from this game. We can break our streak of losses against ranked teams, and we can keep hope alive for just the second 10 win season in school history. Also, with a win I would look like a savant for completely nailing the 9-4 season prediction before our bowl. Granted, these things aren't exactly great to play for, but with the way Tiller is complaining about the trip we have to find some sort of positive.
I must say that I am highly disappointed with the amount of whining coming from Coach Tiller. He knew this game was coming for years, and it didn't get rescheduled as he asked. We get it that he doesn't want to be over here. It's time to be quiet and prepare to play. Let's get the team down to business and get a win since that is what we came over here to do. This is an excellent opportunity for us to have a dry run at bowl preparation with all the extracurriculars that come with it. Since our last few bowl trips have yielded slow starts maybe it is a good thing to have another game between the end of the season and the bowl game. Now we only get about five weeks off instead of the usual six, and that can only help when getting ready for the Champs Bowl.
It is hard to believe that this game is finally here after seeing out on the schedule in the distance for so long. As we were walking around Waikiki today we noticed several Purdue fans for the first time in our first three days over here. I know it is because many of the fans finally got over here to Oahu after being on Maui for the Maui Invitational. Purdue certainly has a healthy contingent of fans over here for the game, so at least they won't be playing before a Hawaii-only house. From what I have read, this game was originally scheduled during the glory of the Colletto years, and kept getting pushed back until this week. As a fan, it is probably the one good thing to come out of the Colletto era of Purdue football.
The hardest thing for the players to adjust to will be all the distractions. I admit that since we got over here on Monday I haven't had many thoughts about football. It's very easy to get distracted and the players will find the same temptations as everyone else. We saw a few of the players out and about today in Waikiki, and it looked as if they were enjoying themselves. Tomorrow is the day the team is visiting Pearl Harbor and we will be visiting the memorials as well. Hopefully the guys won't be too distracted and forget they have a game to play. It's important that they relax and get plenty of beach time as a reward for a good season, but the bottom line is that they still have a game to play. If our heads are not in this thing from the opening kickoff, we very well could get our heads handed to us.
The time change is also difficult to adjust to. It's now just past nine in the evening on Thanksgiving Day and it feels like it is well after midnight. There is such a disconnect between here and the mainland that it is hard to truly adjust even if your body gets in a rhythm. Even the late 6pm local kickoff is a vast departure from normal for us a program. We all remember what happened with our last 6pm kickoff against Notre Dame last year, and it wasn't pretty. I'm not sure what the tailgating situation is like out here, but I don't think the fans will be quite as rowdy as they were last year against the Irish. Thankfully the players have a few days to adjust to everything before they play, but as a fan it is still a struggle to keep things straight. At least it is nice and warm out everyday instead of cold like the Illinois and Indiana games.
As for the game itself, offense is going to be the key. It is time to use our running game at least as much as we did against Illinois, if not more so. Hawaii's weakness is against the run and we need to have a big day from our backs. We need to have a big day from Painter with his legs. Painter needs to keep them guessing with option runs and keep the ball moving on the ground. They are a good team, but it is still a WAC defense we are moving the ball against. This is not Wisconsin, or Penn State, or even Indiana in terms of overall depth and talent. Hawaii gets to keep a lot of good in state talent at home, but it is still a small pool from which to draw recruits. The Warriors' defensive weakness is against the run, and we need to exploit it so we can set up our passing game. Of course, I recognize that this is what every football team wants to do in any game.
As far as our defense goes, I think we could be in for a long night. If we can get a consistent pass rush like we did against Illinois and Michigan State, then we might be able to slow them down a bit. Colt Brennan is very much a rhythm quarterback, and we need to disrupt that rhythm in order to slow down their offense. We're going to give up points and we need to come to terms with that. Hawaii has scored less than 30 points just once this year, in a season opening 25-17 loss at Alabama. That is Alabama, one of the traditional programs in all of college football that plays in the toughest conference in the country. The Warriors have yet to be held under 40 points at home and have been over 50 in each of the last four games.
Then again, let's look at their opponents: UNLV, Eastern Illinois, Nevada, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, and San Jose State. Those are their six home opponents. That's not exactly a who's who of college football. They still have a quarterback that more than knows what he is doing and a running back that compliments the attack quite nicely. This is not the Hawaii of the Timmy Chang era where they threw almost every down. There is a balance there that means we can't sit back in coverage and wait for the quarterback to make a mistake.
We have to key on Devone Bess as a receiver, as he is the go to guy for Brennan. Honestly though, with an attack like Hawaii's there isn't a single player that we can point to say and say, "If we stop him, we stop them entirely as a team." The local players are talking up Brennan for all kinds of national awards, as are the local news channels. We've even been hearing it from my wife's friend who has gotten us the tickets for this game. He has been saying all week that Hawaii is going to destroy Purdue.
Honestly, this is going to be a very difficult game to win. Hawaii's offense may be as good as Notre Dame's and the Irish toyed with us earlier in the season. Our heads may not entirely be in this one, and our coach's head is certainly not in the game. As almost every game has been this year, it depends on our offensive attack. The defense has improved, but every sign points to them getting torched early and often. If the offense is clicking, then we have a chance, but I don't see us outscoring them. We're going to need that elusive perfect game in order to come out with a win, and there have been no signs that it is just around the corner after the way we played against Indiana.
PREDICTION: Hawaii 45, Purdue 35 – We'll score with them early and hang around for awhile, but there is simply too much firepower there for us to overcome. We need the offense of the Indiana State game and the defense of the Northwestern game in order to have even a chance.
This leaves plenty of room to pick some of the national games this week, and there are several to choose from. First of all, I want to congratulate Miami for coming through and winning in the Orange Bowl tonight. The end of the broadcast was very touching as the players took a banner painted with Bryan Pata's picture out to mid-field between the U logo and laid it down while they had a prayer. For all the team has been through this season it is amazing that they have qualified to go to a bowl game. There was even talk during the broadcast that the Champs bowl was still a possible destination for them. I don't think it will happen, but we can dream.
The first game I want to talk about this week is Notre Dame at USC. With a win by USC, they will likely control their own destiny when it comes to playing Ohio State for the national title. It is comforting to know that since Michigan is still #2 after losing to Ohio State it is unlikely that Notre Dame will jump over them and get into the title game win or lose. Honestly, if I had to watch another Ohio State-Notre Dame bowl game, especially if Brady Quinn's sister is there, I would have to call for a jihad against University of Phoenix Stadium during a game. Fortunately, Notre Dame hasn't played a good team since the UCLA game, and they won't know how to react when they fall behind early on the road. USC simply does not lose at home to anyone, and I would love to see this become another blowout in Los Angeles for the Irish. Still, it should be a close game. USC 31, Notre Dame 28.
My second game is LSU at Arkansas. LSU is a completely different team when they playa t home, but this is on the road. Arkansas probably needs USC to lose in order to get a chance at the championship, and they still have that pesky SEC title game to get around as well. They are playing very well, however, and they are the only BCS conference team outside of Ohio State that is undefeated within their conference. When you consider that that conference is the SEC, then it means that Arkansas is a very good team. Part of their good fortune can be attributed to the fact that they play in the weaker division of the SEC. Mississippi State and Mississippi are jokes. Auburn can't score. Alabama isn't that great, and they got to play Vanderbilt and South Carolina from the SEC East. Still this should be a very good ballgame, and may be too close to call. Arkansas 21, LSU 20 based on the home field advantage.
Finally, there is one more game I wanted to talk about, and I still have plenty of room to do it. Wake Forest plays Maryland for the right to go to the ACC championship game and actually play for a BCS bid. It's hard to believe that one of these teams still has a chance to play in a big bowl, and that it would be a second such appearance for Maryland. It is also a big game because we have a strong chance of playing the loser of this game in the Champs Sports Bowl. In the end, Wake Forest is playing better and they have a lot to play for. Wake Forest 17, Maryland 14.
So that is that for this week. Next up I'll have an entry with my reactions from the Hawaii game, before having an early Big Ten bowl preview once all is said and done from here in Honolulu. We still have a lot of football left to be played, but in the mean time it is time to kick back, put my feet up, and spend some time in the sun on the beach. It is a well earned reward for both myself and the team. I encourage all Boiler fans to Boiler Up and stay up late to watch the game from Hawaii.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
But this is not about the Rainbow Warriors, or the state of Hawaii yet, it is about the past week in the Big Ten as we have wrapped up yet another season. First off, I want to congratulate our Boilermakers for finishing up at 5-3 in the conference. I know the Big Ten was really, really mediocre at best outside of the top three teams this year, but to come through by winning five conference games after last year and comfortably qualifying for a bowl it is a huge improvement. We're not going to turn many heads by beating Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Michigan State, but it at least shows we're back to beating the teams we should. We were a spotless 7 for 7 in games we needed to win no matter what. Some were close, some weren't, but all were victories.
We're also two wins short of having just our second 10-win season in school history with two games to play. The level of competition rises steeply in the next two game, as we get a ranked Hawaii team that is an offensive juggernaut and bowl opponent that may be ranked, but it's not too steep to overcome. We at least have one win over a bowl-bound team thanks to Minnesota knocking off Iowa. The critics can piss and moan all they want, but eight wins are eight wins. Indiana fans can piss and moan all they want, but we're still playing and have a bowl game to go to, and they are not.
Speaking of bowl games, I found out this afternoon in the course of our wanderings over Oahu that we have officially accepted a bid to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando to face Random ACC team #4. I must say I am a little disappointed with this bid, but not because of our actions. As regular readers of this blog know, my wife is a University of Miami alum and diehard 'Canes fan. I was really hoping to make this bowl and face off against the 'Canes so I could have friendly bragging rights within my marriage football wise. After we saw the 'Canes at Louisville it looked very possible, but it is safe to say they have fallen off the map and may not even go to any bowl. Mrs. BoilerTMill is so pissed off at them that, even facing the prospect of watching them Thursday afternoon with her buddy from Miami that she hasn't seen in over two years, she may not watch them. Larry Coker is a dead man walking as coach, and I fully expect him to be fired sometime Friday before we wake up, win or lose against Boston College.
But we are in a bowl and we know where we are going. Since the ACC is fairly weak this year and there are about four teams fighting it out for the title we can probably guess at who we are playing. We get the #4 selection and we don't have to worry about two teams being selected to the BCS. Georgia Tech won't be it as they have already clinched their division and will either go to the BCS or #2. That leaves Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, or Boston College as our likely opponents. There is the small chance of getting Florida State or Miami, thereby giving us a chance at a 'name' win, but Miami needs to get bowl eligible and Florida State would only be picked to sell local tickets.
Of the four likeliest choices Virginia Tech and Boston College offer the best chance for a 'name' win. Virginia Tech scares me because they are playing very well and only have two losses. They have dropped games to Georgia Tech and Boston College, but have played very well against everyone else. The ACC pecking order goes BCS-Chik-fil-A-Gator before the Champs Bowl. Should Va. Tech beat Virginia and finish with ten wins they will likely get picked up before the #4 slot.
That leaves Maryland, Wake Forest, and Boston College. One of these teams will win the ACC Atlantic and likely be the #3 team picked depending on the outcome of the ACC title game. I honestly don't know how Maryland keeps winning games, but they have only three losses and they are to ranked teams. Of the four biggest possibilities, I think we match up with them the best. They seem to be a mirror image of us in the ACC in terms of who they have played and beaten. We're familiar with Wake Forest as it wasn't that long ago that we played a very close home and home with them. They won up here because we couldn't make a field goal and we won in Winston-Salem because Stu Schweigert used his Shinning to anticipate a snap. Boston College is one of those teams that you never know how well they are going to play.
Honestly, I feel that as long as we don't play Virginia Tech we have a good game. The ACC is about as down as the Big Ten is this year, and we match up very well with anyone but the Hokies. The Hokies are probably the biggest name we can beat, but at this point I just want to win a bowl game.
Sorry to go off on a bit of a diatribe there, but it was needed since our bowl was officially announced. Even though it was only a one-year absence, it feels good to be back in any bowl. I want every Indiana fan to read that past sentence too. I am allowed to taunt for a few words and this is my space to do it. It sucks so bad that we had to wait almost two calendar years between bowl games. Our program is bad and we're worse than Indiana, but it's only because we've had such a long bowl drought. Wins are wins. We have more of them. Deal with it.
Seriously though, I meant to do a final Big Ten rankings in this entry, and I will deliver now that everything is finalized. This time with no divisions.
1. Ohio State – Hard to argue with the #1 team in the country. They have faced two #2's and beaten them. I won't put them lower.
2. Michigan – I won't think they deserve a rematch because they did lose and I'd like to see what someone else would do, but they probably are the second best team in the country.
3. Wisconsin – What would they do if they got the Buckeyes or Wolverines in Madison? That is the question of the season. It's too bad they had a one game season. Imagine if they had beaten Michigan and we had a mandate Big Ten/Nation Championship game?
4. Penn State – 8-0 against bad teams, 0-4 against good teams. People may diss our weak schedule, but Penn State's losses are to teams with three total losses all to each other (Notre Dame to Michigan, Wisconsin to Michigan, Michigan to Ohio State) The Outback Bowl decided simply on out 12-0 loss to them, as they essentially had the same season as us, only they beat us.
5. Purdue – And I will take the middle this year and run with it.
6. Minnesota – How different would the bowl selection be if not for that bogus pass interference call against Penn State?
7. Iowa – They are better than this, and they know it.
8. Indiana – The same comment as above. Two words: Southern Illinois. I don't want to hear a word about missing a coach or Hardy. When playing a 1-AA team it doesn't matter.
9. Northwestern – Welcome to the single digits, Wildcats. You finished the season very nicely. It is time to ride that momentum. They really weren't that far off from a bowl game. Beat your 1-AA team and close out Michigan State and they were there.
10. Illinois – Either they are the sleeper team of next year, or they are simply a bunch of talented players that can't win close games. (see Purdue football 2004)
11. Michigan State – There is not a single good word I can say about them.
As a final note on the Big Ten season, I wanted to get one last dig in against Indiana. The Indiana fans were out in full force both before and after the bucket game. They said they were going to beat us because they were the better team, then complained about officiating, said they gave the game away, and even said they showed they were obviously the better team by gaining 500 yards against us. You can preen all you want, but we still own you. That's five in a row and nine of ten. You can suck it long and suck it hard.
My national rankings took quite a jump this week, as it was even more difficult to figure out how things will play out, Ohio State is obviously in the BCS title game, but things from there are rather murky. I find it rather disturbing that our own coach has no idea how the BCS is played out, when he said Wisconsin would go to the Rose Bowl this week if Michigan got a rematch with Ohio State. Let someone else at least have a chance, because if Michigan wins said rematch we would have chaos of epic proportions.
1. (1) Ohio State
2. (5) Florida (Win the toughest conference in the country and you deserve a shot)
3. (4) USC (Please, for the love of God, beat Notre Dame!)
4. (6) Arkansas (They should go if they beat LSU, Florida, and USC loses)
5. (2) Michigan (You had your chance, now go home)
6. (8) West Virginia
7. (7) Wisconsin
8. (9) Notre Dame
9. (10) Boise State (the six above them could still all lose, so why not?)
10. (3) Rutgers
11. (12) Louisville (They look like chokers now)
12. (11) Texas
13. (14) LSU
14. (17) Oklahoma
15. (16) Auburn
16. (18) Georgia Tech
17. (23) Virginia Tech
18. (13) Wake Forest
19. (20) Boston College
20. (21) Hawaii
21. (15) California
22. (24) BYU
23. (25) Nebraska
24. (22) Tennessee
25. (19) Maryland
I didn't drop anyone because I feel that the top 25 is fairly solid, but I do feel that everyone outside the top 25 is very questionable. With Hawaii being in my top 20 I think we have an excellent chance to make one last statement before the bowl season. It's a shame that the game is so late that no one will be watching that matters. Should Purdue be ranked if we beat the rainbow Warriors to finish 9-4? It is up for you to decide.
NEXT UP: The week 13 preview all to ourselves, as we are the only game in tow
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Then again, it is their own damn fault they didn't go to a bowl this year, too.
I find it amusing that they are griping about us riding a weak schedule with no Michigan or Ohio State this year, when next year they plan on doing the exact same thing to get to a bowl game. They already have Central Michigan and Akron on their non-conference schedule, with two open spots. There is no Ohio State or Michigan in sight, and they get Northwestern back on the schedule. There's no reason for them not to get back to a bowl with the way their program is improving.
And improving they are. I was very impressed with the way their offensive line came together today and gave Lewis plenty of time to throw in the second half. Lewis, if he gets a decent second receiver and some sort of a running game to help him out will be a very good quarterback as he develops. Defensively they have plenty of speed and as they develop, they could be a solid unit. Give them a year, maybe two, and Indiana will at least be up to the middle of the Big Ten as far as talent and record. With no Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule for two years, they could go on a bit of a run like we did in 1997 and 1998 in terms of building for the future. We have ended our similar two-year run, and we're a step back from where we were. This is Indiana's chance to make a move.
That being said, everyone will be better next year. Northwestern, Illinois, and Minnesota were all very young this year and can only go up from here. Michigan State looks to take a step back being the only guaranteed team to have a new coach, but the Big Ten as a whole will be much, much tougher next year. We need to watch out for ourselves because I am not entirely convinced we have turned much of a corner in what was essentially a caretaker season.
We beat the seven teams we were supposed to beat because they did not go to bowls, while we have only one win so far over a bowl team in Minnesota. The true measure of our program and how far we have come will come next week at Hawaii and in our bowl game. If we win both of those to finish 10-4, then we can start looking toward next season with some serious optimism. There are still plenty of questions that needed to be answered, but as I will touch on later, we are learning to win ugly, and that is a good thing.
Looking strictly at today's game it is hard to judge either team. Indiana should have won because they rolled up 500 yards offense and had a quarterback that ran for more than 100 yards. They didn't win because they had the ball three times inside the 20-yard line and came away with a fumble, missed field goal, and a fumble on a long fumble return. Purdue should have lost because it turned the ball over five times, but it didn't because it held Indiana to 19 points.
This was a hideous game to watch for both sides, because either team could have won going away. It had all the makings of a high-scoring affair with all the yards gained, but the turnovers made both offenses look completely inept. Neither defense did much of anything to slow the opposing offenses down except when said offense made a mistake and turned the ball over. Both teams made more than their share of mistakes when it came to scoring, and I honestly cannot point to a single reason as to why Purdue was the better team today.
Throwing the ball, there is little question that Kellen Lewis owned Curtis Painter today. I don't know what Curtis' problem in home games is, but it needs to be fixed and fixed before next season. He has now thrown one touchdown pass against seven interceptions in his past three homes games, while throwing five touchdowns against just two picks in his last three road games. Lewis showed poise in staying in the pocket and picking his spots to run. He also had some very nice, long gains by running some option play fakes to perfect. Painter meanwhile was indecisive both running and throwing, and had only one interception that could be attributed to the receiver not catching a catchable ball.
The running backs were a reverse for both teams. Sheets and Taylor combined to both have solid games when given the ball. They rushed for more than 150 yards and each had a touchdown, while Taylor had some big catches out of the backfield. Indiana's backs, aside from Lewis were mostly an afterthought. They were okay, but the fumble at the goal line was much more crucial than Taylor's fumble the way things worked out.
James Hardy and Greg Orton played to a virtual draw, with both going over 100 yards receiving and finding the end zone. Hardy had bigger catches that got IU into scoring position, but a number of them were simple jump balls thrown up in one-on-one coverage against overmatched corners. David Pender saved the game with his deflection in the end zone on what was going to be a sure touchdown to Hardy, and Starr missed a field goal on the next play.
Both defenses were horrible as far as yards given up, but in terms of Points, Purdue had a clear edge. Purdue's turnovers killed at least two solid scoring drives, if not four, while Purdue's defense stiffened and forced three field goal attempts instead of giving up touchdowns. That turned out to be the difference in the game. We kept Indiana out of the end zone when it mattered most.
In the end, I think Purdue's maturity was the largest difference. We're not exactly a senior laden team, but George Hall, Anthony Spencer, and Mike Otto provided a leadership quality that Indiana was lacking. WE were able to recover from the mistakes we made and correct them by forcing another turnover or field goal, while Indiana had no such answer. The talent gap is definitely closing between the two schools, but on this day Purdue still had the edge.
Which brings me to my point about winning ugly. We have had no games this year where we have been able to coast through the second half. Even against Indiana State it was a five-point game with 5 minutes to go in the third quarter. Only against Indiana State, Ball State, Northwestern, and to some extent Illinois have we been able to build a big second half lead to the point where the outcome was never in doubt. In the other four games we have shown a resolve to pull out close games that was not there for the past several seasons.
When we needed to make one play to beat Miami we got it with the blocked kick. Yes, it looks like a bad win now, but the point is we got the win at any cost. Against Minnesota, Pender's play against Wheelright in the end zone was huge, and the defense closed them out when they were unable to a year ago. Against Michigan State we had a really, really bad game and left a lot of points on the field, but the defense found a way to make two plays, one to set up the winning score and another to preserve the win, that it would not have done a year ago.
Even today the same was true. We made a play when Indiana had a chance to tie, and the offense answered by immediately driving for a score to maintain control. Just when we could have given Indiana a huge confidence boost by tying the game in the fourth quarter we made a play when they didn't. That was the difference. That is what is still separating us from Indiana. They can complain all they want about our weak schedule, but the bottom line is that as long as they cannot take care of their own business they shouldn't be worried about ours. We were 7-0 against non-bowl eligible teams, and they were 4-2. Against bowl teams we are 1-4, with two games to play, while Indiana was 2-5. That tells me that if they are close to use in terms of talent, but they are not "obviously the better team" as some on the Peegs board are saying. I will give them they are nearly equal, but not "obviously better".
When you receive five turnovers but give four back you are not "obviously better". When you blow three chances inside the 20 you are not "obviously better". When you have three chances against teams worse than Purdue (Minnesota, Southern Illinois, Connecticut) you are not "obviously better".
My favorite argument is that we would not have gone bowling in nine out of ten years had we played Michigan and Ohio State. In 1997 and 1998 when we didn't play the two we went 8-3 and 8-4 during the regular season. In 1998 we lost to Penn State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and USC while knocking off the #4 team in the country in our bowl game. It would not have mattered if we had played the two, we still would have gone to a bowl. Last year it wouldn't have mattered, because we didn't go bowling anyway. This year it might have made a difference depending on who rotated off the schedule. If Wisconsin, Penn State, or Iowa were involved in any rotation, it wouldn't have mattered.
And by the way, we're 6 for 6 as far as bowl eligibility under Tiller when we do play them, going 3-9 against them head to head. Four of the losses were decided on the final possession, unlike getting blown out by a combined score of 78-6. Indiana fans say they could have been bowl eligible with our schedule this year, when they should have been bowl eligible against their own which was tougher!
Now I am not saying we are the greatest team that has ever walked the face of the earth. We are a flawed team that simply took care of business against our weaker opponents. That's what good teams do. Great teams then rise above and excel against great competition. We are not a great team, merely a good one. We're like the car I had in college. It was a good car, it got the job done and since it was a convertible (of the 1993 Chrylser Lebaron variety) it would turn a head or two, but it's not exactly a Dodge Viper. That is Purdue football. They are the Chrysler Lebaron of the Big Ten, while Indiana has improved from Yugo to Kia Sephia.
A final note about the Hoosiers is that next year will be a turning point game in the bucket rivalry. This game was fun and competitive. It felt like a rivalry game again. I will give them credit for their improvement and how they played hard today. Next year will be a turning point because it will be time for them to make a statement and bring the Bucket back to Bloomington.
We will be ready for them.
I will go more into the bowl chances and possibilities later in the week, as I'll probably be writing some on the plane to Honolulu, but we still have plenty of work to do this season. For all the crap we have taken and generally bad performances, this cans till go down as a ten win season. We now have about a 95% chance of heading to the Champs Sports bowl against an ACC opponent that will be beatable, and Hawaii is beatable if we play a solid game. We need to make ten wins our goal, as that will also mean that we got past our recent deficiencies in bowl games.
We have made our goal of having a winning season, both overall and in the Big Ten. We are going back to a bowl, and it will be a fairly decent bowl game (anything is better than Detroit). We won two of our three trophy games, and they were the most likely of the two we were going to win. We are still erratic on both side of the ball, but we are better defensively, even after giving up 500 yards, than we were at any point last year or earlier this year. We have two chances to go out and get wins against ranked teams, since Hawaii will likely be ranked and our bowl opponent from the ACC may be ranked. That's two chances to prove we're better, and we need to take advantage of them.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I was going to be a rogue of a college football writer this week. There is a certain event that everyone is talking about and we journalists are legally bound to address first. It is a game that was circled on a lot of calendars before the season even began. I wanted to rage against the machine and save it for last, but burly men came to my door when they discovered my plan (they must be able to read my thoughts or something. They are that powerful.) So, in accordance to their wishes, I will address this week's epic matchup that everyone has been waiting for since the end of September. I figure everyone wants to hear about it, so I might as well address this first.
Illinois (2-9, 1-6) at Northwestern (3-8, 1-6) - On the shores of Lake Michigan two epic powers will collide Saturday afternoon at 1pm as the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois take on the Wildcats of Northwestern University for the Tomahawk traveling trophy. Really, these two play for more than the right to be called the best Division 1-A football team in the state of Illinois. I would say in all of division 1, but there are some pretty good 1-AA teams (Southern Illinois?) in the state of Illinois and if there were more than two 1-A teams they would automatically be better than these two.
They do play for a trophy though. It's about as well known as the Cannon, which Illinois played for last week, but it is still a trophy game. I did some research on the University of Illinois website and the Northwestern website. Listed here, the Illini also play Ohio State for a wooden turtle called the Illibuck. That means that this is Illinois chance to end the season not only on a seven game losing streak, but they get to lose three straight trophy games. Way to build momentum going into next year, Zooker!
As far as I can tell, this is Northwestern's only trophy game. They only talk about the Tomahawk as a trophy game on their website, but it the 100th overall meeting between the two. It's funny that this is only really being promoted by Northwestern. Illinois leads the all-time series 51-43-5. Maybe Northwestern became disappointed that they were the Big Ten's doormat for years and simply forgot about any other trophy games because they never saw them anyway.
I don't have any further in depth analysis about this game, and I don't think it really needs it. It's a couple of bad teams playing in a windy stadium next to a large body of water in Chicago at the end of November. You're either a die-hard fan of these two teams or you have absolutely nothing better to do if you're watching them. Hopefully this fulfills my legal obligation as a Big Ten writer to say something about this game.
PREDICTION: Illinois 21, Northwestern 14 – It's going to be a long winter for both teams regardless. If Northwestern had just held on against Michigan State and beaten their 1-AA team at home, they would actually have been playing to go to a bowl in this game.
Okay, now that that is out of the way, we can talk about bigger and better things this week. Every other game involving Big Ten teams, except for Buffalo (2-8) at Wisconsin (10-1), have bowl implications or better. If possible the Buffalo-Wisconsin game is an even worse game to preview than the Northwestern-Illinois game. At least the game in Evanston will likely be competitive. I'm not going to say anything else about Wisconsin and Buffalo except that the Badgers will get plenty of chance to play backups before the bowl game. Wisconsin 52, Buffalo 3.
Everywhere we have a slate of very competitive games topped off by the Ohio State-Michigan game that I am bound to qualify as 'epic.' We also have our battle of the Old Oaken Bucket. I'll get to my preview of the actual game here in a moment, but let's get to the rest of the Big Ten games first.
Michigan State (4-7, 1-6) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3) – What on earth does Michigan State have to play for? It certainly cannot be pride, as they lost that in the second half of the Notre Dame game. They don't have a bowl to play for, and their senior class has to be one of the most underachieving senior classes ever. Drew Stanton has one last chance to do something with his career, which probably means he won't do anything. In each game this year he has been built up as having 'one last chance' to do something big, be it knock off Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, get his team to a bowl game, go to class and graduate, finish dinner first, etc. Stanton will likely get to lead them into the locker room this week, as he most likely will be out with a concussion.
Still, we need Michigan State to find something to play for, even if it is to spite John L. Smith, to have a hope of getting to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. It is still not likely going to happen, but our only real shot is if the Spartans can pull the upset.
It's not going to be easy when there will be 100,000+ rowdy Penn State fans supporting JoePa as he returns to coaching after his injury two weeks ago. Penn State finally got moving offensively last week against Temple, and Michigan State's defense has played at about Temple's level in every game except against us. Even then, we left a lot of points on the field. A quarterback making his first start can't ask for a much worse venue to get that first start in than Happy Valley.
PREDICTION: Penn State 32, Michigan State 20 – Michigan State's season is finally, mercifully put to an end, while the Nittany Lions clinch a spot in Tampa. This game is actually a pseudo-rivalry game for the Land Grant trophy. I think it was made up in an attempt for Penn State to feel more welcome in the Big Ten, but it is still a trophy game.
Iowa (6-5, 2-5) at Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) – As Purdue fans we need to watch this game to figure out where we may go bowling. As I said earlier this week, an Iowa loss almost assuredly sends us to Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl regardless of what we do against Indiana. Iowa has played so poorly of late it may not matter what happens in either game. Still, I don't like their chances here.
Minnesota has come alive of late, and they are making a nice little push to get to a bowl game. They whipped Indiana, who handled Iowa to start this downward spiral. The Gophers finally abandoned the ground game that wasn't working like it traditionally has for them, and they have found a pretty potent passing attack in return. They haven't beaten Iowa since 2000, and they have to remember what happened in 2002 when Iowa clinched the Big Ten championship in Minneapolis. The Iowa fans somehow managed to get on the field at the Metrodome and tear down the goal posts. That's pretty sad when the opposing team does that, and I know I would be offended.
This game is also for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy, which is basically a giant pig. That's right. Minnesota plays for a jug, an axe, and a pig. So do they get liquored up with some 'shine from the jug and slaughter pigs? At least we play for a bucket, a cannon, and a stick. Iowa has been the most disappointing team in the conference short of us last year, and I feel really bad for hyping them all season. Unless they pull it together in a real hurry, they are in trouble.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 30, Iowa 28 – Minnesota wins on a late field goal to take home the pig. Would you pick a team that has already lost to Indiana and Northwestern this year? I didn't think so. At least if Minnesota wins we'll have beaten a bowl team this year.
Indiana (5-6, 3-4) at Purdue (7-4, 4-3) – Many people have knocked our schedule this year as being weak. A number of those people have been IU fans. One thread on the Purdue message boards said that had we played Michigan and Ohio State this year we would be just like them, barely hanging on to qualify for a bowl game. Well, they have no right to bitch because if they had taken care of business against the teams they were supposed to beat they would already be in a bowl game.
If you look at the schedule, we have played six games we all thought we should win coming into the season no matter what. Outside of the Miami game, we have won all six rather easily. Even taking into account what has happened with Iowa and Michigan State falling apart, we're 1-1, and Iowa played a fantastic game against us. So we have done our jobs.
Indiana, however, has not. They were given a very weak non-conference schedule. Yes, it is probably strong than ours, but still not exactly a murderer's row. They beat what may have been the best team in that stretch, Western Michigan, rather handily. They then barely survived against Ball State by a point because of some bad kicking, and lost to a 1-AA team and a beatable Connecticut team. I'll give them Illinois, as well as Michigan State and even Iowa since the good Iowa went home after we played them, but Minnesota was still a winnable game and they got drilled. That makes Indiana 5-3 in "business" games. 5-3 versus our 7-1, and they are talking shit.
I feel we match up very well against Indiana. We torched them last year with our option game, and that is what we need to do to set the tone against them. We have a history of running backs throwing up career games against them (Mike Alstott, Brandon Jones, Montrell Lowe), and Kory Sheets did just that last year against them. Once their defense tries to creep up to stop the run, we'll just throw deep to Orton, Keller, Lymon, or Bryant. If we continue to employ a two back shotgun set, we should be able to roll against them.
We'll have to limit our drops again, as they were almost our undoing last week. If we're catching the ball we should be able to do what we want, when we want on offense. Defensively I expect Anthony Spencer to be all over the place. IU fans are making Randle El comparisons to Kellen Lewis, but he has still shown he can't do much when playing from behind. If you take a look at their message board he's the second coming of Christ, and we don't have a prayer because or 7-4 record is overinflated. At least we can take care of business.
We will need to worry about James Hardy, and that is about it. The Indiana running game is an afterthought outside of Lewis scrambling out the pocket. He'll have plenty of that all day running away from Spencer. They are a one dimensional team with one receiver, and we're supposed to fear them?
The best part is that their fans are excited. They feel like they have a shot this year. I am happy to say my wife and I will be watching from the Shivley Stadium Club thanks to my dad's business, and I hope that whoever bought my season tickets for $125 is an IU fan that leaves at halftime because they are getting destroyed.
This is a matchup nightmare for Indiana. They have won four times in the last five years on the road, and of those only Oregon could be concerned a good win. Ball State, Central Michigan, and Illinois don't exactly inspire fear in opponents. Even when you look at those four wins, only one was in the Big Ten. That's one conference road win in five seasons, against the worst team in the conference during that span. And they are saying we have an inflated schedule?
They cannot run the ball, they can't defend the pass, and they can barely defend the run, and we are supposed to fear them? There are four reasons I don't think Indiana has a chance on Saturday. 56-7, 41-13, 34-10, and 63-20. Those are the scores the last four times Indiana has come up to West Lafayette. They won't win unless they hold us under 34 points.
PREDICTION: Purdue 45, Indiana 28 - It will be a closer game than in the past, as Indiana is improving as a team. They are too inconsistent and just don't play well on the road. If we come out and get up a few scores early it will be over. This could be dangerous, but we're due for a complete game and what better time than now.
Michigan (11-0, 7-0) at Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) – This is the big one. I know this game is getting covered ad nauseum this week, so there's not much else I can say about it. If you go over to ESPN.com you can see the coverage from every angle short of dorm room cams for every single player and back-up punter. After going to college, I don't know if I want to see what goes on in said dorm rooms.
Ohio State has a killer offense, while Michigan has a great defense. There are the national title implications; of course they may play again for the title anyway. Why not just have Ohio State play Wisconsin for their 8th conference game and have Michigan take on Illinois, then let them meat in the national title game. The only team that has a right to play them right now is Rutgers, and even they may not make it to the end unbeaten.
My question is this. If they have a rematch in the title game, and the loser of the regular season game wins, then what happens? Do we split the title? Do we make them play yet again? Asking for a rematch could be the worst thing to happen, especially if said Rutgers team finishes undefeated, gets shut out of the game, and goes on to win their BCS bowl.
I don't know what is going to happen in this game. It likely is going to be a close game, and that is not good for Wisconsin's tiny BCS bowl hopes. I am going to stand by my pick of Ohio State in a close one though based on home field advantage. If I were a Michigan fan I don't even know if I would want to go to the game this weekend after seeing video from the 2002 game on YouTube. The scenes from the street were like scenes from Beirut, and after going to the 2003 Purdue game in Columbus I know the Ohio State fans are among the rudest in the country.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 21, Michigan 20 – This is too close to call. Hopefully I'll be watching this game in Harry's with a celebration Long Island in hand.
National games: I know I have already gone really long, but I'll make my traditional two national picks in quickie fashion. USC 38, Cal 17, as the Golden Bears are becoming the Michigan State of the Pac-10. Wake Forest 24, Virginia Tech 20 – The Deacons are on a roll. Who can stop them?
NEXT UP: We add a link to the bucket and prepare to take it to the islands. My reactions posted Saturday night as I pack to head to Honolulu.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I couldn’t resist the extra entry this week before my typical week preview. While this isn't a full-fledge preview of the game, as that is coming tomorrow, I still wanted to take a look at how different this game is viewed by both schools.
It’s bucket week and for the first time in years both teams actually have something to play for. It is not every day that a bowl in Arizona has been chomping at the bit, just hoping the Hoosiers were eligible so they could choose them to bring their hordes of fans out for something other than basketball. It’s also the bowl that Hoosier nation has been dreaming of all year.
Of course, I am not talking about the BCS championship game, or even the Fiesta Bowl. I am talking about the Insight Bowl, the most likely bowl destination of the Hoosiers should they win the bucket on Saturday. Therein lies the difference between our two programs. We could finish the regular season 9-4 and wonder what might have been had we played better games against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Indiana would be jubilant to finish 6-6 and get the bucket, even if a bowl game wasn't involved. Our season is a failure if we lose the bucket to Indiana, while the Hoosiers accept it as just another loss. I guess when you lose so many games they all kind of blend together. That’s what last year felt like for us, of course we still managed to come through in Bloomington rather easily.
Over the years, the Hoosiers have resorted to a number of tactics to state their overzealousness for beating Purdue. Lee Corso was well known to have a sign above his office that read, “What have you done today to beat Purdue?” It should be noted he was 4-6 against Purdue during his ten years, and carried the Hoosiers to the lofty heights of the 1979 Holiday bowl where he led them to a win over their highest ranked opponent ever. When your highest ranked win ever is over the ninth-ranked Fightin’ Mormons of BYU during an 8-4 season, you don’t have a very strong program.
This article in the IU Student Newspaper from the 1993 season shows the invective that many Indiana fans show at wanting to beat Purdue. I find it ironic that even though the Hoosiers beat us that season, making us finish at 1-10, they still only won 21-14 and were flattened by Virginia Tech 45-20 in what would be their last bowl game. That was the golden era of IU football, when Bill Mallory was king and the Hoosiers went to six of their eight total bowl games in just eight seasons. Those two years they didn’t go to a bowl were because of losses to the Boilermakers that cost them bowl eligibility. In one of those years we even had the handicap of Jim “A tie is as good as a win in the Big Ten” Colletto. During the Mallory era Purdue was in the dark ages of the Akers/Colletto dynasty and we managed to go 5-5 against them.
There are even more examples. Indiana once (and may still have) a clock in its locker room counting down until the Purdue game. This led to a recent posting on the Gold and Black forums talking about the slogan of said clock. It even goes beyond basketball as what Purdue fan hasn’t heard Bob Knight’s “I’m sick and tired of losing to f*cking Purdue!” tirade.
My point is that even when we are at our worst as a program, we have not obsessed over beating Indiana as much as Indiana obsesses over beating us. To us, beating Indiana is so commonplace that it is more shocking when we lose than when we win. Since we have not only won, but absolutely owned the Hoosiers over the eight of the last nine years, it makes events like the 2001 game seem so rare. Even then it took a driving rainstorm, a true freshman quarterback making his second start for us, an all-world talent like Antwaan Randle El, and an inches short goal line stop for the Hoosiers to barely escape with the bucket. What was Indiana’s response? They skipped the dignified midfield exchange and ran over to our sidelines to steal the bucket away.
How can we take them seriously when beating us is what makes a good season for them? How can we take Indiana seriously when we have heard what Lee Corso did with the bucket the first time he won it? How can we take them seriously when, at the 2003 Bucket Game in Bloomington a bunch of IU students showed that, definite articles be damned, they wanted the bucket by dangling a giant bed sheet sign over the edge of Memorial Stadium that read “WE WANT BUCKET!”
This was just the second funniest thing of the day, as there is another reason we can’t take seriously was a comment from my lovely wife that day. We had just been dating a year and she had recently moved to Indiana. She was attending her first bucket game with me and it happened to be in Bloomington that year. Being from Miami and seeing what good college football was like, plus having attended a pair of Purdue games at Ross-Ade Stadium with me, she was unprepared for the glorious splendor that Bloomington is on game day. As we got off of state road 37 and headed into Bloomington I pointed out Memorial Stadium on the top of the hill. Her comment was a classic, “Where’s the rest of it?’ making me laugh so hard I nearly wrecked. She was not even at her first game of this heated rivalry and she already knew instinctively what to do. This is one of many reasons that I love her so.
To Purdue fans, the bucket game has almost become just another game. We get far more worked up about playing Notre Dame than we do Indiana. Beating the Hoosiers has almost become a given. The bit of headway they made in the 80’s and 90’s in the overall series has long been offset by winning eight times in nine years. We still love to beat Indiana, but it is more because we don’t want the embarrassment of losing to the Hoosiers that other Big Ten teams feel. For us it is about keeping the bucket safe and secure in the Mollenkopf Center for another year and making sure the seniors get their chance to parade around with it like so many senior classes beforehand.
Our current senior class barely remembers what life is like without the bucket. For the handful of fifth year seniors we have on the roster that have been at Purdue all five years, they only vaguely remember getting the bucket back at the conclusion of the 2002 affair. Those seniors were freshman that likely did not play in that game as they were redshirting, and they are the only ones who know of life in West Lafayette without the bucket. The reverse is true for Indiana’s fifth year players. To add to the pain that they have played five years of bad football under three different coaches (some of them were recruited by Cam Cameron originally), they only vaguely remember something about a bucket being on campus. Maybe that is why Indiana keeps such a large picture of it on its football website, and ours is so understated.
I know that the Indiana-Purdue rivalry is relatively minor in the grand scheme of college football. I believe there has only been one season where the teams have met when they were both ranked. There was also only one season where the teams have met and both have gone to bowl games, that being the year I was born in 1979. We’re never going to have the national title game ride on what happens in the bucket game. Our score will be an afterthought at the bottom of the screen during Saturday’s Michigan-Ohio State game, much like it is every year. Historically neither of our programs have been good at the same time. Only the 1967 season comes to mind as the year that the game decided who won the Big Ten. Indiana won that year to share the championship with us and Minnesota, and went to its only Rose Bowl. Because the state of Indiana has been so talent poor for so many years it has been hard for both programs to be successful at the same time. I don't think it is a coincidence that Purdue has improved as we have relied on more and more out of state recruits while Indiana has placed importance on winning the state. It's important for Purdue to keep the good recruits at home, but coach Tiller has seen that recruiting is a national game and that is where his efforts have dominated Indiana.
Drew Brees was from Texas. Kyle Orton was from Iowa. The bulk of our 2003 defense came from states like New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, and California. Tiller used a quirky offense to turn us around immediately in his first two years, then that allowed a niche to form where we got more out of state recruits into our system. Having a player like Drew Brees come along certainly didn't hurt either. It is because of this early success that we have been able to sustain it into a modest run of nine bowls in ten years. Sure, we have never seriously contended for a national title and only have eon one conference title in that time, but when you look at all 119 Division 1-A schools that is good enough to place us in the top 40. Compared to where we were (and where Indiana has been) that is fantastic. It's hard to contend for a national title in one year, let alone every year. When it comes time for Tiller to step aside, the program will be in much better shape than it was when he came in ten years ago.
This is what Indiana needs to get going. They need a breakthrough year, and then they need to sustain it. Illinois broke through in 2001, and then has fallen apart ever sense. Minnesota has improved, but is still on a level just below us. Northwestern is erratic, but it will always be difficult to sustain success there. Iowa seems to be going through some of the fits we experienced a few years ago. Don't even get me started on Michigan State. Michigan, Ohio State, and to some extent Penn State and Wisconsin will always be at the top, and we're always just outside trying to join them with Iowa.
It is still our rivalry though. Even though I think Purdue takes Notre Dame more seriously as a football rival, Indiana has been a rival for longer and becomes more of a matter of state pride when we play. If you ask the average Purdue fan, the bucket is still important to us. We certainly don't want to see Indiana have it. It is just not the end all, be all of our season like it is for IU.
Honestly, if the Hoosiers continue to improve it could mean a bit of a dip for our own program. Still, I would like to see them improve to make this rivalry interesting again. Coach Hoeppner has them pointed in the right direction, and maybe one day they won't need to make the bucket game their bowl game, but be able to treat it like we treat it. We have arrived at the point where we can view our seasons in terms of how well we do in the Big Ten and bowl placement. With improvement, Indiana can get there as well, and that will only be good for the rivalry.
So on the eve of this bucket game I hope I have taken a kind view of the rivalry without resorting to childish name calling and trailer park jokes. I feel I have gotten some jibes in, but still shown that I respect Indiana as a rival even though it hasn't been very close for a few years.
I promise to be a little snider in my game preview and prediction tomorrow.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Everyone is entirely sick of the Chevy adds with noted Indiana supporter John Mellencamp singing about how this is our country. As if Indiana has not already done enough to fill this state’s void of annoying. The only thing that could get more annoying would be their self-satisfied remarks if Indiana somehow wins in West Lafayette this coming Saturday to get to a bowl game. Sorry fellas, but Mellencamp can’t save you by singing the opposing team into delirium like he did during the Michigan State game. If I were a Spartan player I two would have folded up the tent and not bothered to play after hearing that annoying song live.
The Indiana fans that were running their mouths a few weeks ago after they drubbed Michigan State are conspicuously silent today after they got drilled by Michigan. Apparently someone forgot to tell their offense to show up in the loss to the Wolverines. The only way it would have been the “Darkest day in the history of Michigan football” would have been if the lights at Memorial Stadium had malfunctioned.
It has been interesting to see this year that Indiana football fans are a lot like their basketball fans. When the team is doing well, they think they have one of the best in the country and can’t see their own shortcomings. They crowed and puffed out their chests after upsetting Iowa, saying a bowl game was a given and the bucket was theirs. There have been numerous postings on the Purdue message board this week bemoaning our lack of wins over teams with winning records, with one going so far as to say that if we had played Michigan and Ohio State we would be right where they were, needing a win to get into a bowl.
Need I remind you of Southern Illinois? At least Connecticut is slightly more respectable of a loss after they knocked off Pitt this week. Iowa is doing its best to make Indiana’s crowning achievement of the season look worse and worse. I don’t know what happened to the Hawkeyes, but they are making our loss to them even more embarrassing each week, while devaluing Indiana’s win over them.
Still, I have not been this excited about a bucket game in a long time. The fact that Indiana has managed five wins against a fairly weak schedule of its own means they are punchy. They have actually decided to show up and make the game worth talking about aside from how badly we’re going to beat them this year. They have something else to play for other than watching us sing Hail Purdue with the bucket. They have enough of a team that we need to take them seriously.
We already have a bowl bid locked up, and as I will address here in a few paragraphs, we can probably guess with about 75% certainty which bowl it will be win or lose. The only thing we have to play for is the bucket, and the fact that we will ruin Indiana’s season and dreams should we win it. Yes it’s been fun to win the bucket by large margins in each of the Hoosiers’ last four visits to Ross-Ade, but it’s more to win it AND crush their hopes and dreams in the process. Isn’t that what college football is all about?
As I said, we can probably guess which bowl we are going to with about 75% certainty. We’re not going to the Capitol One bowl. That is reserved for Wisconsin or possibly the Michigan-Ohio State loser if the game ends up being a blowout. We’re also probably not going to the Outback bowl. The only way we get there is if we win convincingly against Indiana AND Hawaii and Michigan State upsets Penn State. Even then, I still look for the Nittany Lions to go instead of us. That leaves the next selection to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. They are alternating the #4 selection with the Alamo bowl and I have read where this is the year they get #4. If I am wrong, then substitute the Alamo Bowl for everything I say about the Champs Bowl and vice versa. With Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State all out of the equation that leaves only us and Iowa as guarantees to be available right now. We currently hold a two game lead on Iowa in the standings despite losing to them head-to head (and badly). If this stays true they cannot be chosen ahead of us, no matter how well they travel.
Should Minnesota win to reach bowl eligibility they will finish at 3-5 in the conference, while Iowa would stumble to 2-6, but still eligible thanks to a 4-0 non-conference mark. At worst we can finish 4-4, maintaining that two game buffer. Even a loss to Indiana would make things look like this:
Indiana 4-4 (Wins over Purdue, Iowa)
Purdue 4-4 (Win over Minnesota)
Minnesota 3-5 (Wins over Iowa, Indiana)
Iowa 2-6 (Win over Purdue)
If you’re a Big Ten conference official, this is what you want because it means you get an extra team into the BCS and still fulfill all seven bowl slots. Should that scenario happen, the Champs Sports Bowl basically gets to choose between us, Indiana, and Minnesota. We probably have the edge over Minnesota by beating them head-to-head, but Indiana would have the edge over us by beating us head-to-head plus they have the factor of not being to a bowl in 13 years. That could sell more tickets than us. Minnesota would have a head-to-head edge over Indiana there, which would be bigger since it was such a dominating win and more recent. In this case, a strong showing and win over Hawaii would come into play, where a win over Indiana probably negates whatever we do on the islands (unless Michigan State loses to Penn State).
Another wild card that needs to be considered is that the same people that run the Capitol One Bowl run the Champs Sports Bowl. We had a very good showing fan-wise three years ago in the Capitol One Bowl and I am sure they will remember that, since bowls care mainly about selling tickets.
As far as the slim chances at the Outback Bowl go, we are only attractive if we are a 9-4 team on a four-game winning streak against a 7-5 Penn State team that is fresh off a loss to a bad Michigan State team. Regardless of what happens, I don’t think we can do any worse than the Alamo Bowl. Our worst-case scenario is if we lose to Indiana and Iowa upsets Minnesota. That would take the Gophers out of the equation and bump Iowa to 3-5. Then the Champs can pick Iowa should they choose. You’d be looking at the Champs and the Alamo having the chance to pick teams that beat us in conference play, sending us to Phoenix for the Insight Bowl. I give us a 75% chance of playing in the Champs Sports Bowl, 20% chance of playing in the Alamo, 4% chance of playing in the Insight, and 1% chance of playing in the Outback. It all depends on what we do against Indiana, or the outcome of the Iowa-Minnesota game. A Minnesota or Purdue win most likely puts us in Orlando, regardless of what happens in the other game.
With that being said, it’s time to look at the second to last Big Ten rankings of the season, with project bowl for each team.
- Ohio State – National Title game – I give the Buckeyes the edge because they are playing at home and they have owned Michigan recently. It still should be a hell of a game on Saturday in Columbus, and I’m going to have to find a tailgate with a TV or go to Harry’s to see it.
- Michigan –
Rose Bowl – Again, I only give Ohio State the advantage based on home field. As we all know, Michigan has to be the greatest team that has ever been assembled because they dominated Brady Quinn and Notre Dame in his senior year.
- Wisconsin – Capitol One Bowl – they are clearly BCS worthy, but because of the Sith rule of two they cannot go to the BCS. Its only hope is a blowout in the Michigan-Ohio State game and that they get moved ahead of the loser. It would be interesting to see Ohio State obliterate Michigan State, then the other one loss teams fall and Wisconsin rises to #2 for an all-Big Ten final.
Assured a Bowl game Division:
- Penn State – Outback Bowl - I am not fully convinced they are a better team than us, as we had the worst day offensively we’ve ever had under Tiller. At best we’re dead even with them, and that’s not bad. Beat Sparty and they are in Tampa.
- Purdue –
Champs Sports Bowl – This is our bowl to lose right now, as I don’t see us falling out of it unless we lose to Indiana. We’re still here if Minnesota beats Iowa, too. All things considered this year, this is not a bad reward.
- Iowa –
Insight Bowl – They are only here because Indiana and Minnesota do not have six wins and Iowa does. We are clearly the best win Iowa has, and with losses to Northwestern and Indiana that’s not saying a lot. They are the disappointment of the year in the conference, but not as bad as us last year.
Win and they are in Division:
- Minnesota – Alamo Bowl – I think the Gophers will beat Iowa and get into the Alamo. They are playing too well and Iowa is playing too poorly. Had they not been robbed against Penn State, they would already be in, and we would be heading for Tampa, proving how one bad call makes a huge difference.
- Indiana –
Tecmo Bowl – the NES classic is about as close as the Hoosiers will get to a bowl this year, as no team that loses to a 1-AA team should be allowed to go bowling. We’re just going to make sure of it. Hopefully they will play hard enough to avoid more chants of “Ball State’s better” from the student section. They’ve already beaten the Cardinals for third place in the state standings.
Pride (In the Name of Love) Division:
- Illinois – “Best first half team” Bowl – If Illinois only did not have to play the second half, or even just the fourth quarter of games this year. They have now lost games to Indiana, Ohio, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Purdue in which they have had a second half lead. If they ever learn how to hold onto the football they will be dangerous. Thankfully, the Juice is off the schedule for two years.
- Northwestern –
“Free pass on the season because our coach died” Bowl – the Wildcats go here because they have drastically improved in the second half of the season against a brutal schedule. They weren’t going to beat Ohio State or Michigan, but beating Iowa, owning Michigan State for three quarters, and a possible win over Illinois is a big leap for where this team was in the first half.
- Michigan State –
Heimlich Bowl – the Spartans have choked away another season. They started 3-0 and were leading a team ranked in the top 5 by three scores in the second half. Since then they have only managed a miracle win that was more of a result of poor coaching decisions by the other team, while losing to Indiana and Illinois in the same season. Ouch!
Nationally quite a bit happened this week with Rutgers knocking off Louisville and three of the one-loss teams going down. I still would argue that Rutgers, by virtue of undefeated, should be the team that controls its own destiny. The Big East is a tougher league than people think, as it has UConn, which somehow prevented Indiana from defending the Rock. Should Rutgers finish undefeated they would have beaten two pre-season national title contenders in West Virginia and Louisville. This is more than Notre Dame has done, yet because the Irish are THE “name” team out there, they get more of a benefit. Rutgers cannot control who they play this year, they can only go out and win every game. They have done that to this point in the season, and only three other teams can say the same. If they get past West Virginia undefeated, they deserve to go and hopefully the polls will raise them accordingly.
I was also wrong on my pick of Miami winning last week. I honestly cannot understand the Canes this year. They have a defense that can play with anyone in the nation, as they have only truly struggled defensively against Louisville in Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium. That is something many teams would do. In their other four losses they have lost by 4, 7, 7, and 1 respectively. In each of those games the offense has struggled to do much of anything throughout. Larry Coker is as good as gone as coach, and there’s not a whole lot more that can go right for them. Qualifying for the MPC Computers game in Boise would be quite a wake-up call for the program.
- (1) Ohio State
- (2) Michigan
- (10) Rutgers (They are undefeated in a BCS conference, only the two above them can say that and that is why I put them here)
- (6) USC (Probably control their own destiny)
- (9) Florida
- (7) Arkansas
- (14) Wisconsin (I’ve had them too low all along)
- (11) West Virginia
- (12) Notre Dame
- (13) Boise State (They deserve a shot)
- (4) Texas
- (3) Louisville
- (17) Wake Forest
- (15) LSU
- (5) California
- (8) Auburn
- (18) Oklahoma
- (19) Georgia Tech
- (24) Maryland
- (22) Boston College
- (23) Hawaii
- (16) Tennessee
- (21) Virginia Tech
- (NR) BYU
- (NR) Nebraska
Dropped Out: (20) Oregon, (25) Texas A&M
Also Considered: Kansas State
These were difficult rankings to do because of all the movement in the polls. I still think Wisconsin deserves some title game consideration if the OSU-Michigan game is a blowout, but that is just me. It is also looking like Hawaii could be one more chance to beat a ranked team if things fall right and the Rainbow Warriors can sneak into one of the real polls next week.
NEXT UP: The Bucket Game Preview later this week.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
As I said on Thursday afternoon, we needed to take care of business as soon as possible lest we let a bowl game get away. Things were a little dicey for awhile today, but we got it done. We got our third straight win on the road and overcame some adversity to get it done. I was very impressed how we once again forced critical turnovers and overcame a second half deficit in order to get a big win. I think we can all agree that we very well could be 5-6 heading back to Ross-Ade right now and needing two tough wins just to get to a bowl.
Getting to a bowl after everything that has happened since the fumble is huge for this team. It means extra weeks of practice. It means another chance to play a game. It means national exposure for recruiting. I can't overstate how big this is for us as a program with everything that has happened. Yes, we have played badly in our four losses, but let's look at this from some perspective. Right now, Iowa looks like the worst loss since they have gone into the toilet. Outside of them we have lost to two 1-loss teams, and to a Penn State team in the worst game we have played offensively in more than a decade.
The more important thing to look at is the fact we are 7 for 7 in games against teams we should have beaten. Of our wins, only Michigan State was a question mark coming into the season, and since they have since folded the tent up as usual it has become a game we needed to win. The only team we have beaten that has a chance to go to a bowl now is Minnesota, and that is a good sign because it means we have beaten whom we should beat. If we had lost any of the games we have won so far, it would be a sign we're headed further down. Instead, we have lost only to bowl eligible teams. Yes, this means we aren't really improving, but at least we're leveling out and maybe headed on an upswing. Assuming we beat Indiana, the Hawaii game actually gives us another chance to show we're improving. They may be ranked by then, and the last time I checked beating a ranked team on the road is a good thing.
Granted, we should take today's win with some context. We were flat out struggling against a 2-8 team until they started dropping the football and letting us pick it up. Still, there are plenty of positive things to look at. The first of which is the running game. We faced a team that has had a fairly stout running defense of late and run for more than 200 yards. Within our offense it is almost impossible to lose if we manage to rush for more than 200 yards as a team. I especially like how we went back to how we should have been running the ball all season, and that is through the shotgun option with two backs. Honestly, this is our best rushing formation, and with the way Painter faked the shit out of everyone in the entire stadium on his 42-yard TD run we need to run it more against the less talented teams we face.
I was also very pleased with the way the defense forced turnovers. I know I am mentioning this second, but that is only because it is the most obvious positive of the day. I don't know how much of it was simply Illinois being careless with the football, but any time you get five turnovers it is almost impossible to lose. We also got our first defensive score of the season with McGee's recovery in the end zone. While the defense gets credit for the forced fumble and recovery, much of the credit needs to go to Jared Armstrong and his punt that dribble out of bounds at the two. This gave Illinois the poor field position we needed to set up a play like that.
The other four turnovers were simply table settings, and the offense was able to come through with finishing them off. I was actually surprised to see we gave up more than 400 yards on defense, especially since we ended four straight drives after one play or less with turnovers. Credit needs to be given to the coaching staff for being inventive after each turnover and going for the jugular. I was concerned that we had given up on the running game when we fell behind by nine in the third quarter, but we mixed things up very well. This team is going to be more successful if we run more and pass less since that is the style of quarterback that Painter seems to be. He is great at hiding the ball and taking off, and he did that very well today.
Another positive today was the way we spread the ball around, not only to different receivers, but different rushers as well. If you look at the box score, we have five different players run the ball and eight different players catch a pass. Perhaps the best example is Dorien Bryant. We have pissed and moaned about getting the ball in his hands more and more after every game this year. Since he seems hell bent on dropping easy passes (I counted three today), why not work him into the offense the way he was last year with the two back shotgun set. We did that today, and he responded with 32 yards rushing and a TD. Giving him the ball on a handoff is much easier than on a pass, and it often gives him more space to create.
Next, we were lucky. We took advantage of some bad coaching decisions today, otherwise known as the Ron Zook special. Illinois is down by 11 with a fourth down on the 15 (or so) yard line. It's 4th and long, and you need two scores to tie regardless. Your kicker has already made 3 field goals on a very windy day. Why not kick and go for onside kick down by 8 (one score)? This was just a dumbass play by Illinois that ended up handing us the game with more than four minutes left. One other positive is that we did field the one onside kick we faced very well.
We also scored 42 points today. This is the most we have scored since the Indiana State game. All this was against a defense that held the #1 team in the country to 17 points. Granted, we got many of those points off of turnovers, but they are still points. When you look at statistics points are all that matter. We could have given up 7,000 yards on defense, as long as we had more points than Illinois I would not have cared.
One last positive I want to mention is Anthony Spencer. He has been a star for us all year, but he was simply a terror today. Not only did he have another handful of tackle for loss, but he also forced a fumble that was recovered for a TD, sniffed out a trick play single-handedly, and generally force Juice Williams to panic all day long. Spencer simply did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, and only Williams' sheer elusiveness prevent him from having about four more sacks.
With all the positives today, it was easy to ignore the negatives as we warmed up by cheering everything that happened in the last 20 minutes of the game. Still we did have some problems. First of all is Chris Summers. I really don't mean to harp on the kid, because he is honestly the best option we have for field goals, but he has clearly lost his confidence on field goals. I say on field goals because everywhere else in the kicking game he is money. On extra points he couldn't be more perfect. On kickoffs he is putting the ball exactly where it needs to be placed. When his kicks appear to be short it is because he is instructed to kick a high, pop-up type of kick that is intended to come down on the 20 and let the coverage team hold them there. If you notice, that is exactly what he does. It is clearly something mental that is allowing him to miss field goals at this point, since he's missing them from the same distance each week.
I know he is out there giving it his best effort, and I credit him for it. I know he has the talent and the leg to be a great kicker, if he ever gets the accuracy down. I am still preaching patience on him, because I know he can get it together. If he comes in next year and has a stellar year, then all will be forgotten. Yes, he has struggled this year, but he has yet to cost us a game directly. Kicking is the hardest position on the team behind quarterback, and it's an awful lot of pressure for a true freshman walk-on to handle. As fans we're going to have to buckle down and realize that for the immediate future he's our best option, so let's support him instead of boo him and call for his head. I propose that we back him up both on the message boards and in the stands. Let's see what a little positive reinforcement can do.
Chris, if you're reading this, I still believe in you and I know you can be great. You can turn it around, just be patient and relax each time you're out there. You are doing something that 99% of the population can't even do on an extra point. You still have this fan's support and I know you can do it.
Once again, dropped passes were the bane of the offense. There were at least seven dropped passes that could have been caught, and a number of other passes where I openly wondered where Painter was throwing the ball. The one interception we had was one of the ugliest picks we have thrown all season. Still, these were not our undoing. We were still aggressive and went for the throat offensively when we needed to. Even throwing the ball for a first down when we were up 11 with 2 minutes to go was ballsy. That's the Cowboy Joe we all have come to know and love, because they can't score if they don't have the ball.
We also probably allowed a bit too much on the ground. Much of it came from Williams running on a scramble and using his sheer athletic ability to allude tacklers, but 300+ yards given up on the ground is not good. It does improve our passing stats though, and I think it bodes well next week when we face an Indiana team that has a similar style of offense and quarterback.
That is just about it as far as negatives go from this game. Again, this is just a great win that we needed. We needed to show that we could take care of business at the first opportunity when it comes to clinching a bowl bid. For all the good that came from the beginning of the 2004 season it still took us five chances to clinch a bowl bid. We did it this season in our first chance to do so. Now we get to play for bowl positioning
The good news is that the Indiana game may not even matter. I think we can all agree that the Big Ten will get two BCS berths because of Wisconsin. The Badgers may sneak in to BCS bid #2 if Michigan absolutely destroys Ohio State, but still, the top three are going BCS, BCS, Capitol One bowl. That leaves us and Penn State for the Outback bowl. Penn State likely goes there, so we go to the Champs Sports bowl or the Alamo, depending on which of the two actually selects fourth. If Minnesota beats Iowa next week it means we can't have the Hawkeyes picked ahead of us, and will someone actually pick Minnesota or Indiana ahead of us if we lose to the Hoosiers? It sucks that the Penn State game was essentially the Outback Bowl playoff, but thankfully a good SEC team won't destroy us unless we beat IU AND Hawaii, Penn State loses to Michigan State, and we get picked to go to Tampa.
I'll save the bulk of my bowl thoughts for the Big Ten wrap up on Monday or Tuesday, but I think we locked up not just a bowl game today, but a decent bowl. Let's enjoy the fact we're going bowling again period. I sat through the Akers and Colletto years as a kid, and I can't imagine waiting 13 years for another bowl. One year was bad enough, and that streak is now over. Let's celebrate that tonight and concentrate on beating the Hoosiers.
I think it is cute how they think they have a chance to get the bucket. Maybe we'll send them a picture of it.