Friday, May 30, 2008

Quick thoughts on Boilermaker developments

Quite a bit has been happening to begin the true offseason for Purdue. I haven’t touched on much basketball news of late because there hasn’t been much to report on. Hopefully guys like Kramer and Grant are healing well and will be ready to go for the season. I’m also looking forward to seeing Ryne Smith, Lewis Jackson, and John Hart in Gold and Black. Here are some quick thoughts on the biggest developments, in an effort to spur on more conversation in the comments section.

Dustin Keller plans to make it rain

Last night I was assigned to cover the IHSAA baseball sectional in Lafayette at Loeb Stadium for the Kokomo Tribune. Aside from this being a shameless plug to show I am a real, paid writer at times, it allowed me to get the inside scoop on a great story. So, for the first breaking news segment of Off the Tracks, we have Dustin Keller planning to make it rain for his alma mater, Lafayette Jefferson High School. Recently Lafayette Jeff embarked on the ambitious Scheumann Stadium project. I have been privileged to cover a game there, and it is one nice field for a high school stadium. It includes a state of the art press box, locker room, media room, FieldTurf field, and even a video board. The high school began building it in 2004, but they are not quite finished yet. According to my sources last night, Keller plans to write a $1 million check after he receives his signing bonus from the Jets to help fund the end of the project that will include the locker and media rooms. This is just a wonderful story and it goes to show the type of person that Dustin is. I am proud to have him as a fellow Boilermaker, and look forward to watching him on Sunday’s when I draft him as my fantasy tight end for the defending champion New Orleans Looters in the National Freeball League.

Scott Martin transfers to Notre Dame

…and was never heard from again by the Purdue community. Honestly, it is probably the best for all parties that he ends up in South Bend. Since Notre Dame and Purdue cannot seem to agree on a basketball series, and haven’t for over 40 years, we won’t have to worry about seeing him on the other sideline unless the two teams meet in the postseason. I am not expecting any NIT bids to force the two teams together like they did in 2004, so they will only play on the neutral floor of the NCAA tournament. Boiled Sports offers their thoughts over there, while I am just glad I didn’t get rocked by a 6’8” guy when Scott walked past me at the spring football game. After my short-lived scathing article on his departure it wouldn’t have surprised me to take a beating. The Indy Star also shares my assessment that the Purdue-Notre Dame rivalry will not be sparked anew in the near future.

I think it wouldn’t matter even if the two schools did play with Martin playing. My enmity towards Notre Dame only extends to the football program. I actually like their basketball program a bit and think we lost a great player when Luke Harongody chose the Irish over us. I can tolerate and even appreciate their other athletic teams because of the way they play in a conference and aren’t overly sure of themselves. It’s their football team, and for the most part their fans only, that bother me. I do wish Scott Martin well at Notre Dame since I like it when the state of Indiana puts multiple teams deep into the NCAA’s.

Joe Tiller doesn’t want those new-fangled HD cameras in his locker room

It comes off like he is yelling at some kids to get off his lawn, but I actually like coach Tiller’s decision to nix the Big Ten’s idea to follow Purdue for a reality show this season. With as many questions as this team is facing before the season even starts we don’t need this added distraction. What good does it do us? Only four people on the planet are able to get the Big Ten Network in their homes anyway. To me, it shows that coach Tiller is taking this final season very seriously. I think he wants to go out as a winner and sees that a Big Ten where all but one team has a ton of questions is chance to do just that. I’d love to see Joe go out guns blazing like he did when he came to Purdue.

Torri Williams latest gig.

“Hi, I’m Torri Williams, starting safety for the Purdue Boilermakers. After a hard day of rehabbing my latest injury there is nothing I like more than knocking back a few cold ones at Nick’s, evading police with my boy Selwyn, and taking advantage of the fact that there are some fine women in the greater West Lafayette area.”

(gives a Billy Dee Williams smile to the camera) “Even though I am knee deep in the ladies at all times, protection is important. Any fool can just go to PUSH and get free condoms before a nice roll in the hay with a jersey chaser, but I’m Torri Williams. I need that extra thrill. That’s why I use Trojan Magnum condoms from Payless. There’s no better way to say I love you and test my surgically repaired knee and Achilles at the same time than to run from the cops after picking up my favorite brand of prophylactic.”

“Remember, your athleticism is a gift from God, but NFL paychecks can only be divided up so many ways. Just ask Travis Henry. That’s why I steal, er, I mean use Trojan Magnum Condoms.”

At this point would this really surprise you from this numbnut? It’s another case of someone being incredibly talented on the football field, but possessing no common sense whatsoever. I would not be surprised if he has played his last down as a Boilermaker, but he would probably get hurt again in the opener anyway. It’s a shame, because he’s a great player and probably a good kid.


The final note today is not Purdue related, but is still college sports related. The NCAA baseball tournament gets underway today and the Miami Hurricanes, who are well loved here at Off the Tracks, open as the #1 overall seed. The last and only time that happened they won the 1999 College World Series. The committee did the Canes no favors as they are placed in a regional with MEAC champ Bethune Cookman (which features the #2 pitcher in the nation ERA-wise) and preseason top-10 teams Mississippi and Missouri. Also, since the NCAA decides start times for all games, both games today, tomorrow, and Sunday will begin at noon and 4pm in the blistering South Florida sun instead of under the lights. Since the Big Ten has one representative (Michigan) in a brutal regional with Arizona and Kentucky (the winner of which ironically faces the Coral Gables regional winner) it is Omaha or Bust for Miami.

My wife has a theory that the NCAA and the media hates Miami and tries to screw them at every turn. Awarding a 47-8 season and #1 ranking with the most difficult path of any of the eight national seeds has me believing this. As Baseball America basically stated, however, if Miami is truly the best team in the country they will get through it. The Canes have incredibly strong pitching, solid defense, and great hitting. The four games we saw personally this year were all wins, two of the walk-off variety. First baseman Yonder Alonso will be in the majors within two years and be making a team very glad they have him. Second baseman Jemile Weeks is the brother of Milwaukee Brewer Ricky Weeks, and is also expected to be a first round selection next week. This is Miami’s strongest team since their title in 2001, and may even be a better team than that one. Today at 4pm on ESPNU we will find out, though I damn Brighthouse Networks for giving me the friggin’ Golf Channel instead of ESPNU. Can I please have Oxygen Network since you won’t give me the Big Ten Network?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Know thy Opponent 2008: Northern Colorado Bears

I wanted to thank my readers for making the “Best Wins of the Tiller Era” such a rousing success. It was an incredibly fun series to write. A couple of you pointed out how nothing has been added to the list since 2004. I’m not really surprised, considering our best wins in that time have come against the champions of the MAC (Akron in 2005, Central Michigan twice in 2007). That may be good for keeping mediocre bowl streaks alive, but it gives an unfortunate definition of mediocrity to the program. The truth is that we haven’t had a program defining win in the past three seasons. In fact, the only win we had over a good team during the 2004 season came against Ohio State. We are way overdue to add to this list, and I hope we can get at least one in 2008. There are a couple of good candidates in Oregon, Ohio State, Penn State, and even a Michigan team that appears to be a little down. It remains to be seen whether we will get one, however.

With that, we can look ahead to Joe’s final campaign. In doing so, I plan on expanding the “Know thy Opponent” series to involve the perspective of some other bloggers. That means a full two entries on at least nine of our twelve opponents. I can’t track down a Northern Colorado or CMU blog. I’m also pretty sure I am persona non grata with most Notre Dame blogs after last year's unpleasantness. Just because I ended up being exactly right doesn’t justify the tone I originally took.

2008 will begin much like the last couple of seasons started. We will face off against a 1-AA opponent in our home opener. In a bit of bizarre twist the 2006 opener against Indiana State, possibly the worst division 1 team in the nation, was frighteningly close. Though we won 60-35 it was a five point game with five minutes left in the third quarter and I had no confidence we could have stopped their offense had they gotten the ball. In 2007 against Eastern Illinois, a regular in the 1-AA playoffs, we crushed the Panthers 52-6. Our 2008 opener against Northern Colorado features an opponent much more similar to Indiana State in terms of record than Eastern Illinois.

Last Season for the Bears:

It is sad that the most famous thing Northern Colorado is known for football-wise is Mitch Cozad. You may remember him as the former backup punter that stabbed the starting punter in the leg in order to get more playing time. That was about the only way the Bears made headlines last season, as their only win in a 1-11 campaign came at home against #19 (in the 1-AA poll) Montana State 16-13. This is a team that lost 31-0 to Division II power Chadron State in its home opener. Northern Colorado wasn’t even able to lead a game until the Montana State game, which was the ninth game on the schedule. The Bears faced just one Division 1-A opponent all season and they didn’t fare well in that. They opened the season by heading to Hawaii for a 63-6 beating against the only team that finished undefeated before the bowls.

It is no wonder the Bears struggled, as last season was the first that they were eligible for postseason play after transitioning from Division II. In Division II they do have some history, winning back to back National Championships in 1996 and 1997. Playing in the Big Sky Conference with perennial power Montana has proven to be a difficult proposition. Northern Colorado has won just two games in the two past seasons, with the other win coming in a 14-13 upset of ranked Texas State in 2006.

There is a major link between Northern Colorado and Purdue. The Bears are coached by former Purdue assistant coach Scott Downing. Downing is entering his third year at the helm of the Bears, and only has a 2-22 record to show for it after leaving an assistant’s job at Nebraska. Downing was part of Tiller’s original staff from 1997-2002, which was easily the greatest period of success Tiller has had here. Downing served as assistant head coach as well as the coach of both special teams and running backs. Downing also was a long-time assistant to Tiller at Wyoming. He has been a quality assistant for years, but he has struggled as a head coach. This is of note considering he was once a candidate to replace Tiller.

Northern Colorado Offense:

Part of the reason Northern Colorado struggled mightily last season was its inability to score points. The offense managed to find the end zone just 18 times in 12 games while they only had four other drives end in successful field goal attempts. That means just 22 drives yielded points over the course of last season, slightly less than two per game. Remember, they were shut out by a Division II team.

Leading rusher David Woods returns for his senior season. Woods is a junior college transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. He only stands 5’8”, but has some size at 210 pounds. Last season he rushed for 715 yards and five touchdowns. Ironically he did not see action in the team’s only win against Montana State. Woods is fair and away the Bears’ best returning running back.

At quarterback starter Dominic Breazeale carried just 1400 yards and 8 touchdowns across the graduation stage with him. Mike Vlahogeorge was last season’s backup and he completed 66 passes for 606 yards and three scores. If that name sounds familiar to Purdue fans it should. Vlahogeorge re-wrote Indiana high school record books at Lafayette Jeff for three years before originally committing Indiana. The Hoosiers thought they had stolen a prize quarterback from Purdue’s backyard, but Vlahogeorge was never able to grab the starting job in Bloomington before transferring. He is moving to tight end for this season, while his former number 1 target in high school was recently selected in the first round of the NFL draft as a tight end. We know him as Dustin Keller.

According to the Northern Colorado website a transfer by the name of Bryan Waggener appears to be the front-runner for the starting quarterback job. The remaining returning players have completed a total of one pass, and that was a halfback pass from Woods. Incoming freshman Nigel Nelson is also expected to compete with Woods for the starting running back spot.

The returning receivers are underwhelming at best. All-Big Sky tight end Ryan Chesla was number two on the team last year with 37 catches for 444 yards and three scores. Cory Fauver was next with 41-404-1, but the number one and four receivers graduated.

I think the only things that needs to be said about Northern Colorado’s offensive line is that it allowed eight sacks in a spring scrimmage (not game, scrimmage) against its own players. Something tells me the Bears don’t have the New York Giants’ defensive line, either. Jacob Thornbrue is the best lineman at 6’6” 320 and is a three year starter at left tackle. 6’5” 315 pound lineman James Zapp is the only other lineman even close to Big Ten-sized.

Northern Colorado Defense:

This unit wasn’t terrible last season, but since the offense couldn’t score in a women’s prison with a fistful of pardons it didn’t matter. The offense scored just 136 points all last season while the defense gave up 415. Sadly, this unit will be the strength of the team as they return several players with experience. Senior Cristian Sarmento has led the team in tackles the past two seasons from his linebacker position and is paired with Joe Kenney to form a decent core. Defensive end John Eddy also brings two years of experience as a starter on the defensive line and seven sacks to go with 12.5 tackles for loss. Mike Vlahogeorge’s brother Matt is also a linebacker for the Bears.

Three different players tied for the lead last season in interceptions, and two of them in Max Hewitt and Stephen Michon return. All told the Bears picked off 14 passes last season. The Bears also recovered 14 fumbles, so ball security could be an issue against them. Seven starters return on the defense as well as the offense. They are a very young unit, but Downing appears to be building for the future with this defense. They should provide a bit stronger of a test than your typical 1-AA team.

Northern Colorado Special Teams:

Cozad is currently in jail and Rafael Mendoza, the guy he stabbed, has graduated. I have no idea who will be the starting punter, and with a history of the starter getting stabbed by jealous backups I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to step forward. As a team Northern Colorado was just 4-9 on field goals last season. Both Michael York (1 of 4) and Zak Bigelow (3 of 5) are back to compete for the starting job. All three of Bigelow’s makes came in the win against Montana State including the game-winner with four seconds left. Often times the offense was so punchless they couldn’t get into range for either kicker. The two split PAT duties, each missing one on the season.

On the rare occasion that Northern Colorado got to kickoff last season their coverage was atrocious. They gave up an average of 27 yards per return and surrendered two touchdowns. Punt coverage wasn’t much better at 8.6 yards per return and another touchdown given up.


The altitude to Greeley, Colorado is 4,658 feet. This is much higher than West Lafayette’s 614 feet, so the Bears should be well-conditioned. Downing has also been with Tiller for years, so he knows Joe’s tendencies. Absolutely no one will be giving Northern Colorado a shot in this game. The same thing happened to Indiana State two years ago and the Sycamores scared us to death through most of three quarters before we finally pulled away. That was the first game I covered for this blog. It was about two and a half quarters longer than they should have stayed competitive. Since all 1-A vs. 1-AA are now measured vs. last year’s App. State-Michigan game we should beware. Appalachian State was a very, very good football team. Northern Colorado is far from that.

Game Outlook:

If we struggle with Northern Colorado for longer than the opening few series panic alarms should be going off in everyone’s head. We’re opening the season a week later than everyone else and I would honestly rather play someone else on August 30th then move another team to this date in place of Central Michigan so we can have an off week to prepare for Notre Dame. The only thing we truly stand to accomplish from this one is to give Joe Tiller his record-tying 84th win at Purdue. Considering that it would be the fourth such win over a Division 1-AA team I think we should strike the wins against Illinois State, Indiana State, and Eastern Illinois from the record. At least he can get revenge for Northern Colorado beating his alma mater last season.

I don’t like playing 1-AA teams. There is nothing to gain from playing them and everything to lose (ask Michigan). The Big Ten has also been embarrassed four times in the past two years with losses to 1-AA teams as Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota have fallen victim. At least Appalachian State, Southern Illinois, New Hampshire, and North Dakota State were really good 1-AA teams. Northern Colorado may be the type of team Indiana State would schedule for homecoming. Most of the time, though, these games are the blowouts they are expected to be. That means teams try to avoid major injuries in them, which we were unable to do against Indiana State two years ago.

If the Bears manage more than one scoring drive against our defense I would be shocked. They struggled to move against their own division last year and even got shut out by a Division II team. Our defense, while far from being the 1985 Chicago Bears, is still a Big Ten defense. It played well at times last season and I honestly think it will surprise some people. I expect the defensive line to be able to get into the backfield whenever it wants to based on the spring performance of Northern Colorado’s line.

Offensively we may struggle just a bit, but I do expect Painter to get into a rhythm and have a three or four touchdown day. This game could be a good warm-up as our own offensive line starts to gel together. Northern Colorado can play a bit of defense, so we should have to work just enough that it will be good for the line to come together. The same can be said for the receivers, as they need a game like this to get on the same page as Painter with Oregon coming to town the next week.


Even if the offense has a horrible day it would take something drastic for this game to be close. Northern Colorado couldn’t score points last year and has a brand new quarterback playing against a Big Ten defense. I don’t often predict a shutout, but this easily could be one. Painter throws for at least three scores while Sheets and Taylor each find the end zone once before giving way to the second string. A special teams or defensive score wouldn’t be shocking, either. Purdue 49, Northern Colorado 0 as Tiller ties Mollenkopf’s record easily.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Best Wins of the Tiller Era #1 Ohio State 2000

This has been an incredibly fun series to write about. I have appreciated everyone’s comments and their own memories from each game. As I have gone back through these games my own memories from them have all come flooding back. It was a pleasure to be in the stands for every single game on this list that was played at Ross-Ade Stadium except the Wisconsin 1997 game. As far as the road games, I remember where I was when I watched every single one of them on TV. I do want to thank Lake the Posts for the idea of the countdown, as well as Spoilermaker for doing all the hard work and uploading all these videos over the years. Before we get to #1, here is a recap from the rest of our countdown:

Games 16-20 in the Memorial Day entry
#15 Indiana 2004 (1 vote)
#14 Michigan State 2002 (1 vote)
#13 Wisconsin 1997 (1 vote)
#12 Indiana 2000 (1 vote)
#11 Penn State 2004 (2 votes)
#10 Wisconsin 2003 (2 votes)
#9 Wisconsin 2000 (2 votes)
#8 Oklahoma State 1997 (3 votes)
#7 Michigan State 1999 (3 votes)
#6 Michigan State 1997 (9 votes)
#5 Michigan 2000 (21 votes)
#4 Notre Dame 1997 (43 votes)
#3 Notre Dame 2004 (47 votes)
#2 Kansas State 1998 (95 votes)

That brings us to number 1. This was the overwhelming favorite with 126 votes. With more than a third of the votes cast going to this game it is certainly worthy of its choice as the best win of the Tiller Era. Without further ado, I give you the 2000 season 31-27 win over Ohio State, chosen by the readers of Off the Tracks as the best win of the Tiller Era.

Date: October 28, 2000

Place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana

Incoming Purdue record: 6-2, 4-1 Big Ten (ranked 16th)

Incoming Ohio State record: 6-1, 3-1 Big Ten (ranked 12th)

It had been ages since we had played this late into a season with hopes for the Rose Bowl on the line. Coming into the 2000 season it certainly seemed like a possibility, but October loomed. Historically, the month of October has been where Purdue football seasons went to die. It happened in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, and 2006. 2000 appeared to be no different with a slate of Michigan, at Northwestern (who made a surprising run to share the Big Ten with us), at Wisconsin, and home for Ohio State. What made matters worse was the September 30th loss at Penn State appeared to ruin things before the month even started.

But something happened in that Michigan game. The miracle second half comeback made that team believe in itself. We had finally beaten one of the major teams in the conference. Northwestern and Wisconsin fell on the road, leaving Ohio State standing in our way of the perfect month.

It was like a whisper going around campus that week. The Buckeyes were coming. Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern and Ohio State all had one loss in conference play, but we already had the tiebreaker over Northwestern and Michigan. It was plain and simple: beat the Buckeyes and we controlled our fate for Pasadena. A later kickoff meant a sunset game at Ross-Ade. The Buckeyes were the evil empire. They were the unstoppable team that always won. We were the upstart, hoping we had one more shocking win in a magical season. For Ohio State making the Rose Bowl means nothing. They’ve done it dozens of times. For Purdue it had been 34 years since the one and only time. That 1966 team was legendary. I was in my junior year and all week there was discussion of when people were getting to the stadium and who you would be sitting with. It was the biggest home game in decades, and I would have a fifth row seat for it.

The Game:

I would say I settled into my seat early, but I stood the entire game screaming my head off. Both teams made mistakes on their first drives. Ohio State took the opening kickoff and drove into Purdue territory at the 32. Dan Stultz then missed a 49 yard field goal to give Purdue the ball for the first time. Purdue headed the other way on offense, but also bogged down. On second and 8 from the Buckeye 31 Drew Brees was picked off by Mike Doss. The teams then exchanged punts to end the first quarter scoreless.

After Ohio State accomplished nothing on its first possession of the second quarter Purdue took over at its own 14. Brees drove us to midfield, but was picked off for a second time by a guy that is still playing on Sundays when Nate Clements got him. Clements got a big return to the Purdue 24, but the defense held them to a field goal attempt. This time Stultz was good from 35 to make it 3-0 Ohio State with 9:02 left in the first half.

The Purdue offense continued to stall on its next possession, gaining just 6 yards before another punt gave the ball back to Ohio State. This time it was Steve Bellisari that was picked off by Akin Ayodele, however, and Purdue was in business at the Buckeye 45. Brees used three completions and a six yard run to get down to the two where he allowed Steve Ennis (a.k.a. the Closer that season) to score from two yards out. Ennis was the goal-line specialist that season, and I can’t remember how many 1 and 2 yard TD runs he had. We were cautiously optimistic as his score with 3:41 left in the half held up and Purdue went to the locker room up 7-3.

Even though I thought I had learned my lesson from the Michigan game that season and Notre Dame 3 years before I was still terrified. I felt like a Red Sox fan waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely that was going to happen in this game and our hearts would be ripped out (Ed. Note: this game did allow me to let my guard down, making That Game in 2004 hurt that much more).

Purdue got the ball to start the second half and we were able to move for the first time all day. Brees moved us from our own 17 to the Ohio State 17 in a little over two minutes thanks to a 45 yard catch by Vinny Sutherland. Travis Dorsch banged home a 34-yarder to make it 10-3. The defense bent on its next possession, but still only allowed a 45 yard field goal by Stultz. With 8:52 left in the third it looked like we were going to win it with defense.

On our next drive we couldn’t even take advantage of a roughing the kicker call that gave us the ball back after a punt. We were forced to punt again, and Ohio State finally broke through with a 62 yard touchdown drive to take the lead. This is where I thought the other shoe began to drop. Things went from bad to worse when Purdue went three and out, followed by Clements returning a Scott Kurz punt 83 yards for a backbreaking touchdown. Yes we had come back against Michigan, but with 1:53 left in the third we were down 20-10 and all the Ohio State fans we were rocking.

One of the comments on a previous entry mentioned about how Brees had tangible intangibles. I have to agree with this. When Brees was in West Lafayette you never felt like we were out of a game. He was one of those quarterbacks that you could tell was a true leader of the team. He is the one player I felt Purdue has had under Tiller that could single-handedly change a game or fix his mistake because of this. We were never out of a game as long as we had Drew, and everyone felt it. As good as Orton was, I feel he lacked that quality. I feel the same with Painter, but I think he may be closer to Brees than Orton. Down by 10 points with little more than 16 minutes left before our dream died that was never more evident in Drew Brees.

Drew immediately delivered by completing six of 10 passes on an 11 play, 73 yard drive. His final pass, a five yard scoring strike to John Standeford on 3rd and goal from the five is a thing of beauty. Just watch as he buys time by dancing away from defenders before he threads a needle to Standeford in the back corner of the end zone.

We still needed the defense to rise to the challenge and they did just that. Ohio State had the ball for just a minute and 29 seconds before punting it back to us. The Boilers took over on their own nine yard line and Brees drove 91 yards in 13 plays. The drive took more than five minutes and was capped by a brilliant 19 yard catch and run to the corner of the end zone by Vinny Sutherland. Brees was 8 of 10 on the drive, completing passes to five different receivers.

With 5:59 left Purdue only needed a defensive stop and they would be able to run out the clock with a 24-20 lead. If you think it is that easy you have obviously never watched Purdue football. The Boilers got the stop with a quick three and out, taking over at their own 26 with 4:37 remaining. Montrell Lowe lost two yards on first down, but Brees gained six with his feet to set up 3rd and six from the 30.

What followed was the worst pass of Drew’s career. Brees was pressured and lofted a lazy fly ball that was picked off by Doss. Doss had open field in front of him down the sideline and was prevented from scoring only by Brees, who tackled him at the two. 60,000+ shrieked in horror the instant the ugly pass was released, as Brees simply should have taken the sack. Jerry Westbrooks plunged in three plays later and Purdue trailed 27-24. In the student section we were crushed. It had to be over.

We still had Drew. In the postgame interview on the field with ABC Drew stated that Ike Moore told him he had broken it, so he needed to fix it. This marks the difference between Brees and Orton. Both this interception and The Fumble were similar plays. With Brees we knew we had a chance. With Orton, it was over. Ben Jones’ miss was pre-ordained. With Drew, he could fix it.

After the kickoff we took over at the Ohio State 36. Brees tried to go to Seth Morales on first down but the pass was batted away. On second down the offensive line gave Brees an eternity to go through his receivers. Doss cheated up and Morales got behind him. He was wide open, so Brees went deep.

On my computer I have simply named the file, “The Catch”. Sitting in row five of the student section the ball hung in the twilight air forever. It’s the only time in my life I have seen in slow motion at a sporting event. I saw Morales open and I saw the pass would be perfect. I knew that if we were truly Purdue, he would drop it. I begged for him to just catch it as it hung in the air. I didn’t care if he fell flat on his face after he caught it because we would at least be in field goal range.

Come on, Seth, just catch the ball, please.

I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this. It was almost exactly like Morales’ long TD at Wisconsin a week earlier. I think it’s the only time I have seen 60,000 people praying simultaneously.

He caught it.

I don’t remember seeing him go into the end zone. I think I passed out from joy. The student section was absolute bedlam. To this day I have no idea who I was sitting with or what their names were, but I am sure we hugged and celebrated like long-lost relatives in that moment. The roar that went up was unlike anything I had ever heard at Ross-Ade. It was like a miracle had been delivered just for us. Drew Brees became a saint in that moment. If he announced he was going to walk across the Wabash after that pass I would have followed him down to the riverbank. We couldn’t believe it, and I don’t think even Drew could from his reaction on the video.

The crowd was now screaming at afterburner levels for one more stop, and we got it. On second and seven an Ohio State player went in motion. Bellisari called for the snap at the wrong time and it went off the player’s leg. Landon Johnson pounced on it and Purdue ran out the clock to seal the win.

After the Game:

For the second home game in a row we rushed the field. It was much smoother than the Michigan game, and probably more deliriously happy. We hadn’t beaten Ohio State in 12 years, and it had been more than 20 since we had beaten both OSU and Michigan in the same season.

Brees threw for 455 yards and three TD’s. Sure he had thrown four interceptions, but that was all erased with the pass to Morales. I don’t think there is a more well-known play in the history of Purdue football. We finally had a topper for the George Catavolos interception in the 1967 Rose Bowl. Morales finished with seven catches for 115 yards and will forever be known as the greatest fourth option on a play in Purdue football history.

Credit also needs to be given to the offensive line. As the wallpaper on my personal laptop I have the cover of the 2000 Football Preview issue from GBI of the six guys and Brees. They are dressed in suits with sunglasses and are escorting a uniformed Drew Brees from a stretch limo outside Ross-Ade. The headline simply says, “Protecting the Franchise”. They earned their money this day, as Brees had all day to throw on the winning play. He could have sat down, had a cup of coffee, read a newspaper, then gone through his progressions and still had plenty of time to throw.

Simply put, this is the game that sent us to the Rose Bowl. We still had some work to do, and if not for gifts from Northwestern and Iowa we wouldn’t have survived the stumble two weeks later in East Lansing. Barring a miracle Big Ten title this year or upset in Columbus, this game will forever go down as Tiller’s best.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Boilermaker Odds and Ends for Memorial Day weekend

(Sorry for the delay in posting. I was awarded the afternoon off, so I went to see Indiana Jones.)

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend. With as much high school baseball and softball as I have covered this week in addition to a new temporary job I have started I know it will be a well earned rest. I’ll be back next week, however, with the #1 game in the countdown and an opening look at each team on the 2008 schedule as the Know thy Opponent series will be returning. Here is a bevy, a cornucopia, or a potpourri, if you will, of some odds and ends for the weekend.

Boiler baseball in uncharted territory:

If you’re one of the four lucky people on the planet that gets the Big Ten Network be sure to tune in tonight around 7pm (schedule and weather pending) as the Boilermaker nine takes on 17th ranked Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. Purdue annihilated Penn State yesterday 15-6, scoring six runs in the first inning and never looking back. Dan Black had a pair of home runs and six RBI in the win. It is perhaps the best game Purdue has ever played in the history of the Big Ten tournament. The Boilers and Wolverines are the only two teams without a loss in the double-elimination tournament. A win tonight means Purdue would have to lose twice, once tomorrow and once Sunday, in two games, to be eliminated.

Tonight’s game against Michigan is critical as the winner will be one win away from the tournament title and automatic NCAA berth. The loser must win twice tomorrow and once on Sunday to win the tournament. Michigan is already assured of an NCAA berth and will likely be hosting a regional, so how about you fellas step aside for the good of the conference and let there be two Big Ten teams in the postseason?

Tonight’s first pitch time is contingent upon the length of the previous two games of the day. Indiana plays Illinois today at 12:05. The loser goes home and the winner comes right back to play Penn State at approximately 3:35 this afternoon in another elimination game. The winner of that game will face the Purdue-Michigan loser tomorrow in an elimination game, with that winner needing to beat the Purdue-Michigan winner immediately after to force a winner-take-all game Sunday afternoon.

Purdue has never won the Big Ten Tournament, and hasn’t won a baseball conference title of any kind since 1909. That, my friends, is a Cubs-esque streak that could be just two games away from ending. For a preview of Michigan (based on yesterday’s game vs. Illinois, head over to Maize N' Brew, as Dave is the cause of and solution to all of the Big Ten’s baseball problems.

Five games I missed:

In doing the Best wins of the Tiller Era series I realize there were about five more games I could have done to make the series an even 20. Instead of going back and doing a full write-up of these games, here is a synopsis of each game I could have added in no particular order since there was no voting done.

Notre Dame 1999 – This one could simply be called Inaction Jackson. One play summed the entire game up, and it was the final one. Jarious Jackson and the Notre Dame backfield only needed to complete a simple handoff and the game was over. The way that fullback Joey Goodspeed was plowing over us for every critical yard the Irish needed in this game one more handoff would have gotten him into the end zone from the one. Instead the backs got confused with Jackson, he had no one to hand off to, and his improvised bootleg broke down. Mike Rose hit him for a nine yard loss and time ran out. Amazingly, Notre Dame had called a timeout to set up the play from the two, but instead the confusion we witness was described by a breakdown in coaching. Surely this is only because Notre Dame was in between offensive geniuses since Jim Coletto was long gone and Charlie Weis had barely broken into the NFL.

Purdue was fortunate to win this game, as a simple handoff to Goodspeed was all Notre Dame needed. I watched this game with my brother-in-law from the top of the student section since I was a sophomore for that season and we couldn’t believe they didn’t just hand off to Goodspeed. He would have easily scored. This game also gets a slight boost for Drew Brees’ acrobatic dive into the end zone against three Notre Dame defenders on a two-point conversion. That play nearly caused 60,000 simultaneous heart attacks, as we did not need to see our Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback taking on three Notre Dame linebackers by himself.

Minnesota 2001 – I cannot believe I left off the Miracle in the Metrodome. Down 3 points on our own 3 yard line with 18 seconds left, no timeouts, and the immortal Brandon Hance as our quarterback. I still have no idea how we won this game. I was home for the weekend during my senior year and I am grateful I did not change the channel. Say what you will about Hance, but this was probably his best game as a Boilermaker. Too bad he didn’t realize we had other receivers outside of Stubblefield and Standeford more often. The final play is worth it just to listen to the commentators describe us as champions since we were defending Big Ten champs.

Wake Forest 2003 – I still think that as a whole, Tiller’s 2003 team was his best. If you take away the Michigan game the other three losses were by a combined 11 points and in a pair of overtimes. All four losses were to ranked teams, two of which played in BCS bowls. As it is Purdue defeated three ranked teams, two on the road against a very difficult schedule. All told, those seven games against ranked teams did not include traditional powers Notre Dame and Penn State.

One of those ranked wins came at a feisty Wake Forest squad that had beaten us in West Lafayette the year before. Though highly ranked in the preseason, we came in with and 0-1 record after a very good Bowling Green team shocked us at home in week 1. Wake Forest was ranked 20th, and as the recap states, we finally found a way to win a close one. Stu Schweigert was clearly the player of the game with an interception and 32 yard return hat set up a field goal. He also anticipated Wake Forest’s final snap on 4th and short perfectly for a backfield tackle that clinched the game. Watching this game while on vacation in Colorado, I was sure he was offsides until the replay confirmed it was just perfect timing.

Washington 2002 – It took a near miracle to qualify for this bowl game, especially after the scarring Ohio State game. Once we got there it appeared as if we were headed to our fourth straight bowl loss when we fell behind 17-0. Much like the Illinois game from that season, we came roaring back to take the lead with 34 unanswered points. We were able to hold on this time as Washington did everything in its power over the final three quarters to make sure we won. You knew things were going our way when Berin Lacevic (some called him the Serbian Shank Machine) actually made two field goals in one game. Anthony Chambers also had a fumble recovery of a Brandon Jones fumble in the end zone for another stroke of good fortune. It felt especially good to beat Washington by the exact same score they had beaten us two years earlier in the Rose Bowl. This is proof we actually won a Sun Bowl! It also marks the last time the former powerhouse played in any bowl game.

Syracuse 2004 – There are other games I could easily put here, but this one stands out because it was one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen a Purdue football team put out there. Syracuse wasn’t great, but they are still a BCS conference opponent. They were a last minute replacement for Cincinnati, who backed out of the return game of a home and home after joining the Big East. This was nationally televised on ABC, and I actually delayed my vacation to Colorado by a day to go to the game. There were a ton of questions about our defense after losing so many guys from the 2003 team to the NFL, but the replacements were awesome in this game.

The offense was incredible as well, as Purdue allowed nothing to Syracuse while scoring at will. The closest the Orange came to getting on the board was a botched field goal attempt on a bad snap. It was picked off by Bernard Pollard and Syracuse never came close again. This was a truly dominating performance and set the stage for our run to #5 before That Game. Since the 63-24 drubbing of Indiana came at the end of the season it was a nice bookend to show just how great that team could have been.

Up after The Best wins series:

As mentioned above, I’ll be getting into the Know thy Opponent series sometime early next week. With that, I plan on branching out to some of my fellow bloggers with some perspective on who we face on the 2008 schedule. First up will be a connection with the premier Oregon blog, Addicted to Quack. That is, unless someone knows of an obscure Northern Colorado Athletics blog out there. So far I have found a blog for each opponent except Northern Colorado and Central Michigan.

Final note:

It is Memorial Day weekend, and that means some much needed time off. It also means that we remember those who served. All three of my grandfathers served in this country, two by blood and one by marriage. Sadly, one of them is no longer with me, but he is the one that instilled in me the desire to honor all veterans. We have them to thank for our freedoms. Thanks to them I have the freedom to write whatever I want to write without fear of persecution (except from rival fans). If you see a veteran this weekend, be sure to thank them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Best Wins of the Tiller Era #2: Kansas State 1998

Before we reach the penultimate game on the countdown I must do some shameless pimping. I have long been a fan of my Big Ten blogging brethren at Lake the Posts. Anyone who devotes that much time to Northwestern athletics (which is having a very successful spring in women’s tennis, lacrosse, and softball) is either a sadist because of the basketball program or a diehard fan. He does great work over there in covering the one program in the Big Ten that everyone forgets about until they find themselves on the business end of another shocking upset. Earlier this week I played Q&A in a guest role over there, giving my thoughts on the upcoming season and my impressions of the Northwestern program.

My second promotion goes in the direction of fellow blogger Nittany White Out. There are nearly half a dozen Penn State blogs in the network, but Nittany White Out is in the midst of counting down the toughest venues to play at in the Big Ten from a visitor’s perspective. It’s a neat series in that he has several great shots of all the Big Ten venues. His review of Purdue is nearly dead on, placing Ross-Ade 7th out of the 11 home venues ahead of the Memorial Stadiums, Ryan Field, and the Metrodome. It’s definitely worth a look not just for his opinions of Ross-Ade, but his evaluations of each stadium in general. I agree with him for the most part. With a few more wins over ranked teams we can move up, but it is hard to see us ahead of anyone else except maybe Michigan State.

That brings us to game #2 in the countdown. This game was the overwhelming runner-up with 95 votes. It also marks the highest ranked opponent that Joe Tiller has beaten in his career. Kansas State was ranked 4th coming into the 1998 Alamo Bowl, having been one play away from playing for a national title. They felt they should have been in the BCS, and probably rightfully so. Too bad they should have paid attention to their bowl opponent a little bit more, as some lightly regarded quarterback made a national name for himself back in his home state that night.

Date: December 28, 1998

Place: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

Incoming Purdue record: 8-4

Incoming Kansas State record: 11-1 (ranked 4th)

After a 3-4 start to the season that included losses at USC, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Penn State Purdue was one of the hottest teams in the country. The Kansas State Alamo Bowl would come in Tiller’s hottest period as head coach. It would be the 6th win in a row for the Boilers, and that streak would grow to a nation’s best (at the time) ten in a row before a visit to Ann Arbor the next season. We came into the Alamo Bowl on quite a roll, but it all came against the bottom of the Big Ten. Our five straight wins were over Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State, and a 52-7 drubbing of Indiana in the Bucket Game. Since I was a freshman that season, I certainly didn’t mind our spotless 6-0 mark at Ross-Ade, but when Rice and Central Florida (with Daunte Culpepper) were among our best home wins we didn’t exactly face a murderer’s row.

Less than ten years before this game Kansas State was one of the worst teams in college football. Bill Snyder had performed a near miracle in even getting them to respectability, let alone make them one of the handful of teams competing for the 1998 national title. The year before this one Kansas State blasted everyone in their path on their way to a Fiesta Bowl win. Only a 56-26 loss to eventual co-National champ Nebraska prevented a perfect season. Since 1998 was the first year of the BCS the Wildcats had their eye on returning to the Fiesta Bowl for the national title game. They were perfect through their first 11 games, but a Big 12 championship game loss in double-OT to Texas A&M ended the dream on a day when UCLA also saw its undefeated season end at Miami in a game delayed by a hurricane. That meant the first BCS championship would have unbeaten Tennessee against one-loss Florida State, instead of having to pick between three unbeatens.

I remember being at home just before finals and tuning into the bowl selection show. Kansas State was nowhere on my mind, as many were talking of a return to San Antonio as a reward for another good year. Surely K-State was going to get one of the two at large BCS bids. I was overjoyed to see us back in San Antonio, until I saw vs. 4 Kansas State on the other side of the screen. I turned to my brother-in-law and told him, “well, at least we get to play one of the best teams in the country.” ESPN even rated K-State’s snub as the ninth biggest mistake in BCS history.

The Game:

Kansas State certainly did not want to be there and played like it. Being the #4 team in the country they brought a large contingent to San Antonio, but a bad attitude too. To them, playing the Boilers was an insult. We didn’t deserve to be on the same field as them. The funny thing is that if it wasn’t for our own mistakes such as giving them two touchdowns off of bad snaps, we probably would have blown them out.

I was home for Christmas break and I went over to my sister’s house to watch this game with my brother-in-law. Since I grew up without brothers we were going through that period in life where he was a good older brother influence on me as he and my sister began to have their own kids. We watched a ton of games together in those early Tiller years, so the Alamo Bowl was an event for us. Purdue did not disappoint in this one.

Purdue’s defense was absolutely brilliant for three quarters. They played perhaps the best game a Purdue defense has ever played in the opening 45 minutes. K-State quarterback Michael Bishop was one of the best players in the nation at the time. He was runner-up for the Heisman and even the country’s best defenses couldn’t figure him out. We made him our bitch. Purdue sacked Bishop, a very mobile quarterback, six times, picked him off four times, and forced him to fumble once in a game that surely caused his draft stock to plummet like Enron. All told he was 9 of 24 on the night for 184 yards, 88 of which came on one play.

As a whole the defense forced seven turnovers and Kansas State committed 125 yards worth of penalties. It’s amazing that this game was as close as it was. Billy Gustin was the beneficiary of two of those Bishop INT’s. I also think Rosevelt Colvin and Chike Okeafor still have the deed to Michael Bishop somewhere.

The teams played a scoreless first quarter but Purdue broke through just 13 seconds into the second quarter when Drew Brees hit Chris Daniels with a five yard scoring pass. The play was set up by a fumble recovery late in the first quarter by John Reeves in K-State territory. Purdue then added a field goal before its first big mistake allowed Kansas State to get on the board. A bad snap on a punt attempt gave the Wildcats the ball at the Purdue one yard line and they scored on a one yard pass to make it 10-7. As poorly as K-State played on offense in the first half they had seven points after a mere 1 yard “drive”.

Purdue quickly got it back when Brees found Isaac Jones a little more than a minute later for a 30-yard touchdown pass. That gave Purdue a 17-7 lead at the half, and many felt it could have been a lot more. Everyone forgets that Brees threw three interceptions in this game, but I’ll forgive him for everything else he did. Since he also had 230 yards passing and three touchdowns.

Once again Purdue gave the Wildcats seven points midway through the third when a second bad snap on a punt was recovered in the end zone. Brian and I were incredibly frustrated at this point because Purdue’s defense was playing lights out. Kansas State had barely sniffed the Purdue end of the field, but our own special teams had handed them 13 points. Martin Gramatica missed the extra point, and the Boiler defense would get it back.

Late in the third Kansas State was pinned back inside its own 10 when Purdue’s defense struck again. David Nugent recovered David Allen’s fumble in the end zone to make it 24-13 with just a minute to go in the third quarter. Another Bishop interception gave Purdue the ball back on Kansas State’s next play and it would lead to a field goal. Purdue led 27-13 after three quarters, and really should have been up at least 27-0.

Kansas State finally got a drive going that yielded points with its first possession of the final quarter. Allen scored from three yards out, but Purdue would respond with another field goal drive to make it 30-20 with 6:44 left. As well as our defense had played to that point everything seemed in hand.

That false sense of security lasted one play, as Bishop found speedster Darnell McDonald for an 88 yard touchdown. Purdue failed to score on its next drive, and Kansas State put together a final drive for a score with 1:24 left to take a 34-30 lead. Brian threw a nerf ball at the TV and sat back to sulk. I was shocked, most likely swearing up a storm. As well as Purdue had played it appeared we were going to blow it late. It was especially frustrating because we were the better team all game, only to lose it in the end.

Drew Brees had other ideas.

The sequence above doesn’t even do it justice. I can’t even give it justice with words except to say this was the greatest multi-play drive in Purdue football history. On the drive Brian went from sitting all the way back in his chair to the edge when Jones caught the winning TD. Each play moved him forward a few inches until the touchdown made him jump out of it. I’m sure we woke up my sister with our yelling, but we didn’t care. Kansas State got the ball back with some time, but Reeves, in a career that saw him move from hated quarterback to loved safety, ended the game and his career with an interception he nearly returned for a touchdown. Purdue had won 37-34 in the biggest upset under Tiller.

After the Game:

"I feel for every player in that (locker) room, every coach and every Kansas State fan that showed up here in San Antonio. Tonight was the culmination of three weeks of disappointment." -- Bill Snyder, Kansas State head coach on losing to Purdue

This was back in the days when a top team losing to Purdue was still an embarrassment. I wish I had been in San Antonio for this one, as everyone I have talked to said it was an incredible atmosphere. I have mentioned that my parents have a time share in Breckenridge, Colorado that they visit every year in September. They used to drive out there across Kansas and eat breakfast near Manhattan. Nearly every year after this game they received middle fingers and honks toward the Purdue sticker on their car, to which they simply waived back. It’s a loss that K-State fans still can’t believe happened.

I remember hearing a reporter ask Tiller after the game what he felt the following season would bring since it would get a lot tougher with Michigan and Ohio State returning to the schedule. His response was, “We just beat the number four team in the country, how much tougher can it get?” I also remember the game’s commentator stating after Brees’ winning pass that, “the groan you hear is the other 10 defensive coordinators in the Big Ten groaning that they have to face this guy for two more years.”

This win was the middle act of our path to the Rose Bowl. The dream started with the win over Notre Dame in 1997, grew legs in this game, and became a reality in the final game of our countdown.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Best wins of the Tiller Era #3: Notre Dame 2004

Before getting to the next game on the countdown I must offer congratulations to the Boilermaker softball and baseball teams. The softball team stayed a little bit longer than expected in the NCAA’s. They dropped their opener to Nevada 4-1 before defeating Cal State Fullerton 4-3 in a loser’s bracket game late Saturday night. In that game Purdue led 2-0 before giving up the lead on a bases loaded double in the sixth. The Boilers then added two more in the top of the seventh and held on for the win in the bottom of the inning for their first ever NCAA win. Unfortunately, their reward was a rematch with Nevada about a half hour later which started at 12:45am Saturday night. The Wolfpack won again 2-1 to eliminate the Boilers. Both Saturday games were nationally televised on ESPN 2, so it was at least one more chance for Purdue to be in the spotlight.

The Boilermaker baseball team also completed a 30-24 regular season by taking three of four against Illinois this weekend. Purdue finished the Big Ten season with a 21-10 record in the conference, setting a new school record for conference wins. That was good enough for a second place finish and first round bye in this week’s Big Ten Tournament at conference champ Michigan. The Wolverines (42-12 overall, 26-5 Big Ten) are the heavy favorites in the tourney, but they are already in the NCAA tournament most likely. The other five teams in the field need to win the auto-bid to keep their seasons alive. Purdue will play at 3:35 Thursday afternoon against either Penn State, Illinois, or Ohio State. Purdue won the series 3-1 against all three opponents. Against the other two teams in the field they lost the series to Indiana 1-3 and did not play Michigan.

That brings us to the third game on our list. With 47 votes it ranked just ahead of the 1997 game against Notre Dame, but the 2004 game against the Irish honestly was among the most fun games to watch on television. Since I can’t stand most Notre Dame fans, I simply refuse to go to South Bend to see a game. It really is for the best. The 2004 game was enjoyed by almost anyone who hates the Irish simply because of the way Purdue finally broke through after way too long of a drought in South Bend.

Date: October 2, 2004

Place: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Incoming Purdue Record: 3-0, 1-0 Big Ten ranked 15th

Incoming Notre Dame Record: 3-1

It had been 30 years since we had won in South Bend. It’s hard to imagine, but when Purdue won in 1974 over #2 Notre Dame my dad was in his fourth year of pharmacy school. He would graduate, have me, and I would graduate from Purdue before it would happen again. It is my sincere hope that I don’t have to wait for the same time to pass before the Boilers win at Notre Dame again in 2034. Most of those losses were blowouts, but under Tiller we had come close. Losses in 1998, 2000, and 2002 had me convinced we were truly cursed against the Irish. All three times we lost to inferior Notre Dame teams in “Luck of the Irish” fashion.

In 1998 Drew Brees needed only run out the clock, but two late interceptions allowed Notre Dame to take the lead 31-30, then run the clock out themselves. In 2000 we played a terrible game against the first Notre Dame team to earn an undeserved BCS bid, losing 23-21 on a last second field goal. Gary Godsey, a tight end playing his only game at quarterback, outplayed Drew Brees in that one making it even more frustrating. 2002 may have been the worst, when the Purdue defense held Notre Dame to three points but two fumble returns for a touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown were enough for a 24-21 win. We were wondering what we had to do to finally beat these guys.

Fortunately we came into this one on a roll. Kyle Orton was lighting up defenses all over the place and, aside from the Illinois game, our defense was playing well. We had outscored Syracuse, Ball State, and Illinois 148-37 in the season’s first three games. Meanwhile, Notre Dame had dropped its opener at home to BYU before beating Michigan, Michigan State, and Washington. Brady Quinn was starting to become Brady Quinn even without Charlie Weis’ offensive genius.

The Game:

This was a lot of fun to watch, and if I could get a copy of it today I would watch it over and over. Purdue took the opening kickoff and had a very successful opening drive. The Boilers moved 63 yards in 10 plays before Ben Jones split the uprights for a 31 yard field goal. Notre Dame answered with almost the exact same drive. With 6:30 left in the first quarter the Irish tied it on a 26 yard field goal. That is when the first of many big plays on the day started to break Notre Dame’s spirit.

On the ensuing kickoff Jerome Brooks received the ball at the goal line and took off. The blocking formed a perfect seam and Brooks used a spin move to bounce off a tackler and get into the clear at the 22. He went the rest of the way untouched with Bernard Pollard out in front to block anyone who got close. It was the type of score we always needed at Notre Dame.

Both teams then traded punts before Notre Dame made its next mistake. The Irish missed a 44 yard field goal and Purdue responded with a drive for another 3-pointer to make it 13-3 with 11:24 left in the half. Notre Dame then had its best drive of the day by going 77 yards in 14 plays to get down to the three just before halftime. It appeared that the Irish were going to bulldoze their way into the end zone and cut the lead to three, but Anthony Spencer made a huge play. Spencer stripped Darius Walker at the goal line and Brent Grover recovered at the three to end the threat. Notre Dame would get nothing from their drive and like it.

I’ll give credit to Purdue on its next drive. Getting the ball at our own three even after a fumble is difficult. With 4:39 left in the half Orton took over and drove all 97 yards in 11 plays for a dagger of a touchdown. The best play of the drive came on a halfback pass from Brandon Jones to Ray Williams down to the two. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich then caught a short touchdown pass to make it 20-3 at the half.

It was at this point that I unfortunately had to leave my house and miss the second half of the game. I was making TV commercials in Kokomo at the time, and I unfortunately had a rare Saturday evening shoot that day which meant the rest of the game would have to be listened to on the radio. As much as I enjoyed making that commercial for Bunker Hill drag strip, listening to the second half and getting paid overtime to do so was more fun.

Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half ended in a punt that pinned us back at the Irish three. After a pair of incompletions Orton lofted a pass to Taylor Stubblefield that the receiver caught, broke a tackle in single coverage, and ran down the sidelines celebrating. It’s like every Purdue fan was running with Taylor when he did that, because we all wanted to do what he was doing. The frustrations of our last three visits were washed away on that play. The silence and stunned looks on the Notre Dame sideline were more than worth the 15 yard penalty Taylor received. It was our second 97-yard touchdown drive in a row and second play of 95 yards or more.

Notre Dame responded by finally getting into the end zone on a 40 yard TD pass from Quinn to Rheema McKnight, but their defense had no chance of stopping us. Orton seemed to make sure personally that we weren’t going to blow another one, as he needed only five plays and 56 yards to get it back. Dorien Bryant had a 56 yard catch and run to set up a nine yard scoring pass to Kyle Ingraham to make it 34-10.

The Irish would score again on their next drive, but failed to get the two-point conversion. Purdue then drove for its final touchdown of the day when Stubblefield put the final points on the board with a 12 yard TD catch. Purdue led 41-16 after three and put it in the hands of the defense the rest of the way. They allowed a pair of drives into Purdue territory, but stiffened to force a turnover on downs each time. Spencer, Ninkovich, and Ray Edwards made the day a living hell for Quinn, combining to sack him seven times. In the end Quinn threw for 432 yards and no interceptions, but it was perhaps the most useless 400 yard passing day in college football history.

After the Game:

Orton finished with 385 yards and four touchdowns to raise his season total to 17 scores against zero interceptions through four games. This game put him in the driver’s seat for the Heisman until That Play happened two weeks later. It also raised Purdue into the top 10 nationally, where we would get our only win as a top 10 team under Tiller in game #11 on this countdown.

I’ll give credit to Quinn in this game. He barely had any time to throw but still had a successful game as just a sophomore. I have been one of his detractors before, but seeing what he did behind a terrible offensive line for four years is quite impressive. This was the first game in which he really made a name for himself. He would go on to lead the Irish to a 6-6 season and a loss to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.

As a fan it didn’t get much better than this. After all the snide comments and condescension we had finally gone into their house and flat out annihilated them. We put to rest everything bad that had happened under Tiller in South Bend. We also set a hopeful precedent that we can indeed win there. With any kind of a defense we could have won again in 2006, and we certainly at least have a chance in 2008 after Notre Dame’s debacle last year.

It doesn’t matter that the second half of the season in 2004 was terrible. The first half was one of the most memorable in program history. It is only appropriate that finally winning in South Bend after 30 years was part of it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dancing softball-style

This year marks the 27th NCAA Women’s softball tournament, but for the first time the Purdue Boilermakers will be involved. In an effort to truly be about all things Boilermaker, as promised in the banner headline, I wanted to take a break today and write a little bit about this accomplishment. Women’s softball is probably pretty far off the radar for the average fan. I would even bet that there are some followers of the football and basketball programs that don’t even know we have a team. We have certainly had better teams in other non-marquee sports. The women’s golf team comes to mind after finishing national runner-up last season. They are also in the running for the national championship again this year, and will compete next week.

Still, it is not every day that a program makes the first appearance in school history in its respective tournament. To my knowledge, every other team that Purdue fields has made an appearance on the national post-season stage except the softball program. Since their stay in the tournament will likely be short, it is time to give these ladies their due.

History of the Program:

There honestly isn’t a ton of history, especially considering that Purdue plays in a conference with national powers Michigan and Northwestern. The program began with a 10-2 loss to Canisius on March 5, 1994. Coming into this season the Boilers had an overall record of 443-366-4, meaning the 500th win in school history is a strong probability for next season. That first season Purdue finished 21-17-1 for a modest debut. Before this season the high water mark was a 41-25 record in 1997 that did not yield an NCAA bid. Andrea Hillary is the program’s only 1st team All-America selection in 2003.

This season:

Purdue completed this year with a 34-21 overall record and 9-9 finish in the Big Ten. Any NCAA bid was in doubt with an opening loss to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, but the committee decided to reward the Boilers on a strong non-conference schedule against several challenging opponents. Purdue started out the season by winning 20 of its first 28 games. All told Purdue faced 7 ranked teams this season, with the best win coming over #7 Baylor 6-5 in extra innings on February 15. Though the season started on February 8th, Purdue did not play at home until March 28th. 14 Purdue opponents played in last season’s NCAA Tournament. One of their possible opponents in the regional, Cal State Fullerton, already owns a win over the Boilers 5-0 on February 29th.

The regional field:

Purdue is seeded third in the four team, double elimination regional hosted by UCLA. Purdue will open against 20th ranked Nevada in what some on the GBI boards are calling the battle for Dario Camacho. The loser gets Dario Camacho’s services. Nevada rolled through the WAC with a 17-3 record in conference play and 42-16 record overall. For those lucky enough to have ESPNU the game will be televised at 5:30 today.

The other game features Cal State Fullerton (27-26-1) as the #4 seed against top seeded UCLA (45-7). The Bruins are the #2 seed nationally and have won 11 national championships, the most in NCAA history. They are the heavy favorite to win their own regional and return to the Women’s College World Series. In nine games against the other three teams in this regional Purdue has never won a game in its history, going 0-1 against Nevada, 0-2 against UCLA, and 0-5 against Cal State Fullerton. Purdue will be hard pressed to avoid being the only team in this field sent home with an 0-2 record. Any win would rank among the biggest in program history.

Who are the Boilers:

The game of softball is built on pitching, and Purdue has a pair of hurlers that have had strong seasons in the circle. Freshman Suzie Rzegocki carries a 15-8 record in 26 starts while junior Dana Alocer has started 29 games with an 18-13 record. Rzegocki has the better overall ERA at 2.49 while Alocer checks in at 3.31. In the opening game either will be matched up against sophomore Katie Holverson (20-6, 2.27 ERA) or senior Jordan McPherson (15-9, 2.61). Those two have combined for 309 strikeouts on the season against 251 for Purdue’s duo.

Offensively Purdue has three players batting over .300 with second baseman Kelly Miller leading the way at .346. Miller only has four walks on the season, so its feast or famine with her near the top of the lineup. Shortstop Candace Curtis provides most of the power in the Purdue lineup. She bats .333 with 11 homers and 39 RBI, leading the team in both categories. Kelsey Haupert (.322, 7 HR, 2 RBI) and Ashley Hall (.311, 15 RBI) also provide some pop in the Boilermaker lineup. Katie Mitchell is a bit of a clutch performer. Her average is only .270, but she is second on the team in RBIs with 31. Hall is the speedster of the group with 8 triples and 8 stolen bases.

Purdue is a very strong defensive team. The four infield positons of Miller, Curtis, First baseman Haupert, and third basman Hallwere recently named to the All-Mideast Region second team by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. I don't know what exactly comprises the Mideast region or how many teams are in it, but I assume that this is a pretty good honor that the entire infield made it.


Advancing in this tournament will be difficult. The Boilers struggled offensively for much of the conference season and they are facing three teams that are very experienced. Nevada is one of the dark horse candidates to reach Oklahoma City, as they have some signature wins over powers like Arizona and Fresno State who are both seeded in this tournament nationally. If there is one team that has a chance to knock off UCLA, it is generally considered to be the Wolfpack. The fact that Purdue has already lost to the four seed in this regional, and that four seed was barely over .500 on the season, is not a good sign. Fullerton also already owns a win over UCLA on the season. Purdue is generally considered to have been one of the final at large teams in the field. The fact that they were sent across the country while the other three teams are playing relatively close to home is a sign of this. Expect the Boilers’ stay to be a short, but memorable one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Best wins of the Tiller Era #4: Notre Dame 1997

Today is a banner day for Off the Tracks. Today marks the 200th post since I started this blog just before the 2006 football season. In that time, I have seen my readership explode, became a member of the Big Ten bloggers’ network, and even turned a small profit on this venture. I have only you the readers to thank for this. For everyone who has stopped by, whether you have commented or not, I thank you for taking the time to read my vagrant rantings. You make this blog a fun thing to maintain each and every day.

I do want to ask my loyal readers, in lieu of sending me large amounts of cash, to instead visit Everyday Should be Saturday and donate to one of the charities listed in that entry. So far they have raised over $11,000 in aid to victims of the cyclone in Myanmar, the earthquake in China, and the storms in The Southeast. For today only, you can donate for the Boilers, or apply your donation against a rival like Notre Dame or Indiana. Right now Purdue sits in the Hall of Shame at just $25, but that is because I split my donation evenly with Miami. Let’s Boiler up and get off the Hall of Shame list before 8pm today!

Our next game in the countdown is the win that started it all. On September 6th, barring an absolutely shocking turn of events, Coach Joe Tiller will tie Jack Mollenkopf at 84 career wins for the Old Gold and Black. Sometime after that, probably before the conference season even starts, Joe will get his second win of the season and sit on top of the coaching wins list at Purdue all by himself. That is a pretty good accomplishment in 12 years on the sidelines, but coach Tiller probably wouldn’t still be at Purdue if not for the next win in our countdown. Coming in 4th with 43 votes is the 28-17 win over Notre Dame in 1997, Tiller’s first in West Lafayette.

Date: September 13th, 1997

Place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana

Incoming Purdue Record: 0-1

Incoming Notre Dame Record: 1-0 (ranked 15th)

It’s hard to believe, but before this day no one really knew who Joe Tiller was. An embarrassing 36-22 loss at Toledo to open the season had most Purdue fans thinking that Tiller was more in the realm of Fred Akers and Jim Colletto than the savior of the program. As usual, there was a good crowd on hand. Most of it was Notre Dame fans in one of our few guaranteed sellout games at the time. The Irish had beaten Georgia Tech in its opener by four, and it looked like there was a smooth transition from Lou Holtz to Bob Davie. Davie was the third new head coach for the three major programs in Indiana that season, as Indiana was starting anew under Cam Cameron. By far Davie was expected to have the most success.

Before this day we had not beaten Notre Dame since a 35-17 win at Purdue in 1985. Most of the next 11 games weren’t even close, including the previous year’s 35-0 beatdown in South Bend. That would serve as the last time Purdue had been shutout until the Penn State 2006 game. Purdue came close in 1995, but instead of throwing to a wide open Mike Alstott for a late tying touchdown we overthrew a receiver in the end zone, losing 35-28. A few Notre Dame fans (not completely representing their fanbase, I know) were being their overly arrogant selves even in the era where it wasn’t much of a rivalry. As my brother-in-law, his brother, and I went into the stadium we heard a cry of,” hey, what happened at Toledo last week?”

The Game:

Of the three of us, only my brother-in-law’s brother, Tharon, was a Purdue grad at the time. He had not been to a game, nor followed the program, in several years. Since my parents were on vacation that week both he and my brother-in-law came to the game with me. Brian and I were more than familiar with the state of Purdue football at the time, so we settled in for another grim beatdown. Tharon, however, was pretty ignorant. When Purdue took an early 7-0 lead on a touchdown run by Edwin Watson and actually held it for awhile, Tharon was overly optimistic. “They just might win this thing,” he said. Brian and I laughed and waited for the collapse we knew was coming.

Notre Dame answered with a field goal early in the second quarter, but Purdue came back down the field behind Billy Dicken. When Watson scored again from a yard out to put us up 14-3 even Brian and I looked at each other with the, “what the hell is going on,” look. Dicken was on his way to the best game of his career at that point. The offense, which often didn’t move at all under Colletto, was moving down the field with something called the forward pass. Best of all, the jokes about Colletto being on the other side of the field as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator began flying. Tiller was smoking this guy with his own recruits, and we were loving every minute of it.

Autry Denson would score for Notre Dame before halftime from 16 yards out to make it 14-10, but that did not change our mood. Tharon was as excited as he could be. Brian and I were stunned, but we knew the collapse was coming. This was Purdue, after all. We never beat Notre Dame. In the second half they would start manhandling us and Ron Powlus would cause them to pull away for something like a 38-14 win or something. This was when Ron Pawlus was going through the final season of his Jimmy Montana-esque career, although I must say at least Powlus was better as a freshman and won a few games. He actually beat out other quarterbacks in spring practice for the starting job.

As the third quarter went on we grew more and more concerned. Purdue wasn’t scoring, but the defense was actually stopping Notre Dame. Both sides were scoreless for 15 minutes, and suddenly it dawned on us. We were 15 minutes away, and we just might beat these guys. Nothing happened in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, so at least the clock was going in our favor. It kept moving and we kept getting louder and louder. Could this actually be happening? Then, with 8:50 left, the play we had been waiting for happened.

On second and five from the Notre Dame 39 Powlus dropped back to pass. Pressure forced him out of the pocket, but he had some running room in front of him so he took off. As he got back to the line of scrimmage he got hit from behind by Rosevelt Colvin and went down. From our seats in section 22 it looked like a sack, so we started jumping up and down thinking it was now third and long. A stop on the next play would give us the ball back and a chance to run out the clock.

It took me about 2 or 3 seconds, but I noticed the play was still going on. Adrian Beasley was running down the field with a convoy behind him, and the following slowly dawned on me and Brian at the same time. “Wait a minute… He has the ball! Beasley has the ball and he might score. HOLY SH** BEASLEY’S GONNA SCORE!!!!!! WE’RE GOING TO BEAT THESE GUYS!!!!”

I don’t think I fully got it until Beasley was at about the ten. Since the pessimism had not been thoroughly burned out of us Brian and I started looking for the flag. Surely there was a flag. Never mind that Tharon was screaming his head off. There was no flag, and Shane Ryan lined up to kick the extra point to make it 21-10.

Notre Dame managed a desperate drive to get another score when Denson caught a one yard pass from Pawlus with 1:47 left. Someone forgot to tell Denson that touchdowns were only worth six points, not 12, however. His emphatic spike of celebration resulted in a 15 yard penalty, pushing back the extra point try and negating any realistic chance of a two point conversion. Since no Jim Colletto coach team could gain more than 10 yards at a time, Notre Dame kicked the extra point instead of trying to cut it to three for a potential tying field goal.

Purdue then recovered the onside kick, and instead of running out the clock Tiller went for the jugular. Vinny Sutherland, who finished with 100 yards on the day and became an instant Purdue hero as a freshman, caught a 36 yard bubble screen to the three. With just over a minute left Kendall Matthews punched it in for the final score and a shocking 28-17 win.

After the Game:

I was a senior in high school for the 1997 season, and it was on this day, at this game, that I probably made up my mind to come to Purdue. I had offers to go elsewhere for more money, but I had always wanted to be a Boilermaker since my dad was a Boiler. Seeing the students rush the field that day and Purdue suddenly become relevant again helped me make up my mind. Three years later I asked my parents if I still could have gone to the Rose Bowl with them had I chosen to go to Bradley University, the other school I was weighing at the time. They looked at each other, then said, “We would have waived at you on TV.”

We hung around the stadium soaking it in for several minutes. We wanted to find the Notre Dame fans that taunted us on the way in and ask them what had just happened in there. Brian got in severe trouble because we were late in getting back to Tippecanoe Mall to pick up my sister and nephew. He tried to explain what happened and that we had to stay because it never happens, but she was pregnant with my second nephew at the time and didn’t understand. Neither did Tharon’s wife. This is why I am glad I have a wife that loves college football as much as I do.

The loss started a four game losing streak for Notre Dame, who hadn’t even bothered to bring the Shillelagh with them. They struggled to a 7-6 finish after losing another bowl game, this time in the Independence Bowl to an LSU team they had already beaten at LSU. Of note the following week is that Michigan State started its current six game winning streak at Notre Dame Stadium with a 23-7 win.

As recapped before in this countdown, Purdue went on to a 9-3 finish, a win in the Alamo Bowl, and Tiller won National Coach of the Year Award for the stunning turnaround. The win felt especially good not because it came against the Irish, but because it came against Colletto. You can tell Jim was loved by the players when Watson had said earlier in the week that Colletto, “was used to losing here (Purdue), so it would be nothing new for him." It was also the moment that the Notre Dame Purdue series became a real rivalry again, and a win this year in South Bend would give Joe a final record of 6-6 against the Irish, much to the dismay of their fans that have trouble believing we’ve beaten them once.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Best wins of the Tiller Era #5: Michigan 2000

Before getting into the top 5 of the countdown I have a special addendum to yesterday’s entry on the baseball program. They are not the only story that has developed on the northwest side of campus this spring. An even better story has developed a couple hundred yards further west. Yesterday the NCAA pairings for women’s softball were released, and for the first time since the program began in 1994 the Lady Boilermakers received an invite to the NCAA Tournament. Their path will not be easy, as they are being sent to the Los Angeles regional as the three seed to face Nevada Friday in the opening game. Fourth seeded Cal State Fullerton is also there, and the Titans already own a win over Purdue this season. The final team is just #2 overall national seed and 10-time NCAA champ UCLA. Needless to say, advancement won’t be easy, but it is still a watershed moment in Purdue athletics. Congratulations to the ladies, and good luck on Friday.

Second, I also wanted to post this link from Everyday Should be Saturday. It’s for a great cause, and we should BTFU for it.

Today we finally get to the top five in the countdown, and with 21 votes the 32-31 victory over Michigan during the 2000 is an appropriate introduction. This was an incredible game, and still marks the only win Tiller has collected over the Wolverines. Coach Tiller has multiple wins over programs like Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Penn State, but he has only been able to conquer the Wolverines once. Even then, this victory almost didn’t happen. A near superhuman defensive effort in the second half allowed a dramatic comeback when we couldn’t even come close to stopping Michigan in the first half. The win also gave us the tiebreaker over Michigan for our eventual Rose Bowl berth.

Date: October 7, 2000

Place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana

Incoming Purdue record: 3-2, 1-1 Big Ten

Incoming Michigan record: 4-1, 2-0 Big Ten, ranked 6th

This was absolutely a must win game for Purdue. We had dropped a heartbreaker the previous week at Penn State and couldn’t afford to lose to one of the conference favorites. Travis Dorsch was in the dog house after missing another huge kick, this time one that would have made a difference in the loss to the Nittany Lions. With two close losses on the road already the season certainly did not look like it was going to be as special as once hoped.

Michigan came in with one visit to the Rose Bowl already under its belt. On September 16th of that season Michigan lost 23-20 at UCLA, but a 2-0 start had them as the favorites for a potential return to Pasadena. Drew Henson was going through one of his rare stints of actually committing himself to football, and was having a pretty successful time in doing so. They were heavily favored coming in, and I was not expecting a happy birthday. That weekend was Fall Break for Purdue, but several students stayed for the Saturday game. It was five days before my 21st birthday, so even if we won I couldn’t legally celebrate at Harry’s just yet.

The Game:

This was a tale of two halves. Michigan looked every bit of being the #6 team in the country during the first half. The Wolverines touched the ball four times in the first half, and four times they put it in the end zone. The first drive was an unstoppable march as Michigan took the opening kickoff and went 82 yards in 12 plays, taking more than nine minutes off the clock. Marquise Walker ended the drive with a seven yard touchdown catch, but Purdue was able to answer with a 17-play field goal drive to make it 7-3 after one quarter.

Michigan’s second drive was more of the same. This time the Wolverines went 80 yards in 15 plays, taking seven more minutes off the clock before B.J. Askew scored on a 4-yard pass from Henson. Purdue then drove inside the Michigan 20, but Drew Brees was picked off in the end zone to end the Purdue threat. Michigan then made the most of the mistake as Anthony Thomas broke off a 61 yard touchdown run on the following possession to make it 21-3 with 6:25 left in the first half.

Purdue didn’t quit, as Brees led an 80 yard drive downfield for the Boilers first touchdown of the day. This score went to Vinny Sutherland, who changed directions on a dime and scampered to the end zone for a much needed score from 25 yards out. With 1:50 left Purdue had cut it to 21-10, but the defense still had not arrived. Michigan returned the favor by marching 89 yards in 1:39 to score again, this time when David Terrell scored on a 15 yard pass from Henson. Michigan would lead 28-10 at the half, and the defense appeared to have no interest in stopping them.

Fortunately, Purdue played a nearly flawless second half. Purdue’s first drive resulted in a much needed score as Brees directed us down field flawlessly. In less than four minutes we were in the end zone thanks to Steve Ennis’ one yard rush, but the two-point conversion attempt would fail. Purdue was back in it, and most importantly the defense would finally get a stop on Michigan’s next possession.

After a Wolverine punt Purdue took over at its own 20 and went 80 yards in 13 plays for another score. This time it was Montrell Lowe who finished the methodical drive with a bouncing 16 yard run up the middle. Twice on the drive Brees completed third down passes to keep things alive. When Dorsch made the extra point Purdue had trimmed the lead to 28-23 in just under 11 minutes.

Purdue managed another stop, but was pinned inside its own 10 by a Michigan punt and could do nothing. Purdue punted it back to Michigan, who managed to drive just 8 yards, but it was enough for them to kick a 34-yard field goal with 11:55 left. From there it was Brees’ turn to shine again.

Once again he directed the Boilers on an 80 yard drive, this time in 12 plays before finding John Standeford for a 10 yard score. The decision to go for two early came back to haunt us, as another two-point try failed and we trailed 31-29.

This is when the defense really began to shine. They forced a three and out to give Brees the ball back with 4:52 left at the Michigan 48. It was the perfect scenario, as we needed very few yards to get into field goal range. He did just that, but Dorsch would draw the ire of the student section by missing a 32 yard attempt with 2:11 left. Now Michigan needed only a first down to ice the game.

Fortunately, the defense continued its stellar play. They stuffed two straight running plays and used a pair of timeouts to stop the clock each time. Henson then threw a third down incompletion, and Michigan had to punt after holding the ball for a mere 30 seconds. Brees took over at the Purdue 41 with no timeouts and 1:41 left.

What followed was one of the best drives of Drew’s career at Purdue. He opened things with a 10 yard run for a first down, then completed four of five passes to the Michigan 21. The Wolverines then gave us five additional yards with a penalty, and Purdue took two plays to center the ball at the 17 before Brees spiked the ball to stop the clock with 8 seconds left. Michigan called timeout to ice Dorsch as he came on to kick from almost the exact spot he had missed minutes earlier.

During the timeout I remember turning to those around me in the fifth row of the student section and saying one thing. I said, “After this play we’re going on the field to do one of two things: either celebrate a great Purdue win or kick his ass for missing another big kick.” That got quite a few nervous laughs, and we all settled in for the kick. This time Dorsch was good, barely sneaking it inside the left upright for the win with 4 seconds left. Michigan did nothing on the kickoff and I rushed the field for the first time as a student.

After the Game:

Once Dorsch’s kick went through it was sheer chaos in row 5. Everyone was jumping and screaming, and I barely remember watching the kickoff. I didn’t even see the infamous double middle-finger salute that Dorsch gave us. Since I had never rushed the field before I didn’t know exactly what would happen. The rush was tentative at first, but it soon turned into a flood of humanity that pushed me over the railing and onto the field. Within seconds there were about 20 students on the north goal posts, including one gentleman in a Spiderman costume that had managed to bring in a wrench. He was furiously trying to loosen the bolts on the goal posts and bring them down, so I quickly got out of the way before they landed on my head.

Another enduring image was that of tight end and Mackey Award winner Tim Stratton hanging from the goal posts with the others. Tim was a bit of a partier back in the day, and he was having such a great time that he misplaced his helmet. This put him squarely in Tiller’s doghouse for the following week. Had the helmet not been returned by an anonymous fan later on he probably would have been suspended for the next game at Northwestern.

In this game Brees broke the Big Ten career record for touchdown passes and Mark Herrman’s school record for passing yards. He finished with 286 yards passing and two scores while also rushing for 80 more yards. Lowe finished with 130 yards on the ground and Vinny Sutherland had 127 yards on 11 catches. It was also the first time we had beaten Michigan, Ohio state, or Penn State under coach Tiller. As mentioned previously, it would come in very handy as it gave us the tiebreaker over Michigan for the Rose Bowl. It would be needed.

I think this is the game where we truly began to believe that the Rose Bowl was in reach. The Penn State game took a lot out of us, but this huge come from behind win brought the dream right back to life. We grabbed two important wins at Northwestern and Wisconsin before the Ohio State game really put the hype into high gear. I also remember that this was a great day to be a student, and I did get a very nice birthday present from the Boilers.
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