The above lyric from Metallica is appropriate. After today's 40-37 loss we have only pride and the Bucket to play for this season. While it is disappointing, it is far from a horrible thing considering where we were going into the Ohio State game. We went from questioning if a 1-11 season was probable to playing for a bowl in the penultimate game of the season. Now we can build for next year with a statement win over Indiana.
That is why I think this season is a success regardless of the outcome of so many games. Yes, games against Oregon, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, and Michigan State would absolutely be wins if not for our own mistakes. Still, this season was not the 1-11 disaster many were picking even before it started. This team has shown more heart than recent Purdue teams. This team has never quit. This team has performed above expectations and has a win over the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative and a close loss against the likely Pac-10 representative. This is growth from last year.
As for the mistakes that cost us today's game, they were unfortunate, but they can be corrected. That is also a sign of growth. We were 3-8 at this point last season, yet we seemed to have no heart or direction. The eight losses were by 6 (in overtime), 17, 14, 13, 22, 11, 14, and 5. This year, our seven losses were by 2, 7, 4, 3, 6, 15, 37, and 3. To me, that is a huge step forward from where we were. We are now to the point where other teams are not beating us except for our own mistakes. The next step is to correct those mistakes. If we do so, we will become a very good football team.
Positives from the Michigan State game:
Joey Elliott - Can you imagine if he had been a starter earlier in his career? If anyone deserved to lead this team to a bowl it was Elliott. After his TD pass to Cortez Smith you could see the passion as he ran off the field. He has grown by leaps and bounds this year, and I will miss his attitude.
Cortez Smith - Cortez has had a phenomenal two weeks and is putting himself in position to fill Aaron Valentin's role next season. The guy knows how to get open and get first downs. We can always use a guy who can use the chains.
Keith Smith - Keith will be a top target for Robert Marve next season. We have plenty of other options too. This is why I am already excited for next year. We return a bunch of experience at the skill positions and Keith will lead the way.
Jeff Lindsay and Kyle Adams - This was another fine week from our tight ends. They kept the chains moving with several critical catches. It is nice to add these weapons and we need to keep them involved in the offense next year.
Dan Dierking - I've always thought Dierking was undersized as a running back, but he made two huge catches today. That running back continues to be wide open on the wheel route, as Bolden was uncovered several times if we had looked for him.
Michigan State - It is rare that I credit the other team, but dammit if I wasn't impressed by the Spartans today. We truly outplayed them, but they made us pay for every mistake and made some huge plays when they needed to. I thought the game was over after Bolden's second TD. We had an 11 point lead on senior day with under 12 minutes left. The defense was rested, so I thought they would come out fired up. What ensued was a frenzy not seen since The Fumble game. Sparty earned this one today. They won a hard fought game.
Negatives from the Michigan State game:
Special Teams - I want J.B. Gibboney gone. Things were better without him. The past two seasons we were among the top 10 in kickoff coverage without a special teams coach. Today we acted like it was illegal to tackle the returner. The breakdown on the block field goal was huge. I don't mind Carson Wiggs missing the 49 yarder before halftime. You can't hit them all, but the other stuff is getting ridiculous. Chris Summers at least had a good game.
The defense - They had a great effort ruined by just a handful of plays, but they were big plays. They held for field goals after two long returns, but all three offensive touchdowns were the result of big MSU plays. They had a chance to really make a statement when up 11 and it last one damn play. To be fair, MSU provided excellent protection all day, but still. We had breakdowns two plays after we would look great. Just frustrating.
Covering Keshawn Martin - I hope this young man has a comfortable trip home because I don't want to see him again.
As I said above, I am still incredibly proud of this team. The season will finish better than people thought, but not as good as it could have been. It is still progress. While I as at the Black & Gold Mine after the game I was listening to the call-in show after the game. Those that are attacking Danny Hope and saying he won't learn or it won't get better than this need to calm down.
Danny Hope did not miss tackles on kickoff coverage. Danny Hope did not miss the block that caused the blocked field goal. Danny Hope did not fail to execute on the field. What we are seeing are things that can be corrected. As long as the coaching staff recognizes this and works to do it for next season we will be fine.
Is it really that bad that we have lost seven games, five by less than a touchdown. We have been much more competitive than anyone expected. It is a base to build on for what can be a breakout year next season. The talent will only get better, while the departing seniors have never once quit on this team. That attitude will hang around. I will only be worried if the same mistakes continue unabated next year.
Keeping the Bucket next week is paramount. Both teams are 4-7, but both teams were 3-8 last year and 62-10 happened. We must exert our will and show that we are still much better than Indiana to gain confidence going into next year.
As for next year, I am expecting a big leap forward. First of all, playing Toledo, Western Illinois, and Ball State should be three easy non-conference wins. As middling as the Big Ten has been this season we should count on at least three conference wins, and if we improve I think we can win five. Are you really going to count us out of any game except maybe Ohio State? We can even make a big statement by ending Notre Dame's national title hopes in week one.
We're playing for next season now. It is this team's choice as to which way it wants to go. If we choose to focus on the positives of what we accomplished while striving to fix small mistakes we will do very well. If we choose to be negative and blame others for our failures we can expect another bowl-less season in 2010.