I went with that for the title because I am unsure what to think after last night's contest. There are really two ways to think about it. As the cynical Purdue fan, you can view it as another missed opportunity. We outplayed another team in nearly every phase of the game, yet we still lost because of our own mistakes. It was "Same Old Purdue" as we beat ourselves.
On the other hand though, we recovered from each of those mistakes and did not roll over and die. I get the feeling that some of our more recent teams, after both defensive touchdowns, would have rolled up and gotten blown out as expected. Instead, we recovered and got ourselves right back in the game. It is frustrating to hand a good team like Oregon 17 points in their house, but we did not let that 17 points snowball into 45, as we easily could have. Every time Oregon looked like they might start putting us away, we answered.
Ultimately, my feelings on this game will be decided with how the rest of the season goes. We have to recover and beat Northern Illinois convincingly now. Yes, they are a good team, but they were still a 6-6 MAC team last year. If Indiana can be 2-0 right now we have to win games like that. Then the Irish come to town. We cannot get rolled in that game whatsoever. Old Purdue goes out and gets steamrolled by them like we did in 2005 after the stomach punch loss in Minnesota. If we're truly turning a corner, we beat the Irish at home and shock everyone.
Positives from the Oregon game:
Ralph Bolden - With Ralph's play so far, we haven't needed the depth we have at running back yet. Halliburton and Dierking have been used mostly in blocking roles. Taylor is performing well in spelling him. ATM hasn't seen the field yet and may now redshirt, but this is Bolden's show now. He erased any doubt that his performance was a MAC-induced fluke against Toledo. Much of his success needs to go to our O-line and to Jared Crank for freeing him to run. Bolden, however, is an absolute talent at running back.
Jared Crank - As mentioned above, Crank does a lot of the dirty work out in front, but he does it well. He had a huge block that freed Bolden for his one yard TD run in the second half. Crank had a very nice 14 yard carry too, showing unexpected quickness. I like giving him the ball a few times per game just to keep defenses honest. They have to think he is an offensive weapon as well.
Keith Smith - Right now, Keith Smith is an All-Big Ten level wide receiver. His tendency to get yards after contact remind me of Dustin Keller, giving us the physical presence we need in a pass catcher. Since Valentin, Cortez Smith, and Keith Carlos each stepped up last night too we can use Keith Smith in a variety of ways. His TD pass may have had more zip than any of Elliott's passes as well.
Aaron Valentin - Valentin had a very underrated game. He made some very tough catches for us, especially on the final drive that nearly tied it. My only knock on him is the way he carries the football. I have seen him with the ball too far from his body in these first two games and that is eventually going to lead to a fumble if he is not careful.
Offensive line - Once again, they opened holes in the running game and gave Elliott time to throw. I think Oregon got to Elliott for just one sack. Pressure did cause a few bad through, but Elliott had some nifty footwork to get out of it. I would to continue seeing us use our line to control the pace of some games by grinding out yards on the ground.
Joey Elliott - I'm going to overlook the two awful picks and the bad snap for a moment. To me, Joey evened his play out with some very good throws and some nifty footwork. So far, he has shown the ability to step out of some plays where Painter would have been sacked. He showed a ton of poise in a tough road environment too. Those that are calling for him to be benched in favored of TerBush or Henry are a little hasty. I think this is a year where we are going to have to take the good with the bad from Elliott. He gives us a lot of good with his poise and calm under fire, but we are going to have a few moments like those picks. Last night, those moments were the difference in the ball game. In other games, they won't be as magnified. He could have easily folded after every mistake last night. Instead, he saved his best play for the tying drive. I only wish he would have thrown underneath or pump faked and ran on the two-point conversion. Ultimately, he is our best chance at having a successful season this year, and we are going to have to hope he can get past the mistakes. The two fourth quarter TD drives shows that he can do that. They are simple things too. A Brees-esque pump fake (with plenty of time to throw) on the pick-six means that Thurmond bites and Smith is running open up the sideline for a fade.
The defense - First off, only 21 of the 38 points given up were really on them. In fact, they gave us four back by holding them to a field goal after the first pick. The other fumble just after halftime gave us seven back as well, so that helped even out the 17 the offense gave up some. We got our first sack of the year and really only looked bad when Oregon finally started running its offense well. That will make any team look bad. The pass defense was much improved. The run defense didn't get totally annihilated like some expected. All told, the defense kept this game very close for us. Event he tackling was better. It wasn't great, but it was better. This is also coming against an Oregon team that is very shifty and has enough moves to make most people miss.
Unfortunately, the worst time to falter came on Oregon's final touchdown. They had 3rd and long and we needed to just get a stop and force a field goal. Instead, we give up a long TD run and that was the difference. We cannot give up runs like that, even though Oregon executed the play very well. Holding them to a field goal there results in a win even with all our mistakes.
Negatives from the Oregon game:
17 points given up on turnovers - As I said, we got seven back, but this cannot happen against the other good teams we play. The fumble six was just an unfortunate bad snap that took a horrible bounce for us. The other two were plainly on Elliott, however. I am sick this morning because we win this game easily without giving up 17 points on offense.
Special Teams - I am not Catholic, but I have started crossing myself every time we kick off. The low extra point that was blocked will also haunt us now.
Really, the 17 points given up is the only glaring negative. I mean come on. That doesn't happen and we have a convincing road win. This is in an environment where everyone expected us to get blown out even after last week's performance. Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all played unnecessarily close game against opponents they probably should have throttled. They all were at home too. We went on the road against one of the better teams in the country and should have won. That tells me if we can fix those fixable mistakes we can be a very good football team.
It is truly up to us now. We cannot afford a slip up at home against a pretty good Northern Illinois team. After that, we get a shot at redemption when we play Notre Dame. Again, no one will give us a chance in that game. If we play like I know we can play though, we just might have a surprise in store for our visitors from South Bend.
The challenge is clearly on us, however. We will have a lot more to say about the ultimate outcome of this season than everyone else thought because we will be in nearly every game. It is time for us to respond.