Please file the following paragraph, written yesterday, under the category of, "Things I wish I had never written.":
I have done a ton of research both this summer and this week concerning Northern Illinois because they have long been picked as a team that can upset us. Honestly, nothing scares me about them. Their offense is similar to Oregon's which we did a good job against last week. They do not have Oregon's athletes either. Their defense has some punch, but our offensive line should continue to dominate. In reality, I think their offense is worse than Toledo's, but their defense is better. What does that leave? They have a really good kicker, but so do we. I am not afraid one iota in saying we should roll in this one unless we take a major step back. Purdue 49, Northern Illinois 24
Please consider that redacted. This was not a step back. This was 10 steps back. I think everyone was shocked by what we saw today. Even before the season when people thought this was a dangerous game for us they expected a tight battle that NIU pulled out in the end. I don't think anyone expected, even then, that the Huskies would lead 28-7 at one point and dominate possession by almost 30 minutes.
Every time we had a chance to change momentum and get things going we killed ourselves with dumb mistakes. We get a stop just before halftime and for a punt, only to have it bounce off of Valentin's shoulder pad. We finally get a drive going in the third quarter, only to come up short on fourth and one. That set up a backbreaking TD drive by NIU. We get another stop only to rough the kicker. We get a stop with 3 minutes left (where apparently you can now catch a pass on one hop) only to be totally unprepared for a fake.
I have to credit Northern Illinois. Me'co Brown is a shifty, tough runner that just fought for yards all day. Chandler Harnish eluded at least three sacks. Their offensive line credit holes and their defensive line caused just enough havoc disrupt or offense. They dominated the game with ball control drives and made us pay for our offensive inefficiency. They absolutely deserved to win this game even though they gave us about 14 second chances.
That said, this is one that strangely got away. After one of NIU's touchdowns the Huskies' cheerleaders led their live Husky mascot across the south end zone in front of my seats. That led to the following exchange:
Mrs. T-Mill - "That's cute, but I hope their mascot doesn't take a huge dump in the end zone."
Me - "That's okay, our offense has done enough of that on the field. We'll never notice."
It seemed to me like we were a step slower than last week's Oregon game all day long. In the first half Ralph Bolden just did not have the one extra step to get free like he did in the first two weeks. He still had a good game, but since we played from behind we couldn't get him the ball as much as we wanted. I counted at least four times where it looked like he was about to break it, only to be tripped up by a linesman who was already on the ground.
There will be no positive and negative breakdown of this game. Everything was a negative. We just seemed off from the start. Even the first two play calls, both reverses that NIU did an excellent job of stopping, seemed odd. We seemed to do absolutely everything wrong all day, and it more than made up for the few mistakes NIU made.
I hate to take away from what was a great win for a very good Northern Illinois team, but if the Purdue of the last two weeks shows up in Ross-Ade Stadium today it wins by three touchdowns. We never took advantage of our speed. We didn't have the ball enough to take advantage of our depth. Our playcalling at times seemed to drift back into the realm of the predictable.
All this was really inexplicable too. I know some people expected a slight let down. No one expected a total crap fest from start to finish. There was no energy whatsoever. I credit the defense for playing its heart out and forcing several stops in order to keep us alive, but they had to be exhausted by the end. It is no wonder we gave up so many yards. We never had the ball. Two of our three scoring drives were one play (the punt return and Elliott's big run). Even when we did well, we didn't give our defense any rest.
Despite everything, we were still one play from turning the entire game around nearly all day. We just did not make that play. I can point to a ton of different places where if one thing goes differently, it chances the momentum in our favor and we start rolling. For example, I felt entirely confident we were going to score and tie the game if NIU had punted instead of executing the fake. It was a very smart move by them to go for the fake. I felt so confident we were going to score with our offense that was finally moving that I was beginning the, "should we go for two" debate.
So where do we go from here? We have to shake this off. Notre Dame now comes to town and they are incredibly lucky they are also not 1-2. If not for a horrible overthrow by Cousins in the final minute they lose at home to Michigan State. If we put it together and play like we are capable of playing we can beat Notre Dame. Should that happen, it will erase a lot of the bad of today. Everyone expected us to be 2-2 after the Notre Dame game anyway. If it means losing to Northern Illinois for us to beat Notre Dame I will take that trade any day.
As I said, we have to shake this off and act like it never happened. I have a pretty even head about this, as I knew we were capable of playing this badly. I am not going to call for Hope's firing or the benching of any players (though Valentin is close). I am simply going to breathe, look forward, and trust that we can fix some things and get back to playing competitive football. Absolutely no one will give us a chance next week. I am fine with that, as few would have given us a chance with a win today. I credit NIU for beating us fairly. It is now time to move forward and start planning for Notre Dame.