God Bless El Publix. You helped me bring the victory home yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon was gorgeous in Miami. After spending a good portion of the afternoon on the beach, we headed back to Kendall to meet Mrs. T-Mill's best friend and head up to the Miami-Florida State game. While the ladies were getting ready, I headed over to Publix to pick up a beer we both like, but is not available in Indiana, plus a few other items. While there, I noticed they had Yuengling on sale. It too is not available in Indiana, but it is less than $7 for a six pack in South Florida. Thinking back to how it charged our NCAA Tournament run in March, I grabbed it for our tailgate time.
After leaving Kendall before 5:30, it took us two hours to get parked at Joe Robbie/Pro Player/LandShark/Dolphin(s)/SunLife Stadium. This negated our tailgate time, but I still had just enough time to crack a Yuengling open and drink it down as we walked to the stadium. While it didn't help the Hurricanes one iota, our Boilermakers must have known I was drinking a Yuengling 1,300 miles away just as they were kicking off.
Yes, like Popeye and his spinach, Yuengling is clearly the key to success when it comes to Boilermaker athletics. It can cure the problems associated with torn ACLs, allowing the replacements to overcome these challenges and bring the team together. We must now develop a nationwide chain of distribution where those that can purchase said magical beverage start sending it to us damned souls that cannot buy it in our local areas. As it is, I managed to bring four bottles of this magical elixir home. Since we have seven football games left (plus a bowl game?) and potential six NCAA Tournament games, I either need another trip to South Florida or help from my proposed distribution network. Also, it is clear we need to get some on the sidelines in a few water bottles to prevent further ACL tears. If anyone can deliver a case to each member of the basketball team (of legal age, of course) that would be great.
As much I would like to take credit for this victory with my beer-purchasing prowess, from what little I was able to see via highlights and tracking the game via phone we had the reverse of the Minnesota game two seasons ago. In that game, Curtis Painter was injured and Justin Siller had to come in as a relief quarterback. The Golden Gophers managed to hit a on a few big plays to set up a pair of touchdowns and we did little to counteract them on offense.
This game was similar because we hit on some big plays (Keith Carlos getting a big run and Rob Henry breaking a big run) when the offense did very little. This set up a pair of touchdowns, we managed to take advantage of a few Northwestern mistakes like a muffed punt, a fumble, and the blocked field goal by Kawann Short. We made them pay for their mistakes, though not fully, while they did the same to us in our game last year at Ross-Ade. As Boiled Sports states, we got dominated in every statistical category except the most important one: points. How many times has the reverse happened to us?
Now we have a three point Big Ten road victory over a ranked team. The Wildcats were #25 in one of the polls, so yet another streak is broken (or is a demon exercised via treadmill?) by Danny Hope's squad. This was our first road victory over a ranked opponent since beating Wisconsin in 2003. We now also have a nice little three game conference road winning streak (since we did beat Michigan and Indiana to finish last year) as well as a two game winning streak over ranked opponents in general. Those streaks will likely end in two weeks at Ohio State, but they are good streaks nonetheless when you consider the losing that preceded them. John hit the positives and negatives from actually watching the game, but here are mine from looking at the box score and seeing the highlights:
Positives from the Northwestern Game
Rob Henry - Drew Brees did not win his first collegiate start. Kyle Orton lost his first road game start at Indiana, as did Curtis Painter and Robert Marve. While the passing numbers are something that I never want to see again, Henry ran the read option well. I am not sure of the last time we had a quarterback rush for 100 yards, yet alone one that didn't throw for 50 in the same game. Even the abysmal Colletto offenses that featured Mike Alstott (and that's it) accidentally threw for 50 yards. This game was about leadership at the quarterback position. We didn't get a lot of offense, but we got enough. That's all that matters.
I have often stated that I don't care if we run, pass, or bend over and fire the ball out of the quarterback's butt. As long as we move the ball successfully down the field and score points it doesn't matter. Yes, we're going to need vast improvement in the passing game to get three more wins, but how many times have we thrown for 450 yards and still lost? Remember, one of Drew's most famous games, the 84 pass game at Wisconsin, was a loss. As long as we're running the ball we're doing two things: We're wearing down opposing defenses and taking time away from them. They can't score if they don't have the football. This can be a key to success.
Our fans - By all accounts we made Ryan Field Ross-Ade North at times last night. I think a lot of fans got tickets in advance, but good for them for staying on board. If I wasn't in Miami I would have gone up too. It warmed my heart to watch the wrap up interview with Danny Hope and I could hear the Boiler Up chant from the fans in the background. That never happens on the road for us.
Taking advantage of mistakes - Again, this was a major area, and something that usually happens to us. With Short's blocked field goal we were able to march down the field and score a touchdown. Dan Dierking was able to see something on the last play of the drive and slip through for the score. While the muffed punt didn't yield a touchdown, it did yield points from The Blur in an area of the field where they missed two weeks ago. That was key at that point, as it gave a young team the confidence of a lead on the road.
The Defense - Another thing I have often stated is that we should never lose a game where were hold an opponent under 20 points. The nature of our offense, especially if we can rush for 200 yards as a team, dictates that we should always be able to generate at least 21 points. The defense did a great job of keeping a good offense in check. I was honestly worried what an accurate quarterback like Dan Persa was going to do. Somehow, we got the job done. I'll have to watch the replay this week for more.
Special Teams mistakes - For once it was nice to see another team screw up in this area while we were sound. Although, we must have sent our kick coverage team to South Florida, because Miami routinely gave up kick returns to midfield or better after scoring.
Negatives from the Northwestern game:
The passing game - Clearly 47 yards passing is not going to cut it. It might work against Minnesota, but to get the three more wins necessary to get to a bowl game we're going to have to have at least the threat of an air attack. I realize that we're down our top two receivers from when camp started, but O.J. Ross, Antavian Edison, and Cortez Smith are going to have to get open. We had six completions yesterday, none longer than Jeff Lindsay's catch of less than 20 yards. We don't need a 300 yard game every week, we just need to at least have it be a threat. It is something to figure out next week.
I think we can all agree that we saw improvement. We went from an 11 point home loss against a mediocre MAC team with no pass defense to a road win over a ranked, undefeated Big Ten team. While this does not erase the loss to the Rockets (only an upset over an Ohio State would do that) it does give us positive momentum and the hope that a bowl bid is still a possibility.
It will not be easy. The Minnesota game is a must win, as is a home date against an Indiana team that has been exposed as having no discernable defense and an offense that can be slowed down. From there, getting a sixth win will be tough, but not impossible. Michigan looked mortal yesterday, and we get them at home. I still fear Wisconsin's physicality. If Ryan Kerrigan can continue to dominate Terrelle Pryor and the defensive line forces him to throw on the run Ohio State can be stopped, but I am not counting on it. Michigan State is also a tough road contest, while Illinois does not look like it will be the win we all expected.
We're moving forward though. A win at home against Minnesota puts us at 4-2, which was still our worst case scenario for the first half of the season when it started. Everything has played out how we expected with only Toledo being a loss and Northwestern being a win. That just shows that it doesn't matter how you get them, as long as six wins are there you can get to a bowl. That would be an improvement, and a step forward for this program. It would allow for extra practice time and even a lower level bowl victory would be a huge boost going into a rough schedule next season. So let's keep moving forward. A loss to a bad Minnesota team would be a major step back next week.
P.S., I will be taking one Yuengling in the car with me to drink on the way into the stadium.