Many of you remember the 2006 Bucket Game. That was a masterpiece of crap where the Hoosiers and our beloved Boilermakers managed to have two turnovers on the same play. Purdue's putrid play that day could only be outdone by Kellen Lewis leading Indiana to six turnovers in a 28-19 Boilermaker victory. I fear this year's version, contested in two weeks, may pass that. It won't be as bad as today, however.
Purdue's defense did everything it needed to do today. It forced five turnovers. It got a defensive score, our first in over two years. Ryan Kerrigan was a force of nature that pursued Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier with more alacrity than the Allies pursued Nazi war criminals. They helped out the offense time and again by frustrating a fantastic offense and only giving up points when faced with a short field.
It still wasn't enough.
It wasn't enough because our offense was never a serious threat. All we needed was one drive. A single scoring drive in the second half would have been enough to give us a lead and probably change the timbre of the game. They couldn't even do that. Our one scoring drive after halftime lasted four plays and traveled a single yard. It only happened because of a Josh Johnson interception.
After the game I received an e-mail from an anonymous Michigan fan speaking of my guarantee of beating Michigan last week. It said the following:
1) stop trying to construct sentences and find a new way to spend your leisure time.
2) don't guarantee a win against the wolverines unless you're confident you'll score at least one offensive touchdown.
Well, this anonymous e-mailer is right. I was feeling pretty confident in our offense after last week. Yes, we had turnover troubles, but we at least moved the football and made the passing game a threat. I naturally felt we could do more of the same against a defense that would consider awful an improvement. Once again, I underestimated our ability to get in our own way with a horrible gameplan and ineffective execution.
At this point, I don't know if I would want to go to a bowl game. Everything that could go wrong this season has. We find ourselves limping to the end, needing a major upset next week to have any chance of extending it past the Bucket Game. The coup de grâce would have us shocking Michigan State next week, only to lose to a hapless Indiana team in the Bucket Game.
Positives from the Michigan game:
Ryan Kerrigan - I don't think he could have done any more today. Robinson and Forcier will not sleep tonight for fear of him in the shadows. It has been an honor to watch this young man play over the past two seasons. I shared a beer with Maize N' Brew Dave and his cronies after the game and they talked about how well Michigan's line had played, yet Kerrigan turned Taylor Lewan into a turnstile for most of the afternoon. It is a crime if Kerrigan doesn't earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week this week after four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Adam Rittenberg wants to give the Defensive Player of the Year Award to him, which he deserves.
Ricardo Allen - His 94-yard pick six would normally have turned everything in our direction. That's the kind of play most teams use to start a great comeback. Unfortunately, it was our only consistent source of offense. It sure is fun to watch Allen run with the ball in space. Credit is also due to Albert Evans for the block that sealed his TD. The play Allen made to get past Robinson is the kind of athleticism we have been sorely lacking everywhere else.
Carson Wiggs, John Finch, and Kris Staats - I must give credit to the entire blur for facing abysmal conditions, yet being perfect on the day. If we could have gained about 10 more yards before halftime we might have seen the infamous 70-yard attempt.
Negatives from the Michigan game:
The coaching staff - Did we learn nothing from the Illinois game? PLAYING MUSICAL QUARTERBACKS DOES NOT WORK!!!!!! At least Rob Henry was a threat to throw today. I liked him better as a receiver/running back though. He showed the best hands on the team on the final drive. He still struggles to throw, and Sean Robinson can't get in any kind of a rhythm when he is pulled in and out. We'll never know what Justin Siller would have done, but you have to think he is done for the season like so many others if he couldn't last more than one play.
We need to pick a guy and stick with him. We couldn't throw in the second half, so we kept throwing. We went away from what little success we were having offensively to have poorly thrown balls and dropped passes. All we needed was one competent drive for a touchdown and we likely win the game. We had it going after the long Gary Bush catch and run. Another fumbled exchange killed it though. I know we have injuries, but we're not even calling plays that give us a chance at success. I now have zero confidence in this offense the rest of the way, and only Indiana's horrid performance today gives me hope of a win no matter how well our defense plays.
Our entire offense - At some point it has to go on the players too. I would say we had maybe six well thrown passes all day. Almost everything else was out of reach, or worse. The Hail Mary from Robinson looked good, but he overthrew everyone by 20 yards. We lack consistency and the plays that do work are never tried again. Illinois absolutely killed Michigan with the wheel route last week. We ran it a bunch last year. Today, we ran it once; it was a poor throw to Jared Crank, and even though he was wide open, we never saw it again.
I don't know how things will get better for next year. Will the injured players help? Will all the experience the current young guys are getting pay off? Will next year's combination of depth and experience from this year, mixed with the talent and experience of our injured stars, create a sudden turnaround? SOMETHING has to work. The offense was in excellent hands last year with Joey Elliott. We allegedly have more talent than that on offense, yet we're so much worse. Al-Terek McBurse can't do anything unless he is in space. Dan Dierking, Kyle Adams, and Jeff Lindsey have been our best players, and they are all gone next year. After so many years of not being able to stop teams while throwing up 30 points, it is a shocking role reversal.
For crying out loud, we were gifted five turnovers today, and we turned them into 16 points. Only once did we have a significant drive, and that is what set up the fumble six from Cameron Gordon. All four Michigan scores were set up by our own mistakes, including the muffed punt from Waynelle Gravesande (that was the ugliest play of the game), and killed any momentum from opening the half with a defensive stop.
I will follow this team next week and cheer hard for an upset in East Lansing, but it will take a near miracle even if our defense plays as salty as it has the last few weeks. I can forgive the occasional poor tackling as long as we frustrate teams like we did today. For the most part we have had two weeks where our offense has given up a defensive score and turned it over for multiple scores in its own territory. Even great defenses struggle against that!
Something drastic has to happen on the offensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it could be or how it can happen. I believe it is possible to upset Michigan State, but not bloody likely.