I was a tad confused walking away from Ross-Ade Stadium today. Purdue lost by 21 points. The margin of victory was not surprising, even though we did beat the spread. Still, I felt very satisfied with the result. I even told Mrs. T-Mill that I was surprisingly upbeat for having witnessed a 21 point defeat. Perhaps it is the mark of just how bad things have gotten with our football program. Perhaps it is a sign of improvement. I'm still not sure.
If you had come up to me before the game and told me, without knowing the final score, that Purdue would be down only seven points with the football and less than ten minutes remaining in the game I wouldn't have believed you. For one half of football today Purdue looked as good as it has looked all year while playing one of the best teams in the nation. Through more than three quarters we still had a legitimate shot of winning a game that many thought would be a 30-40 point blowout.
I guess we can call that improvement?
This team looked epically bad the last two weeks. We managed 10 points last week against a defense that gave up 67 today. Sure, we only had 13 points, but we outgained an opponent that was light years better than us. If we hadn't given them 24 points directly off of turnovers (while negating at least three since we were in field goal range on the fumble) this possibly would have been a win. Two of the picks were a result of tipped passes, not bad throws by Sean Robinson. There were enough positives from today's game to think that maybe this season isn't quite over yet.
Positives from the Wisconsin game:
Sean Robinson - He will get better. I kept saying that as I watched the rookie make his way through his first start. The overall numbers weren't pretty (19 of 38, 141 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions) but they were better than last week. The passing game was at least a threat, especially with Antavian Edison. Naturally, the game was a little rough with some true freshman mistakes, but given the opponent and the situation I though the rookie did very well. Two of the picks were balls that hit his receivers' hands and popped up, therefore not his fault. He still locked onto one receiver and stared him down on many plays, but even this changed some by the fourth quarter.
Has he exhibited himself enough to be anointed the starter the rest of the season? I don't know. He's thrown a better ball than Henry and even had a deep look or two. He is dangerous when he does decide to run, getting a few first downs too. The fact that he at least gave us a chance to win is enough. He'll learn from today.
Antavian Edison - Edison was our best receiver by far and was very shifty after the catch. We need to continue to get him the ball in space, as he had several chances to break runs for even bigger plays.
Al-Terek McBurse - At least we saw some signs today of the player we expected him to be.
Dan Dierking - Today was another example that Dan Dierking does more with less than anyone else on this team.
The defense - This loss is certainly not on them. Wisconsin was in position to score and did after all four turnovers. The rest of the time we contained John Clay and got hit far less on big runs than last year. Most of that came from fantastic blocking by their offensive line for Montee Ball. Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston were especially good on the interior.
Of course, a number of other guys can be singled out. Ryan Isaac had a great sack and fumble that could have turned the game if we had recovered it. Will Lucas was all over the place. Albert Evans had a nice interception. Even Gerald Gooden got some nice pressure on Scott Tolzein. I don't think we could have asked for a lot more out of the defense today. They did what they could do against poor field position for most of the afternoon. they were good about gang-tackling and pursuing the ball. Both will be necessary next week.
Negatives from the Wisconsin game:
Dropped passes - it wasn't quite as bad as last year, but the receivers could have really helped Robinson out with a few more catches today. Two of the picks were on the receivers, especially the pick-6. If those drops can be fixed and made catches next week against the awful Michigan defense I like our chances.
Penalties - They killed at least two drives and cost us the ballsy onside kick to start the game. They weren't big, but they were still costly.
The defense with one minute left in the first half - Once again, we handed an opponent three points before halftime (and momentum) with the prevent defense a minute before the half. Combined with the slant being open over the middle, I shouldn't be surprised at this point.
I can't really take many other negatives from today. As bad as we have looked, we moved the ball with regularity and pushed a much better team for more than three quarters. We were 68 yards from tying the game when Robinson's second pick happened, and it only got out of hand after that pick and the pick-6. Could you ask for more knowing what we knew coming in?
There was more than enough here to give us hope next week. As long as our defense can slow down Denard Robinson and Roy Roundtree next week I know our offense can move the ball. Our offense should be able to move because everyone has gained yards on Michigan this year. Even the authorship can hang 30 on them next week. All we need is a week of practice, and we (the Boilermaker Heroes, Mrs. T-Mill, and I) gameplaned at Harry's and Lovshack after today's game.
Michigan gave up 315 yards rushing today, including 100+ to a freshman quarterback like Rob Henry and Robinson. We can expect the same if not more next week. As long as we can pass too, and we should be able to, the yards will be there. If we can replicate today's defense we have a chance, and that is all we need. Write it down: I guarantee we beat Michigan next week. If anything, we have an even better chance since they have the pressure of getting win #6 off.
More importantly, we kept fighting today. We came out and played like we had nothing to lose. We ended up scaring the bejesus out of a very good Wisconsin team in the process. The Badgers weren't sure what was going on at the half. All we need to do is keep it going and come out with the same fight next week minus the correctable mistakes. I don't care how it happens, as long as we get two wins in the next three games (against two beatable opponents) we're going to a bowl game. Even Michigan State is a possible win if we play like we did today minus the turnovers.
It is nice to have hope again.