Under my conditions, today should have been a loss. Yes, it counts as a win, but it wasn't by the four touchdown standard I laid down earlier. Thanks to a solid defensive effort, it looked like it was going to be at points in the second half. In fact, it should have been. The offense did nothing to help. A frustrating amount of three and outs had me loathing the phrase, " Carson Wiggs/Cody Webster in punt formation. Today finishing drives wasn't the problem, starting them was.
Then there is Keith Smith.
All I can say is that it didn't look good. He went down and stayed down (on a play that didn't even count, no less). Once he was helped up, it took two guys to get him to the cart while he couldn't put any weight on his leg. Once on the cart, he waved to the crowd as it slowly took him to the locker room. To me, it looked like he knew he was done. We won't know for sure until a day or two from now, but I think he is done for the year.
On the way home the radio guys kept mentioning how deflating the injury was. I think they were on to something. Purdue was firmly in control at the point of his injury, even if they weren't moving with impunity up and down the field. Once he was gone, the offense lost any sense of cohesion it had and the second string defense gave up a pair of late scores. I don't mind the late scores as much as I mind the alarming lack of production from the offense.
Positives from the Western Illinois game:
Dan Dierking - This was probably big Dan's best game ever as a Boilermaker. He joins his dad with at least one 100 yard rushing game and he looked good between the tackles. He had a drop or two in the passing game, but any time you get 102 yards and two scores from a guy like Dierking you had better take it.
Al-Terek McBurse - That was the explosion we were looking for. I had just left the stadium before his touchdown, but ATM showed the burst we have been waiting for in the running game. We're probably going to need it too with any prolonged absence from Keith Smith. If we can open holes for ATM he has a better cutback ability than Dierking as well as acceleration. Still, I like any running game where the two combine for nearly 190 yards.
O.J. Ross - I honestly thought Ross was going to return the kickoff after the first Western Illinois touchdown. I think he does it if he jukes the other way on the kicker. On the late first half touchdown drive he had a great rapport with Robert Marve, but a couple of times I feel like he could have moved up and formed an option run or two with him. This is a guy that needs the ball in his hands more. I think he can be a threat to score on every play.
Ryan Kerrigan - Does anyone work harder than Kerrigan? He forced yet another fumble today, giving him an astounding 11 for his career and two on the season. He added another sack and was a general menace in the backfield. In fact, I think the entire defensive line was good. Kawann Short had a great game. Bruce Gaston got in on a few negative stops. I think Justin Kitchens had a tackle for loss. With Brandon Taylor going down and Kevin Pamphile still out the second defensive tackle spot has even less depth now. The only negative about Kerrigan is that he needs a helmet that holds up better.
The Defense - Other than Western Illinois' first drive and a few minor mistakes I felt the defense played its first game in a long time. They generally did a good job of containing Caulton Ray and Bryce Flowers. Matt Barr had to run for his life several time. Most importantly, they kept forcing three and outs while the offense did little to nothing in the third quarter. I think that is what impressed me most. They kept stopping a team that had a chance to get closer on about three or four consecutive possessions. Even the secondary was good. I felt Ricardo Allen had a solid game too.
Special Teams - Any game where we don't give up big return yards, even against a team like Western Illinois, is a good game for us. The aforementioned Ross return was big, but the punting game was sound. Our tackling was solid on returns, and there were no problems with The Blur (Carson Wiggs, Kris Staats, and John Finch).
Negatives from the Western Illinois game:
Offensive Line - This was the worst part of the day other than the Smith injury. Once again, Marve had no time to throw and it completely disrupted our passing game. What is most troubling is that our head coach is an offensive line coach at heart. Peters Drey is still getting called for penalties and I saw Nick Mondek completely whiff on at least two blocks. Thank goodness we have two games to work on things before the Big Ten season. Right now it is clear this is a major issue. Sure, we didn't have any sacks, but there was no consistency in pass protection. If we upgrade to even mediocre pass protection we have at least two more scoring drives.
The line was also not the only thing guilty of poor blocking. Our receivers didn't block well at all down field or on the edge. Cortez Smith and Justin Siller have to create more with their down field blocks, escially on the bubble screen. Those plays were near disasters today.
Not finishing turnovers - Jason Werner had at least two dropped intgerceptions, and on one I think Ricardo Allen picks it and scores if he doesn't go after at. Apparently Kawann Short also nearly had a pick too. We have to turn these into turnovers, as I think they would have stopped two of the three scoring drives.
Injuries - Both Taylor and Smith were carted off with injuries that didn't look promising. We have depth at both positions, but losing one of the best receivers in the entire nation is not something we can easily recover from. We're already down our best running back with Ralph Bolden out. Now we might lose Keith Smith too? I am glad there are still five winnable games against Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Toledo, and Ball State left. We have to get all of those to insure a bowl, then simply see what happens in the other five.
Well, at least it was a win. Minnesota is now deserving of a proper public shaming because of their loss to South Dakota. Michigan is also off the hook now, as Virginia Tech now joins them on the list of ranked teams that have lost to 1-AA squads (albeit #1 ranked 1-AA squads). Those games will ultimately put this win on the backburner and few people outside the Big Ten will notice it.
That's a good thing no one will notice too, because we have a lot to work on. The running game greatly improved today, but we now have to prove we can do it against 1-A competition. The same is true for the defense. The passing game did not improve, and now we me have to go without a guy that you can pencil in for 8 catches and 100 yards in nearly every game.
But we will get better. We have to. Next week against Ball State is another chance to show improvement.