Well, now that I have flushed every shred of journalistic ethics and credibility that I have worked hard over the past four years to earn, I might as well move forward with the promised cogent analysis. The football team itself must move forward too. That is why it is good we have Western Illinois to look forward to.
The Leathernecks present an almost totally opposite type of opponent in Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish impressed me with their athleticism. Their talent on defense was especially impressive. It wasn't so much the poor play of our offensive line but the solid play of Notre Dame's entire defense that made such an impression. Their defensive backs tackled well after the catch and their line disrupted much of our rhythm. The talent differential was on display, and it shows why we must improve our own level.
Expect the opposite to be on display this week. We're clearly the better team at nearly every position on the field. Though Western Illinois is now 1-0 after a season opening win at Valparaiso, we still should be highly favored.
The Leatherneck Offense vs. Valparaiso
Any win for a team that was 1-10 a year ago is a good one. Western Illinois was more than dominant, however, in topping the Crusaders last week. They used a strong ground game to repeatedly pound Valpo. Bryce Flowers had 128 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Former Michigan State running back Caulton Ray also had 86 yards and a touchdown, while Lamor Hickman had another 80 yards. All told, The Leathernecks rushed for 339 yards and four touchdowns.
If they do that again this week we are in severe trouble the rest of the way. We know Ray is a Big Ten caliber back. He ran for 156 yards and a touchdown last year for the Spartans while playing in only five games. He didn't play after the Illinois game. Flowers is a 5'10" 185 pound freshman that obviously had a solid debut. He was even named the Missouri Valley Conference's Newcomer of the Week award last week.
Western Illinois also had balance offensively as Matt Barr threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't have any interceptions, but he was only 15 of 30 passing. Lito Senatus, a 6'3 200 pound freshman was his top target with four catches for 86 yards and a score. Terriun Crump also had five catches for 60 yards. He is another big receiver at 6'3" 210 pounds. If Barr has time to throw Crump and Senatus are two very good targets to throw to. Barr was sacked twice last week, but that was about the only bad thing that happened.
Of course, this was all against Valparaiso. The Crusaders aren't very good even for a 1-AA team. They play in the Pioneer League, which does not allow scholarships. They were 1-10 last year with losses to Division II St. Joseph's of Indiana and Carthage. The Crusaders have regularly lost, badly, to Division II teams, so they are hardly a barometer to judge a team on.
The Leatherneck Defense vs. Valparaiso
Western Illinois was just as dominant on the other side of the ball. They allowed only 10 first downs, 131 total yards, and forced five fumbles while recovering three of them. Only two drives even reached Western Illinois territory. Western Illinois regularly got tackles for loss, but only generated two sacks as a team. From looking at the stats it seems Valpo did most of its damage on the two drives that got into Western territory.
On special teams the Leathernecks were one of two on field goals from Charlie Jouett. He missed form 33 yards, but hit from 36. Chris Fuchs had three punts for only a 30.7 yard average. Todd Speight returned both kickoffs and punts, and had a long of 14 yards on a punt return.
How they match up with Purdue
Honestly, we should have every advantage possible here. Their offensive line is probably the smallest we will see all season. Left tackle Enock Presendieau is the lone starter that is 300 pounds or better. Kawann Short, Gerald Gooden, and Ryan Kerrigan should be able to live in the backfield all day long. Crump and Senatus concern me as big, experienced targets, but I don't know if Barr will have time to throw to them.
Western's best bet is to keep living by its running game. We proved last week that we still struggle to stop teams on the ground. Ray is a Big Ten caliber running back that could have a big day if his line can open some holes for him. If we continue to overpursue Ray and Flowers could each cause trouble.
On defense there will be a few reunions to watch among some of our own players, but there are not many standouts. David McDaniel was a high school teammate of De'Ron Flood. Ryan Demming was a teammate of Bruce Gaston. Still, we shouldn't see many of the same issues that were there against Notre Dame just because the talent level is drastically different.
Best Case Scenario
Everyone stays healthy and we work on fine-tuning the offense. The run defense shores up and holds them to under 100 yards rushing. Al-Terek McBurse remembers he is a 4-star recruit and has his first 100 yard rushing day. Robert Marve throws four touchdown passes while Rob Henry gets his first.
Worst Case Scenario
Ray and Flowers run wild, combining for 200 yards again. The offensive line continues to have issues. The game is competitive for more than a quarter.