I have long said that we absolutely had to start 4-1 in these first five games to reach a bowl game in 2011. The middle of the schedule is way too tough, and a hot start against what appeared to be a relatively easy starting schedule was absolutely necessary. The first three games, against a 1-AA foe and two teams from non-BCS conference, were especially critical.
Unfortunately, we have felt this sting before. In 2009, it was Northern Illinois out-toughing us all day long. In 2010, Toledo's previously dormant offense ran wild on us. This year may seem like a footnote in the greater scheme of the Big Ten when teams like Toledo, Iowa State, Rice, and New Mexico State rose up to either beat or scare the bejesus out of Big Ten foes. Unfortunately, that footnote does not benefit our bowl chances.
Make no mistake: This was an absolutely demoralizing loss on all levels. We did a lot of things right. We held a team scoreless on its home field for the final 25 minutes. We once again made a confident drive while trailing to get into position to score. When needed, our defense woke up and got tough, getting necessary stops and even forcing a vital turnover as Rice was driving to put the game away.
Unfortunately, I feel there is only one group to blame for this loss: The coaching staff. Their repeated and completely asinine terrible decision-making continues to baffle even the most ardent supporters of Danny Hope. Some examples:
- For two straight games we have shown that our running game is not only good, but can be dominant if we choose to use it. Instead, Ralph Bolden got five touches in the first three quarters and we continued to try and force the damn bubble screen that does. not. work.
- Once again, we were absolutely killed over the middle of the field, especially on critical third downs. I honestly question if our coaching staff knows it is legal to cover the middle on third down. The only rational explanation for not doing it at this point is a complete and utter refusal to do so.
- We have to be the worst team in the country when it comes to managing our timeouts or the clock in general. It manifested itself today by choosing to milk the clock with field position runs instead of go for the touchdown and the win when we were absolutely gashing them left and right on the final drive. If we're going to milk the clock, why spike it on first down there when there was no need to hurry if you're settling for the field goal? Why not try to kick on third down just in case a block does happen, then you can recover and get a second attempt? Why use your last timeout when you're already in range for a field goal and you have time run a hurry up offense? Why settle for the "rush the field goal unit on the field, sit there, and kick" option?
- Why on earth do you blitz, removing players in coverage, on a 3rd and 22 when you can play straight up, drop seven in coverage when (surprise!) they might go up the field? Who gives a shit then if you give up a 15 yard pass but have 7 guys in coverage swarming? You then stop them!
- Antavian Edison is dangerous in space and was generating damn near 20 yards per play. Naturally, we threw to him four times.
- O.J. Ross stumbled out of bounds with no one touching him while he was on his way to the go-ahead score. This kind of stuff only happens to us.
- How on earth can we have no turnovers and a dominant running game, yet we continually end up in 2nd and 3rd and long situations?
I am really starting to feel for the players on this team because it is clear they are learning, but it seems like what success they have is in spite of the current coaching staff. I know there will not be a change at the end of the season too because Morgan Burke kept Jim "A Tie Is As Good As A Win In The Big Ten" Colletto for six years. Crosby Wright and Caleb TerBush have been major positives so far, but instead of exploiting that with less than a minute left we got conservative, didn't go for the jugular of a touchdown, and settled for a field goal that is always, admittedly, a risky play because of the chance of a block.
On defense, we have become the opposite where we are stout against the run, but we struggle against the pass. Again, it is more from a choice not to cover what teams have exploited time, and time, and time, and time, and time again. There are never adjustments in the game. There is only the hope that teams stop doing what is expected.
So far this season has become exactly what I feared. We struggled at home against MTSU, now we could not win a very easy road game. We're never going to have as big of a pro-Purdue crowd on the road as we did today. Instead of exploiting it, we did virtually nothing on offense. The safety almost cancelled out the field goal chance on the 4th down situation, but At some point you just have to man up and go for it.
I don't know what needs to be done going forward. I am honestly at a loss as to where to go next because we're have regressed so far that we can no longer expect to beat teams that we normally should. Can we get five more wins out of this schedule? Absolutely. Will we? I highly doubt it.
All we can do is go out and win next week to move forward. In the mean time, it is 61 days until basketball season.