National week in review (Oh so close to perfection!)
As my final look at the week that was before the week that is to be, I wanted to take a look back around the Big Ten and what went on Nationally. Not to toot my own horn here (I sold my trombone years ago), but I went a solid 11-2 in last week's picks, so as long as we're not going against the spread I think that means I am a sure thing in Vegas. Of course, it took a week of almost guaranteed wins by the entire Big Ten to get those 11 wins, but remember, you heard it here that I picked all 11 Big Ten teams to win last week. That's just the kind of limb I go out on, nice and sturdy.
So I would like to begin with a caveat. I know I have mentioned in this forum that I despise Notre Dame. So much so that I wouldn't care if Notre Dame Stadium blew up (as long as no one was hurt) and all that. In fact my new favorite one is that Touchdown Jesus is not symbolizing a Fighting Irish score, but He is merely throwing his hands up in disgust at being painted on that side of the building and being forced to watch Notre Dame football.
Anyway, I did end up watching a good portion of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech tilt Saturday night, and the Irish have gained my respect. I don't like them by any means, but they did impress me by going in and winning the type of game that championship teams win. They faced a good but not great opponent on the road in a difficult environment where they were faced with a stout defensive challenge and simply found a way to win. Georgia tech was up for the game, and came out by punching them in the mouth with 10 quick points. There were a couple of questionable calls, as that critical completion-ruled-incompletion-after-review that could have gone either way, but the Irish did what was necessary.
Let's face it: those of you who are Purdue fans that read this know that in no way would we have ever had the sheer cajones to go for the jugular on 4th and 1 like Weis did. I must give him credit where credit is due. Weis has the guts to at least go for the win at all times as opposed to playing not to lose. We could learn a lesson from that, as well as the lesson that 9-3 is simply not good enough. Expectations are good, set them high and try to reach them. This isn't "everyone gets a ribbon for playing" T-ball out there, after all. The Notre Dame line did a solid job of blocking in the second half, especially against the blitz, and their defense was very solid. I don't know how good the Yellow Jacket O is, but they still got shut down after scoring 10 quick ones.
This is simply the type of game that teams that win championships win. This is a difficult subject in my house, as my wife is a Miami alum, but during the 2002 Ohio State season, how many games did the Buckeyes win in exactly the same fashion as Notre Dame won Saturday night? Their victory over us that year certainly was not a masterpiece, but it counted all the same. This is the only time you will hear me defending the Irish in this forum, but dropping in the polls after a victory such as theirs while the teams that passed them beat up on some patsies is ridiculous. Quinn was not the Heisman lock he is supposed to be, but he got the job done. In the end, how can you argue that? I know I would certainly take it.
The only other game that I watched, aside from Purdue's sleep-through on Saturday, was the Miami-Florida State game last night. What I would not give for the Miami defense to be paired with our offense, or at least with our O-line and Kory Sheets. Both defenses were aggressive with the blitz, disruptive, and they mixed it up. I think a tape of last night's game should be mandatory viewing for our defense this week, as even if we don't have the sheer physical skills of both teams, we can learn from the schemes and packages. I don't care if we suck on defense, as long as we're at least aggressive in doing it. The answer for us is to not be less aggressive, but more. Make the opposing team force things instead of pick us apart. We don't blitz from the linebacking corps nearly enough, and if done properly no quarterback has time to get the ball off if we can just provide coverage for 2 seconds. I know our guys can at least do that against some lesser teams and already make us drastically better. Brock Spack, take some notes here. You don't need a speed-rushing end, ala Shaun Phillips or Roosevelt Colvin, in order to force quarterback pressure.
I have only a couple of criticisms for Miami, however, as they are my #2 team whom I will be seeing in person in a week and a half. First, where is the sense of urgency on any of their last three possessions? The difference between Miami and Florida State in this game was offensive line play, as at least Florida State's line gave Weatherford some time to throw in the pocket. Wright had no time all night, and when he did have time, he didn't take charge and make his team hurry up when they needed to.
Secondly, you have an overloaded line on a long, but not overly long field goal with the score tied at 10. Why on earth did the three guys on the right side of Miami's line do absolutely nothing to try and block it? So what if you don't succeed, at least you tried. As is the case for Miami against this year, they have an incredible defense to keep them in games, but the offense, especially the O-line, needs A LOT of work.
The critical play in this game had to be Miami's second quarter interception in Florida State territory. A penalty on the run back and poor execution made sure Miami walked away with no points as opposed to a near sure three if not seven due to field position at a critical juncture of the game. These are the types of mistakes that have plagued us in the past (Does anyone remember the Illinois game in 2001?).
Of course, this past week in the Big Ten was nothing to write home about. The closest final margin was 10 points with Michigan State surviving the visit from Idaho. It should be noted that we scored the most points by far of anyone in the Big Ten (Minnesota was next at 44), but we gave up the most points by far also (IU was next, giving up just 20 to a MAC team with a decent offense). Only the Michigan State-Idaho game was more of a competition later than our game, as they only led by 7 until very late in the fourth quarter.
I was wrong in my assessment that we had nothing to learn in playing Indiana State. We had a whole lot to learn, and it was not good. The rest of the Big Ten, predictably, didn't show much, and I think that aside from us the only team that should be concerned is Michigan State. I also feel like Indiana made a solid statement by playing some good defense in controlling Western Michigan throughout. They will be much more dangerous than people think.
As was expected, most teams scored like there was free beer being given away in the end zone, while special teams mistakes and issues with the new clock management caused plenty of problems. Nobody, us included, showed much of anything as they relied on numbers and talent balance in order to win the day.
Some positives of national note have to be that at least we didn't up like Colorado, Duke, and New Mexico and actually lose to a 1-AA team. Northern Arizona and Kansas State (remember them?) were also in much closer than comfortable games against the lesser division than us, so we can take a little solace from that. Kansas State even had to survive a failed 2-point conversion attempt by Illinois State in the closing minutes to hang on to a one point win. I give massive props to Illinois State for going for the gusto there and trying to get the win.
Nobody showed much of anything, and I don't expect anybody else to show much next week either. Week one is always very plain, as the only true news is when an upset much like Montana State-Colorado occurs. In the few big games, most plays are made out of necessity. I do think that Minnesota has a very interesting game coming up at Cal this week, as I want to keep an eye on it to see what to expect when the Gophers come to town in a few weeks. Cal might be overrated, or they might have had a bad game. How Minnesota plays against them should tell us a lot before homecoming.
Coming up next: Week 2 Big Ten previews and my thoughts on our Miami of Ohio game.