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Role reversal (Great, now we can't even score!)

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I discovered something today. Purdue University football is a lot like Japan during World War II. Every season starts out promising. We show superior airpower, but at midseason it gets taken away. Most time we have a good but not great defense that is slowly eroded away by much more powerful teams, until at the end of the year, after getting a lightening quick start because of that air power, we are decimated and rebuilding again. We don't have a great ground game, much like Japan's army was much worse than its air force. We have aspirations for bigger and better things, much like Japan, but are eventually put on our butts by bigger more powerful opponents (Michigan, Ohio State, etc.)

All this is an attempt to put a historical perspective on today's loss. I did a little research tonight, as I enjoy looking up obscure sports stats. Today was the first time we have not scored a touchdown in a home game since the infamous "Holy Buckeye" game against Ohio State in 2002. That was the only other time since Tiller arrived in West Lafayette that we have been held without a touchdown at Ross-Ade Stadium. The 2002 game was against an Ohio State team that boasted a tough defense and went on to win the national championship (apologies to my wife, STOLE the national championship). The two field goals we got in that game were almost enough, too, as the defense turned in a solid effort against an Ohio State team that always did just barely enough to win.

Today, we were not facing the number 1 team in the country. We weren't even facing a top 20 team. Once again, the defense had a solid effort, especially considering how bad they have looked at times this year. It was still not enough. Quite simply, the offense was pathetic today, and I, for one, am tired of it. I thought the predictable play calling left town with Cheney. Instead, we saw more, 'run on first down, throw on second down, and if we don't get it, throw again on third down,' sequences than I thought possible. After Bryant's very impressive catch and run (which could have been a first down if he had simply run forward instead of trying to make it a spectacular play and getting tackled from behind) we couldn't have made it more obvious that we were going to try a quarterback sneak. Newsflash guys, when the only time you line up with the quarterback under center, even at the goal line, is on a sneak, it kind of gets rid of the element of surprise.

The predictability aside, there was no reason for the offense to not be sharp. We weren't sharp at all today. Painter had plenty of time to throw, as usual, but the receivers were never crisp on their routes and Painter wasn't adjusting his throws to compensate. The line was solid as usual, since we only gave up one sack. We had too many wrong routes, overthrown balls, dropped passes, and bad reads than an offense like ours should have. It's time to stop calling us a high-powered offense, because we are leaving way too many points on the field.

If you can't get a yard in a situation like the 4th and 1 in the second quarter then you don't deserve to win the game. We didn't even try, instead punting it away. It was pretty much over from there. For readers of the Tuesday Morning Quarterback on ESPN.com's page 2, this is referred to as the maroon zone. He clearly defines proper 4th down strategy in this link. I am not advocating that we go for it on every fourth down, but we certainly need to be a little more adventurous than we are. We could learn from Charlie Weis, who at least has the guts to actually go for it when he should.

What is also perplexing today, and on the season as a whole, is our decision making process when we do go for it. We won't go for it on 4th and 1 from the 39 with the lead, but we'll go for it on 4th and 11 from the 23 while trailing by only four in the second quarter? WTF!?!?! I know Summers is struggling, but we need to be able to build his confidence by giving him those shorter field goals. At the time, he had already nailed a 47-yarder, so why not try him from 39 there? Distance certainly was not a problem on the one he missed, and the accuracy will only come from giving him more of a chance. In all we had three chances where we could have tried a field goal but didn't, and one miss. If we convert even half of those it is a different game at the end. And this is a trend we have had in the past, going for it on longer distances when we should kick, and vice versa. Just look at the IU game in 2001.

Still we need to focus on the lack of touchdowns. It's embarrassing that an offense as good as ours can't even get the ball inside the ten all day. I know Wisconsin has a good defense, but they were beatable today. We did more beating ourselves by not finishing the drives we had. We had great field position from two Wisconsin mistakes that we simply had to turn into touchdowns, and we got nothing. How in the hell can we get an interception returned to midfield, then a 15-yard penalty on the next play, and STILL not score?

We're giving up on the running game way too early too. Once again, if we don't run for more than seven yards on first down, we give up and throw the ball. Why not use the option game that was successful with Painter last year? Is it pride from admitting we changed our scheme to fit a quarterback that didn't work out? It worked fine under Painter and can work, in doses, to mix things up, which is what we need.

I don't think I have ever walked out of Ross-Ade more frustrated inside with a team than I did today. This was a winnable game. The defense played very well, especially in the first half, and simply got tired because they were out on the field getting worn down. If the offense helps them out with some points today, we win easily. We gave up some plays, but not an overwhelming amount. For the most part we contained Hill until his big fourth quarter run. Their 400+ yards were much more a product of grinding it out than us giving up big play after big play.

If you had told me that we were only giving up 17 points through the first three quarters today I would have told you that we were going to be right in the ballgame, if not winning. Instead, I don't think we ever seriously threatened. This is a stunning role reversal that came at the wrong time. A win today, which as we saw was very possible, would have put us in control of our own destiny to finish in a tie for second place with the Michigan-Ohio State loser. We simply blew a big chance today.

The Gold and Black message boards are rife with calling for a coaching change to get out of this mediocrity. While I am all for giving this young team a little more time, even I am beginning to think it may be time to change things up. Tiller will not be here forever. I think next year will be his last year, or should be, if we don't make the major leap we have been projected to make since the 2000 season. I grew up watching Purdue during the Akers and Colletto years (making it appropriate we wore all black today, even though it was a good look), and I know what it's like to be even worse. Still, there's no reason we can't turn the corner, but we keep doing the same things without making any adjustments.

In closing though, I am going to say we have to put this behind this. I'm not going to be one of those "the sky is falling" people after a loss that are going nuts on the message boards right now. We can, and probably should, win out the rest of the season. Penn State is a very winnable game next week, and we need to focus on making it a must win game. If our defense plays next week like it did today, against a much worse offense, we should win easily. This is assuming that the offense wakes up and starts finishing drives. Michigan State needed a frantic comeback and a complete collapse by Northwestern to win today, so they are beatable. Illinois and Indiana should be wins regardless. That means we have nine wins going to Hawaii, and finish 6-2 in the conference. That is still likely going to be good enough for us to finish fourth, and because of the way the bowls will play out, get us to Tampa for the Outback. This is assuming an Iowa loss to Wisconsin, giving them four conference losses.

So next week is a must win. Next week is the most important game of the season if we are going to do anything this year. Even nine wins would be overachieving, and that is a good start.