It was a sloppy, sloppy game against a bad opponent, but this was still an important win for Purdue. Today was the type of game that we lost last year, but somehow, some way we made some key defensive plays and pulled out the win. Defensively, even though it was against a team that was struggling offensively, but we forced two critical turnovers and only gave up 305 yards. Most importantly, we held strong when it mattered and gave up field goals instead of touchdowns. Justin Scott's interception is probably the first time we have gotten a critical turnover since last year's Arizona game.
Last year, this team finds a way to lose a game like this. This year, for the second time, we have made a play when we needed to make a play and, in turn, used the offense to get down the field and get a score. This was a win like the Miami win in that we played a poor game against an inferior opponent, but came together in crunch time to pull it out. It is actually quite refreshing to see that after years and years of blowing close games. This was also the first game that many of us looked at coming into the season as being a loss, but we pulled off a win. Earlier in this blog I stated how we had seven games we needed to win at any cost and the other six were toss-ups at best. We finally got one of those toss-ups and we already have five of the seven win at any cost games. This gives us a buffer in the next two weeks.
We also have a chance to get to at least San Antonio for the Alamo bowl now. Thanks to Northwestern knocking of Iowa in an eerie payback from 2000 when we got the assist from Iowa on the same day as our Michigan State game, Iowa's loss to the Wildcats is a benefit for us. As poorly as Iowa is playing, losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota are not out of the question. This allows us to move ahead of them in the bowl order as long as they finish two games behind us in the standings. Thanks to today's results, the bowl results will probably play out this, assuming Wisconsin, Penn State, and Purdue each win out.
National Title Game: Michigan/Ohio State winner
Rose Bowl: Michigan/Ohio State loser
Capitol One Bowl: Wisconsin
Outback Bowl: Penn State
Alamo Bowl: Purdue
Champs Sports Bowl: Iowa
Insight Bowl: Minnesota (need wins over Michigan State and Iowa)
So what we have now is a way to finish strong and head to San Antonio, where we have been successful in the past. That would also put us in a game against a midlevel Big 12 team, most likely against a Texas A&M, Nebraska, or Missouri. First things first, we need to take care of business against Illinois next week and simply get to the seven wins we need.
Back to today though. As good as it is to pull out a close game on the road, there are still several things that are troubling. The offensive line was terrible and gave up way too many sacks. A couple of them belonged to Painter as he was unable to throw the ball away. The sack he took in the first half that set up the missed 50-yard field goal was simply he not getting rid of the ball. He was clearly outside the tackle box and needed to just throw the ball away. The offensive line prevented anything solid from developing in the running game. As I stated in the last posting, getting our running game going is crucial. Sheets and Taylor are certainly no worse than Void and Jones were the last few years, and they may, in fact, be better. It is a shame to see the offensive line regress, as I noticed Mike Otto in particular had a bad game missing some key blocks entirely. Painter's blind side seemed to be wide open all day.
We weren't able to get a whole lot going in the passing game, but I know that was in large part because we didn't have the ball much in the second half. Between the onside kick, the fumbled punt, and the fumble at the goal line we simply didn't physically have the ball enough to do much. The passing game was better though because it was able to get just enough done. It was nice to see Bryant finally catch a ball or two instead of drop them. Taylor was also money out of the backfield catching balls. Most importantly, Painter threw no picks.
Of course, we now have a full-fledged controversy at the kicker position. I cannot fault Summers for missing the 50-yarder, because that is a difficult kick for anyone, but it's becoming clear that he needs to work on some things before he's going to be ready to be a full time Big Ten kicker. His 37 yard attempt looked good at first, but simply carried too far to the left. I feel bad for the kid, I really do, because I know he has the talent and you cannot teach distance. The accuracy is just not there yet. The raw ability is there though. It's a shame he has had to learn in a trial by fire instead of redshirting and sitting for a year or two, but if he continues to stick with it, he could be a good one.
Meanwhile, you have to feel good for Casey Welch though. Here is a kid that has paid his dues and patiently waited his entire career. He finally gets a chance to play and get the job done for us on a day when he didn't even expect to play. The radio broadcast drew obvious parallels to Kyle Orton's performance four years ago at Michigan State. While special teams was horrible for us today, this kid came off the bench and delivered with the very first chance he was given.
The defense did plenty of good today outside of stopping drives short of the end zone and getting critical turnovers. The coverage in the secondary was good enough that Drew Stanton was forced to try and beat us with his legs. We gave up a couple of big runs, but nothing that seriously hurt us. The only really bad play the defense has was the Michigan State touchdown, and that was because Stanton was elusive and made a play happen on his own. In general, it was a great all-around effort from the defense, even better than last week.
All-in-all today was the type of effort that was good enough to win, but not great. This is indicative of the type of young team that we are. If the last two weeks were a major step back, today was at least a step back in the right direction. I am a fan that doesn't argue with results, and I prefer to look at the bottom line when it comes to a team's performance. At the end of the day, we had more points than Michigan State, and while we had some issues on the field, I am still happy with the result.
I'll touch more on this on Monday or Tuesday when I do my weekly conference wrap-up, but the bucket game now becomes huge for us. Indiana took a step back today by getting drilled in Minneapolis, and they likely have a loss to Michigan coming up, so they will be gunning for us bowl-wise. We cannot look past Illinois though. They may be one of the better 2-8 teams in the country, and they did what Texas, Iowa, everyone else in the Big Ten couldn't do by staying within seven points of Ohio State. Next week needs to be a "take care of business" kind of week like this week was. If we can ride today's momentum and keep things going through the next two games, this season can still turn out to be very successful. Beat Illinois, beat Indiana, and suddenly we have a game against a very good Hawaii team that could be another chance for us to make some noise.
Today was a great job by a group of guys that are slowly learning how to win some close game. The most exciting thing is knowing that today was not our best effort, and we still found a way to win. Yes it was against a Michigan State team that has already checked out mentally, but they are certainly a better team than the Miami team we struggled against earlier this year. Things are moving back in the right direction, and that is a very, very good thing right now.