I don't want to harp on the bad things, but I am glad they came out today instead of later on down the road. This gives us a chance to work on things and correct them before it becomes critical. I would much rather know that we need to work on holding on to the ball now than find that out in a crucial game down there road where five turnovers costs us much more than it did today. It was very nice to have the luxury of a 38-0 lead and be in total control of the game before we started to turn it over in earnest.
I don't want to be one to look ahead, but our next two games are against teams that are lucky to have a combined 1-5 record. Neither team has shown any semblance of a defense either, meaning the offense should be able to maintain its high gear if we can get over this unexpected case of the fumbles. How is it we go from not giving up a single fumble in the middle of a driving rainstorm to losing four fumbles on a perfect day for football? Most concerning is that Kory Sheets has now fumbled the ball away three times in three games. Since he's now the featured back this makes me a little nervous. We don't have the depth that we used to have at running back in case it becomes a serious issue like with Montrell Lowe a few years ago.
Of course the most disappointing thing to take away from the day was the loss of Jaycen Taylor, likely for the season. Jaycen just seemed to be getting into his stride today when he left with the injury, and he has been a major positive both on and off the field for us since he came here. If he does end up redshirting the rest of the year we can have him through 2009, but we could use him now. My wife and I actually saw him in Tippecanoe Mall a few hours after the game. At least I assume it was him. The guy we saw had his Mohawk and his arm in a sling while wearing some Purdue warm ups. Fortunately Dan Dierking has been a very pleasant surprise so far and will now have to step up even more. It's a lot to ask as a true freshman, but we don't have a lot of other options. It's also time for Sheets to step into his vast potential and seize his role.
The defense faced a tale of two halves today. In the first half it could do little wrong and I was stunned not only by the fact we shut out a very good offensive team, but that guys were swarming to the ball, tackling well, and sealing up the middle of the line. Ryan Baker and Alex McGee seemed to have an easy time stopping runs up the middle, and we were never really burnt that badly. In the second half the defense seemed to lose its focus once we got up 38-0 and I was actually becoming genuinely concerned when the Chippewas cut it to 16. We kept getting beat on the same play where we would play off a receiver and let LeFevour dump off to him about 7-15 yards downfield. We also did not handle their no huddle very well, and once again we showed a staggering weakness against the screen pass. This is a concern because that seems to be the one play Notre Dame can successfully run at the moment and I really don't want to leave anything to chance.
Fortunately a whole lot more went right today. The passing worked with such efficiency that Painter seemed bored at times. The only thing that kept him from more than 400 yards and a couple more TD's were drops of passes that were right on the money. Dustin Keller seems to be making a delightful habit of using his strength to simply will himself to a touchdown. He's going to be fun to watch all season. The first quarter of the game was a thing of beauty, and if we can somehow harness and continue that performance we are going to have a very special year. We took a very good Central Michigan team and put them out of it early.
Even when Central was beginning to make a bit of a comeback you had to have confidence that we would find an answer, and that's exactly what we did. We came up with a big Dorien Bryant return, another quick TD, and the defense stiffened for a couple of more stops. So far we have show that we have a decent run defense, but I know much of that is due to the fact we have had a big lead in every game and forced teams to pass on us. That is naturally going to skew the stats, especially today when we were pretty laidback in the second half, but when it mattered most today the defense stepped up and played very well. Minnesota will be more of a challenge next week, but they have been an attack that will dormant for long stretches then bust out so far. It will be a good game for our defense to work on keeping its focus.
Speaking of keeping focus, we cannot afford to look ahead no matter how bad Notre Dame is playing. We need to be concerned about Minnesota and Minnesota only, because a good start in the conference is of the utmost importance. We cannot afford to lose to the team that certainly looks like the worst in the Big Ten at the moment. Minnesota has been very susceptible to the pass so far, and they haven't even faced a really good passing team yet. If we can get off to another good start in the Metrodome next week we shouldn't have too much trouble.
At the same time I cannot help but think a very special year is in the making. Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern all lost games today that they had no business losing. Notre Dame can't find the end zone with a map, compass, Indian guide, GPS system, touchdown Jesus, and a giant flashing neon sign that says, "The end zone is over here." Surprisingly Michigan State and Indiana are looking like our toughest opponents after Ohio state and Penn State. Even Wisconsin had an unexpectedly tough day against the Citadel.
A quarter of the way through the season shows that things have gone better than expected, but we faced a little adversity for the first time today. It may be good for conditioning to have had the #1 units on the whole field for a game when they may not get a chance to do so over the next two weeks. Things that were once a concern are now a strength, but we're far from being a perfect team. I'll be happy if the offense keeps scoring 45 points a game and the defense plays well enough to just keep teams under 30. Just like last year we find ourselves about to face Minnesota in search of a 4-0 record after playing three lesser opponents. The difference this year though is night and day, as a win is expected and almost a given in the minds of many fans instead of merely hoped for.
It's time to take advantage of Goldy being down. Bring on the Gophers!