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Mission Accomplished

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That's about the best I can say about last night's Minnesota game. We had a mission to go on the road and get a win to start the Big Ten Conference season. We also were given a point spread of 14 points and did exactly that. It wasn't an overly impressive win or a statement win, but neither was it an ugly win where we absolutely needed Minnesota to make the mistakes it did in order to come away with the victory. Much like the Central Michigan game we built a big lead, got a little lax on defense, but you were never left with the impression that the offense wasn't capable of rolling back down the field for another score to make the Gophers' job that much more difficult. Indeed that's what you could call all three of our second half touchdowns as they were response scores to Minnesota touchdowns.

We won this game because we were the better team. Had the Gophers been a better team we would have been in some danger, but they made the mistakes a 1-3 team at this point in the season makes. A 1-3 team gives up the opening kickoff for a touchdown. A 1-3 team drops a surefire touchdown simply because a guy can't hold on to the football while running in the open field. The only hope Minnesota had was to come out and get up on us early, which we didn't let them do. We've proven this season to be the type of team that will jump on another team early and build a big lead, and then slowly throw more dirt on as the game progresses. It's nice to be at that point where we don't have to be 100% perfect to get a win, and is a sign of progress.


And that is what makes this game so interesting. In the first half the defense was pretty good and made a difference even while the offense didn't do a whole lot. Then again, they didn't have to. We got 17 of our 24 first half points via special teams or the defense, yet people are complaining because the defense slacked off in the second half again. If anything this makes us a more dangerous team, because we proved that we didn't need to just go nuts offensively to put a team away. We've returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this year; we're hitting harder on defense, and causing 2-3 turnovers per game. If that keeps up teams will have a very difficult time beating us.


The offense vs. Minnesota


They struggled and only came up with 7 points in the first half, but at least they did a good job of keeping the ball away from Minnesota. The second half they performed more to their usual expectations by answering Minnesota's first three touchdown drives with touchdown drives of their own. I don't care how much the defense gives up. If the offense can continue to come back down the field and answer then we have little to worry about. We were able to have a steady ground game behind Kory Sheets, who thrived with 171 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Most importantly he didn't fumble. He is the key to keeping the offense on track, because with him we have a ground element that allows us to mix things up. We also were able to run with Painter a few times; just enough to show it's still there.


Painter had another solid game even if he did throw his first pick. That throw was a little off and was just tipped to the right place. The more dangerous throw was the one Jamal Harris nearly intercepted in the second half, but apparently he took unction at having another good play handed to him and politely dropped the ball again. Bryant once again was his normal self. Anything said badly about the offense after this game is simply nitpicking, and we're facing a defense that is just as bad or worse next week.


The defense vs. Minnesota


Cripes! If you read the Purdue message board this morning you would have thought we gave up 35 points to Indiana State again. Minnesota's offense wasn't bad and in all three games before last night they had shown a proclivity to light it up in the second half. They are ranked as the second most productive offenses in the Big Ten behind our own, and rank 15th in the nation averaging 490 yards per game. They're also averaging 35.5 points per game for a #30 ranking in that category. This was not some punchless MAC squad we were facing, and they're going to score points all year. We should be happy we held them to just three points while our defense outscored them.


Cliff Avril's play on the pick was simply incredible, and it may have been the play that salted things away. We forced a total of four turnovers didn't give up much until the game was well in hand. Any team is going to give up points at that point because players relax, opposing teams start passing more and more. Again, this was a good offense; we weren't going to keep them in check the whole game. We were able to keep the lead at at least 14 points the entire night, so all those who are worried about the defense need to relax.


Here's some perspective: Last season through four games we had a defense rated higher than 110 in all categories. So far this season, against better competition (Minnesota, Central Michigan, Toledo, and Eastern have better offenses than Indiana State, Miami (OH), Ball State, and Minnesota did last year) we are ranked 59th in total offense, 61st against the run, 62nd against the pass, and 42nd in scoring offense. We've actually shown we can get a stop early in the game so far, and even a three and out. We're tackling a whole lot better, and we aren't giving up nearly as many big plays either. The only thing I would like to see more of is consistent quarterback pressure, but we're mixing it up and blitzing well to force incompletions on third down. But hey, as long as we keep opening up 24 point leads we shouldn't have a lot to worry about.


Special Teams vs. Minnesota


Another pretty good game here, especially now that we've proven that you don't have to kick to Bryant in order to have a good runback. If we give up an average of 3-4 scores in per game we have a good chance to at least shorten the field on one of them with a good runback. We've seen nothing but good from our kick return game, and it is simply another weapon for us right now.


We also made a field goal, and possibly would have had a second if not for a breakdown in protection. We also simply got lucky when Harris dropped the ball on the return, but credit should be given to both Armstrong and Summers for never giving up on the chase and to Armstrong for being there to fall on the ball. The mistake cost Minnesota seven points, but Armstrong's chance made sure it was the full seven and that they wouldn't get a cheap three on a field goal. The blocked field goal was not Summers' fault, but hopefully the breaking of his streak won't affect him from here on out.


Outlook:


I'm not going to complain because we scored 45 points and got a 14 point on the road in the conference. Penn State only gave up 14 points on the road yesterday and they're looking up at us in the standings right now. Now Notre Dame comes to town. If we give up 469 yards and 31 points to a team that is 120th (dead last) in the nation at 187 yards per game and 119th in scoring at 6.8 points per game (and seven of the 27 points they've scored came on defense) then we need to have a cause for concern. Maybe we started looking ahead to Notre Dame in the second half, I don't know. The important thing is that we won.


And so begins a big week, because we face the rare pressure of being the ranked and heavily favored team in this series. How will we handle our new top 25 ranking? Notre Dame finally showed a little life last week by having some success on the ground early, but they still weren't able to sustain anything late. They are still struggling to contain anyone defensively, so I doubt they will be able to keep up with us if the offense performs well, but if they go with a basic package and simply run the ball to control the clock we might have some problems.


Personally, I can't wait. My regular readers will notice the most commented (a record 12!) posting ever on this blog was the Notre Dame preview, and there were some attacks directed at me. Some examples:


Anonymous said...


ND MIGHT have more talent on the field?
Are you kidding?
Beginning this year, ND will have almost as much talent on the field as USC, LSU and Michigan.
I agree it will be young talent, inexperienced talent. But let's be careful to describe it accurately--ND is loaded.
This could be the year for Purdue, as all that talent is green. After that, the door is slammed.


Loaded. Well, I hope they can get some offensive line talent for all that loaded talent to explode from. Example 2:


Gerry said...


1-7 or 0-8? Ay yes, and I'll believe that when me sh*t turns purple and smells like rainbow sherbet ...

Your hatred of Notre Dame has you selling the team a bit short, while ignoring the fact that the Irish aren't the only team in college football who have changes from year to year. Georgia Tech no longer has Calvin Johnson and Boston College is without one of the men (Tom O'Brien) responsbile for their streak against the Irish (the other two men would be Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham). Michigan and USC should have the upper hand on the Irish, and Penn State looks to be evenly matched. Notre Dame should be the favorite in their other 9 games.

Had you said 4-4, you might be making some sense. 0-8/1-7 makes you look like a biased fool. Do better.


This was my favorite. I guess being a biased fool isn't so bad now, and I am doing quite well thank you very much. In a related story, Gerry here must have been surprised this morning when the scent of rainbow sherbet wafted from his bowl. Hopefully he can tell me how much Notre Dame will be favored against us, UCLA, Boston College, and even Navy at this point. If we lose on Saturday I'll take it like a man, but right now this biased fool is doing just fine.


Finally, one last post, as this was the most recent comment posted just this morning:


Anonymous said...


I take offense to the fact you don't consider Michigan State a good team, where's your big ten love.


My deepest apologies, as I was most definitely wrong about Michigan State this year. That I will cop to.