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Week 5 Big Ten Wrap

I will begin with my one Purdue positive this week. I felt that the Boilers could potentially have a 10 win season this year. The talent was there. There weren’t any overwhelming games outside of a trip to Ohio State. The defense seemed to be improved enough to give an "improved" Curtis Painter a chance in every game. We must not lose heart because if that 10 win seasons till happens, however unlikely it is, we will be playing in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Wisconsin and Illinois, our two Big Ten no plays, already have a conference loss. To reach 10 wins we would have to go 8-0 in conference play, making us the undisputed champion.

Of course, that is not going to happen. I don’t even give it a realistic shot of happening unless we drastically turn things around and pull a pair of upsets the next two weeks. Five things need to happen before we can dream of championships again, and pulling five wins out of the rest of the season for a bowl appearance would necessitate about three of these things.

1. Fire Brock Spack – I can understand one year of a bad defense after that great one of 2003 sent numerous players to the NFL. That should have happened in 2004. That defense was actually pretty good. It was not the impetus behind that season’s slide, and it even came up with several big stops. Since 2005, the defense has been non-existent. To me, it is not a lack of talent (except in one area), but a lack of coaching. We simply refuse to believe that in game adjustments are even legal, let alone consider making them. A prime example, other than Saturday’s game, was Michigan State’s Devin Thomas catching slant pass after slant pass against us last season on third down. If I, a random blogger who never played a down of organized football in his life (I was always a basketball player) can recognize this need for adjustments it has to be a glaring issue.

2. Concentrate on recruiting real linebackers
– Right now we have one serviceable healthy linebacker, and that is Anthony Heygood. Even he is a converted fullback. He’s a good player, but imagine how good he would be if this wasn’t just the second year he has ever played the position. Getting Jason Werner back will help, but this has been the overwhelming glaring weakness for us since Niko, Landon, and Gilbert left for the NFL. I think our line and our secondary are fine, but without good linebackers we’re essentially playing 8 on 11. No matter who is D-coordinator we will struggle until this is fixed.

3. Realize that other teams make adjustments and we’re allowed to counteradjust
– The game of football is incredibly fluid. What works one moment will not work the next. This is true on both sides of the ball. Our coaching staff for too long on both sides of the ball has been WAAAAYYY too rigid. Another example: In Tiller’s first season we ran the bubble screen and it freaked people out. Not more than two years later a no-name linebacker for Central Michigan jumped on the play and returned it untouched for a touchdown. Other teams learn right now, we don’t.

4. Attack another team’s weakness – This may be the most maddening of all. Notre Dame cannot stop the run. We ran 17 times against them against 55 passes. Only once in almost every six plays did we actually attack a team’s weakness. The rest of the time we banged our heads against their strength, trying to break through. Running the ball (without the blasted no huddle) keeps the clock moving, keeps the ball out of the other team’s hands, and keeps our own weakness, the defense, off the field. It’s a strength this year, so let’s freakin’ use it! The same is true defensively, where we knew going in that if we blitzed Clausen he had a tendency to make mistake. Sure we may not sack him, but we might get incompletions or interceptions. Part of this is because we have linebackers that are so weak, but we still rely too much on getting pressure from just four guys. They cannot rush the quarterback and help the linebackers contain the run at the same time. It becomes a guessing game there, and we often lose.
5. Don’t panic
– We are acting like John L. Smith’s teams at Michigan State when we go el foldo after a disappointing play. We showed some resiliency Saturday by coming down the field after the pick six and scoring, but once Notre Dame rolled down the field in the second half it was over. One might even say the missed field goal in the first quarter was the impetus behind that. Imagine if we make that kick, then score after not throwing the pick six. Suddenly we’re up 17-0 on the road. We cannot make mistakes, whenever they happen, affect us so dramatically anymore.

Simply put, it is up to coach Hope to fix these things. Only one involves personnel too.

At least the Cubs might win the World Series

Week 5 Big Ten rankings

11. (9) Purdue (2-2) Result: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 21
– And this is where we will stay until I am proven otherwise. Even Indiana put up a fight this weekend after falling behind Michigan State. The only thing that pulls us out of this ranking the next two weeks is an upset of the Nittany Lions or Buckeyes. That erases one of our losses.

10. (10) Indiana (2-2, 0-1) Result: Michigan State 42, Indiana 29
– I guess at this point I should say how every team ranked ahead of us would beat us. Well, with Indiana it is simple. They had a running game about as bad as Notre Dame a season ago and we refused to adjust to a simple halfback draw. This allowed Marcus Thigpen to gash us like Gale Sayers. Kellen Lewis is dangerous too, so we can forget tackling him. He is a better runner than LeFevour. Indiana doesn’t have much of a defense this year, but their offense will win some games.

9. (8) Iowa (3-2, 0-1) Result: Northwestern 22, Iowa 17
– noted Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants said that Northwestern is the worst 5-0 team in college football history, but what does that make the Hawkeyes after losing to them? I can’t see why we would lose to the Hawkeyes, except for the fact that we always play terribly in Iowa City. I’ll be in Miami that weekend, anyway.

8. (11) Michigan (2-2, 1-0) Result: Michigan 27, Wisconsin 25
– I was very impressed by the way Michigan got off the mat Saturday. The offensive numbers weren’t eye-popping and they were helped out by a huge pick six from the defense, but Threet as a running threat paid huge dividends. As they continue to improve, I will be proven more and more wrong about them.

7. (6) Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) Result: Ohio State 34, Minnesota 21 – I find it incredibly sad that Minnesota went on the road and played a better game in the ‘shoe this week than we did at home with a better team against the Buckeyes a year ago. DeLeon Eskridge made some hard yards on Saturday. He is a good back for them to build a rushing offense around and the passing offense isn’t too bad either.

6. (7) Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) Result: Northwestern 22, Iowa 17 – The curse of the pink locker room is broken? Iowa simply handed the game over with five turnovers and 19 unanswered points. The Wildcats might want to worry about their kicking game, as a missed PAT nearly cost them. They get a week off to host Michigan State in what should be a very interesting game. If they get past that a 9-0 start suddenly becomes realistic.

5. (5) Illinois (2-2, 0-1) Result: Penn State 38, Illinois 24 – I am still not quite sure what to make of the Illini. I watched a good portion of the Penn State game and they seem wildly inconsistent. One moment they look like they can do no wrong, the next they are getting burned by speedy receivers and can’t move the ball themselves. The game with Michigan should be very good in terms of positioning for the bowls.

4. (1) Wisconsin (4-1, 0-1) Result: Michigan 27, Wisconsin 25 – Wisconsin choked. That’s the only plausible explanation for blowing a 19 point second half lead. Wisconsin dominated nearly every statistical category, yet turned the ball over four times to negate Michigan’s five mistakes. Their loss was a lot like ours to Oregon in that they had several chances to put the game away, but couldn’t take advantage. Credit then goes to the Michigan defense.

3. (4) Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) Result: Ohio State 34, Minnesota 21 – I think the optimist in me has totally been burned away. Before Saturday, I was actually thinking Purdue had a chance of going to Columbus and winning. Even as Minnesota didn’t get totally blown out I thought that. Now, I expect nothing less than the next game in which we roll over and die after playing unexpectedly close against Penn State this week. Excuse me while I break something.

2. (3) Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) Result: Michigan State 42, Indiana 29 – Jevon Ringer’s worst game this season came in Michigan State’s only loss at California. Even then, he had over 80 yards rushing and a pair of scores. Right now he is the conference’s most legitimate Heisman candidate. If he stays healthy he will also be sleeping on a pile of money with many beautiful ladies at this time next year.

1. (2) Penn State (5-0, 1-0) Result: Penn State 38, Illinois 24 – The Nittany Lions are now a top ten team. They are the only team from the conference that has a somewhat realistic shot at the national championship. If true chaos were to reign, the Boilers would somehow bottle the magic from the great 1999 Michigan State game and pull off a huge upset this Saturday. The more likely of scenarios is that this team will play out of its mind for three quarters, suck me in again, then crush my heart, leaving me to drive back to Indianapolis and watch the tape of Miami-Florida State we’ll have in silence that evening as I write another tirade and wait for basketball season.

Blogpoll ballot:

There is some big news brewing in regards to the blogpoll. It is news that I can’t publish at the moment, but it will mean a lot more exposure for Off the Tracks. It was some very good news to hear today as today was also my grandmother’s funeral. There were a huge number of changes to this week’s ballot because of the number of upsets. My preseason tirade against Nick Saban and Alabama makes me look like a complete idiot, but I can accept that. After all, I predicted Purdue could win 10 games this year. Here is this week’s preliminary ballot. Feel free to comment in the comments.

Rank Team Delta
1 Oklahoma 2
2 Alabama 11
3 LSU 1
4 Texas 2
5 Missouri 2
6 Penn State 5
7 Georgia 5
8 Texas Tech 1
9 Southern Cal 8
10 Brigham Young --
11 Auburn 1
12 Florida 7
13 Utah 1
14 South Florida 2
15 Wisconsin 7
16 Ohio State 2
17 Kansas --
18 Boise State 1
19 Oregon 4
20 Michigan State 2
21 Vanderbilt 5
22 Wake Forest 7
23 Ball State 2
24 Northwestern 2
25 Oregon State 1

Dropped Out: TCU (#20), Clemson (#21), Miami (Florida) (#24).