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Managing Expectations

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I breathed this afternoon. I had a wonderful impromptu roundtable with Tim, J Money, and Boilerdowd of Boiled Sports at halftime. I spent time with my parents after the game. I even managed a nice, relaxing trip to Harry’s with my old roommate for a Long Island. The elderly couple from Penn State thought I was losing it during the game, but in reality, as my wife will say, I was actually quite calm all day.

The general theme was one of this: It wasn’t as bad as we thought, but it was more painful because of that. At minimum, we left 7 points on the field. That tells me we could have been in the game right at the end if not for correctable mistakes. That is what makes matters more frustrating. We had a chance, and we blew it.

Now, as if things were not fun enough, we have a genuine quarterback controversy on our hands. Do we go into Columbus and the rest of the season with Painter hoping that he was scared into playing well, or do we scrap that and give Elliott a chance. There is still a chance to get something out of this season. Indiana and Iowa are not playing well, while Minnesota, Northwestern, and even Michigan at home are games we have a realistic chance of winning. It is a case of "managing expectations", but at this point we need as many positives as possible.

Positives from the Penn State game:

Kory Sheets – I must give credit where credit is due in terms of the coaching staff. We faced a good run defense and avoided our tendency to completely abandon the running game. Kory made some tough yards today. He also had a couple of impressive runs. I can’t forget to mention that he set the new rushing touchdown standard at Purdue with 40 scores on the ground, a feat that will likely take awhile to top. Considering how much trouble we had getting any rushing room, 59 yards and a score is good. Normally it would be something like 15 yards in games like this.

Curtis Painter (rushing edition) – When he ran the ball, he was the Curtis Painter we need. He willed us to a couple of 4th and short conversions early. These were key, as we played the first 20 minutes exactly how we needed to play them to have any chance to win. His rushing ability early on made Penn State at least think about something else for awhile, which is something we sorely need to do more of.

DeVarro Greaves – I pray he is an answer at linebacker. Once Joe Holland went out I thought we were in even more trouble at the position. Greaves only had two tackles, but they came on two very nice plays. He was one of the few players we had today that showed an interested at putting pressure on the quarterback. If the kid can play let’s keep him in there.

Torri Williams – At this point, he is clearly our best player in the secondary. Now we need him to stay healthy and become a leader of our defense. He is one of the few guys we have that is not afraid to hit someone. He also actually plays the ball in the air. His near interception could have been a huge boost.

4th down offense – Early on we were moving the ball down the field and keeping it out of Penn State’s fans. Critical in doing this was our conversion rate on fourth down. We didn’t even think about going for it on all three attempts, and we got all three.

The turf -- I forgot to mention this in the original incarnation of this article, but the turf ended up being our best player on defense today. I'm not sure why we had no issues, yet Penn State looked like it was playing on a slip n' slide. It saved us at least four points with a slip near the goal line in the fourth quarter.

Negatives from the Penn State game:

Chris Summers – We left at least seven points on the field on a day where our defense actually played marginally well. Those seven points were left on the right foot of Chris Summers. I have long been a supporter of Chris. He’s a good kid that plays a position with an enormous amount of pressure. That being said, something is obviously not right at the moment. Both first half misses were huge in that they deflated the momentum at a moment where it was in our favor. The missed extra point broke a school-record length of makes that sealed probably his worst day as a player for Purdue. He even struggled in punting. The boos he received were a bit much, but Chris needs to get things back on track quickly.

Substitution issues – It’s like the coaching issues I talked about all week were manifested in this next area. At times it looked like a circus out there as we were trying to get players on and off the field in the second half. We didn’t even know what was going on and who needed to be out there. How can this happen? If you can’t even figure out who is supposed to be on the field how can you expect to compete. This was simply absurd.

Curtis Painter (passing edition) – The interception was brutal. I don’t think you can even blame it on a bad route. A fifth year quarterback simply shouldn’t make that throw. The reason I am leaning toward giving Elliott the start in Columbus next week is because he actually is mobile in the pocket and scans the field for different receivers. I can see if from my seats in section 128. Elliott’s head moves, while Painter’s does not. The gentleman that sits behind me summed it up best when Elliott replaced him. "Curtis Painter has cost himself a lot of money this year." His fumble of snap was critical too, as a first down on that play and eventual touchdown changes the whole dynamic of the game.

Elliott’s throw to Tardy on 4th and 10 late in the game was better than any throw Painter has made all year. That alone makes me wonder if it might be time for a change.

The crowd – It seemed like the crowd was never in it today. This was even after we played a great first quarter to give them a reason to get behind the team. It was the most dead I have seen a crowd at Ross-Ade since Colletto roamed the sidelines. It’s almost like we have already given up. I know I ripped this team last week, and rightfully so. Still, I haven’t given up on this team. I still give it everything I have, but today the crowd was resigned to a loss even when it looked like we had a chance at winning. We’re playing the #6 team in the country. Scream your heads off and make them feel like they earned it!

Final Thoughts:

I will give a ton of credit to Penn State. They played a mistake free ballgame. They weren’t overwhelming, but there was little doubt on the day in who was the better team. I won’t even say they survived the game. It was a business-like win that very good teams need on the way to championships. Their fans were very respectful as always. I welcome them to Ross-Ade anytime.

As for us, we are obviously at a crossroads. Only the deluded would give us a chance at winning in Columbus next week. That would put us at 2-4 at the halfway point of the season unless the long lost Spoilermakers can make an unexpected appearance. If the Big ten is fortunate enough to get two teams into the BCS there is a strong chance we can snag one of the eight bowl spots available at 6-6, meaning a 4-2 finish in necessary. I think we can officially count Indiana out from the bowl prospects at this point. Iowa is close to being counted out as well. This leaves eight spots (again, in the two BCS scenario) for nine teams.

Northwestern or Minnesota will be available for one spot simply because each has five wins and they still play each other. We can beat both, and we have to in order to have any chances. Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State are probably safe at this point as well. That’s five spots already spoken for. That leaves us fighting with Michigan, Illinois, and the Minnesota-Northwestern loser. We might be fighting for the Motor City Bowl again, but at this point I will take it.

There were more positives this week than last week. I am encouraged that we at least had a chance against a top 10 team. The defense wasn’t great, but it wasn’t totally awful. Penn State didn’t march up and down the field at will. We’re not a good team though. It is simply the weakness of our remaining schedule and the Big Ten conference as a whole that gives me hope we might still play in December.

The first thing is that we cannot lose any of our remaining home games. We have to have those three under any circumstance. We also must at least split between Iowa and Northwestern. I think most Purdue fans would agree that a 6-6 season looks pretty good at this point.

But how do we get there? Painter and Summers, two players in the most high stress roles, have to be feeling the heat. Tiller even went as far as to say that Carson Wiggs will now be kicking. Summers still must improve on his punting responsibility. Painter has no margin for error in his own role. I honestly don’t know what needs to be done at this point. We have a myriad of issues and I am not in any position to fix them. All I can do is continue to support this team regardless. I still believe, but it won’t just happen. We have to go out and do it.