I haven't seen so much negativity around here since Robbie Hummel went down. Obviously the series with Oregon the past two seasons was a bad idea. The Ducks infected us with the same ACL disease that took down about four of their quarterbacks and a few other players. We need an exorcism of sorts to pass it on to some other unsuspecting team and let them deal with it for awhile. While I know who I would love to pass it on to, I can't say it here.
Ah, the joys of self censorship
Anyway, we need an attitude adjustment as fans. We're only two games into the season and 14 into the Danny Hope Era, yet people are turning on the program. I have seen comments calling for Hope to be fired already. Thank goodness we're not Minnesota, which is in full meltdown mode at the moment. I've also seen comments saying Marve needs to be benched, there is no hope for the defense, and the running game will never succeed.
Come on, people. Let's take a big, deep breath together. Yes, this team has underperformed so far, but we're still exactly where most people picked us to be record-wise. Let's give some credit to Western Illinois for playing a pretty good game and showing improvement in their own right. That is in the past now. We have two more games we should win under any circumstances, so let's concentrate on some positives and what we need to see out of the next two. There is still plenty of time and plenty of reasons to think a bowl game is possible. Remember, a bowl games is a step forward still. With Minnesota crapping the bed yesterday and Ball State, Toledo, Illinois, and Indiana still on the schedule we have plenty of hope for six wins.
It was a win
The radio broadcast constantly brought this up yesterday. Priority #1 is always winning the game. Let's ask Mississippi, Kansas, Ball State, Akron, Minnesota, and Virginia tech about how their games with 1-AA foes went. I am not as troubled as I thought I would be because the first string defense held them to seven points through the first 55 minutes. By then, the game was well in hand and we were working with some backups. I am not as concerned about the final two scores because of that. The game was well in hand, so how much were we caring on the field.
The running game worked
Some will say it was only against a 1-AA opponent, but we have rarely run for 200 yards as a team even against 1-AA teams. Dan Dierking played a great game and showed he can be an every down back if we need him. I think Al-Terek McBurse gained some confidence and will now get some more carries as well. Both of these guys will get a chance to show improvement in the next two games.
Rob Henry showed he can pass
This was a big one to me because teams were quickly figuring out that he was only in for running purposes. Un fortunately, if he goes on to become one of the greats of The Cradle his first career pass in a game will be remembered as the one that ended Keith Smith's Purdue career. Still, he showed he can throw it and if not for some drops he would have had the offense moving. I am troubled by the switching of QB's because it reminds me of Robert Marve's previous situation with Jacory Harris, but I think Henry played most of the second half yesterday because Marve was shaken up. It was a situation where we were preventing more injury. I do still like sending in Henry for a series or two because of his running ability. As for what else we need to work on in the next two games, believe me, there is an extensive list.
1. Offensive Line - I liked the comment I saw in last night's game wrap pertaining to our line being a sieve. BenJapal responded with, "Calling our offensive line a sieve is to imply that a small amount was being restrained."
He's exactly right. Peters Drey had a pretty bad game. I think there was at least one bad snap, and he somehow managed to commit three penalties on two plays. Nick Mondek is whiffing on blocks left and right at right tackle. I thought he was supposed to be the best guy there! What happened to Trevor Foy and Ryan Prater? These issues are most troubling considering that Danny Hope is a heck of an offensive line coach and he served in that capacity during Tiller's final season. That means this line has been in development for three years, yet the only solid pieces are Ken Plue and Dennis Kelly.
Still, they did get something done yesterday because we gained 200 yards on the ground. Something has to improve in the passing game though. Marve has had very little time to through and even on roll outs there I little blocking down field. I can understand Notre Dame having more defensive discipline, but Western Illinois? If anything, the passing game worked better against the Fighting Irish. What's even more troubling is that Hope said he felt the line did well against the Irish.
There must be improvement this week. Ball State has struggled with two 1-AA teams and even lost one of those games. It is entirely possible they are worse than Western Illinois. If see improvement I think it will clear up a lot of offensive problems.
2. Developing receivers - Well, with Smith out now we're going to need to spread the ball around more. I like that we have plenty of depth, but you don't replace a 1,100 receiver easily. Justin Siller and Cortez Smith now must take bigger roles in the offense. Antavian Edison or O.J. Ross will now likely take a bigger role in the slot. Gary Bush still hasn't caught a pass yet, while we have Waynelle Gravesande, Tommie Thomas, and Xavier Reese as targets.
Someone is going to have to catch passes. We have too much speed and raw talent at receiver to totally give up on the season. Yes, I recognize that Keith Smith is also a leader of this team, but we have no choice but to get over it and move on. I am excited by what I saw from Ross yesterday. If we get just one guy that can emerge as half the target Smith was, we'll be fine.
3. Continued defensive improvement - I am one of the few encouraged by the defense yesterday. They showed marked improvement and played nearly a perfect third quarter. When is the last time you can say you saw a perfect third quarter from a Purdue defense against anyone? The elements are there. I am seeing better tackling. The linebackers still leave the middle of the field open too much, but the secondary has been a major plus so far. Shoot, Ricardo Allen has enough confidence that he even was able to be used on a few blitzes yesterday. Remember in 2006 when we were afraid to blitz at all with more experienced players? Allen is playing in his second collegiate game and he is all over the field. This kid is going to be great.
As for the linebackers, I really like Will Lucas so far. Jason Werner is playing with a ton of heart. Joe Holland has done well too. We're going to be fine here. The defensive line is excellent with Ryan Kerrigan being a beast and Kawann Short teaming with Bruce Gaston. This whole defensive unit needs to solidify over the next two games and it will be quite good going into the Big Ten. To me, it's not about yards. I don't care that we gave up some yards yesterday. I care that we only gave up 7 points while the game was still competitive.
I would like to see more turnovers too. We still don't have an interception, but Werner dropped two yesterday. Max Charlot very nearly had a pick yesterday that probably would have resulted in a touchdown.
4. More running game - Okay, we got our 100 yard rushing game out of Dierking. McBurse showed some burst and cracked over 80 yards on only five carries. It's time to build on it. Jared Crank was delivering some great blocks at fullback yesterday, so if the line can improve we can use him for downfield blocking instead of save the quarterback/running back's ass blocking.
I am wondering why we haven't seen Reggie Pegram yet. He's been out on special teams, but there have been no carries from the guy that was supposed to take a bigger role with Ralph Bolden out. We haven't seen Derek Jackson yet at fullback, either.
5. Consistency on Special Teams - This was a nice bonus yesterday. The Blur (Carson Wiggs, John Finch, and Kris Staats) has been perfect. Cody Webster got his feet wet yesterday. The coverage units were good. I still want to see Edison back on punt returns as he's more of a threat to do something, but as long as Gravesande keeps catching the ball I'll take it after last year's troubles. This aspect of the game yesterday was fine at least. We got plenty of practice in the punting game too. Wiggs even had a 54 yard boot here.
6. Winning without showing anything - Ultimately, this is the biggest thing I want to see. I want to see that these two games are the easy wins they should be. They need to game swhere we are working on basic fundamentals that need to be improved as stated above, yet we still have each game comfortably in hand. I am thinking back to 2006 again here. Remember the Miami (OH) game where we needed a blocked field goal at the end of regulation to allow us a win in overtime? This was just after giving up 35 points to Indiana State. I don't think things are as bad as that yet, but these next two games need to have double digit margins of victory.
Ball State has yet to play a Division 1-A team and struggled in both games. Toledo beat Ohio 20-13 while barely getting over 200 yards of offense, but scored only two points at home against Arizona. It is entirely possible that Western Illinois is a much better team with a healthy Matt Barr and maybe even better than Ball State. We'll know more next week. If we don't see any improvement then it may be time to panic.