Today was far from perfect, but it was enough. Purdue looked better. That is a big step forward after the past two weeks. The offense looked very solid under Robert Marve before he got hurt. We had trouble with the deep ball, but we were willing to throw it. Most importantly, the defense looked very solid. I won't fault them for the 13 points. They were forced to defend a short field both times, once because of a turnover and the other time because of a long kickoff return.
Was this enough to expect a great season? No. If we continue to stagnate on offense we're going to get eaten alive by better teams. It was better than last week though. The defense showed it can hold a lead, something Purdue defenses of the past have been unable to do. The key is to get better, and we did that in the past week. We now need to get better next week against a team we have scored 104 points against in the past three seasons.
Positives from the Ball State game:
The Defense - The unit as a whole had a great game. They got gashed on a few runs by MiQuale Lewis, but when you look at the final product they allowed a lot less than the past two weeks. Both touchdown drives combined were only 65 yards. One of the missed field goal drives was only seven yards, while the other was Ball State's longest of the day. They moved 54 yards to missed a long field goal. Consecutive three and outs in the third quarter were huge once again.
The nice part is that we didn't need Ryan Kerrigan to have a huge game in order to be successfully defensively. Sure, he did some Ryan Kerrigan things like a monster sack on third down, but others guys played well too. Ricardo Allen is going to be a fantastic player, and his interception today was the first of many. Kawann Short is a weapon just by jumping with his hands in the air. That simple gestures blocked two passes and an extra point. Here is a guy that was a power forward on E'Twaun Moore's state championship team. That shot blocking ability is carrying over well.
There were more good performances too. Albert Evans had a sack. Jason Werner had a nice pick and run. Gerald Gooden forced a fumble and broke up a pass. If we can ever figure out how to defend the middle of the field (Dwayne Beckford, I am looking at you) we're going to have an excellent defense. I am already very pleased with the defensive line.
O.J. Ross - This young man played everywhere we needed him to play. He is going to return a kickoff for a touchdown. It is only a matter of time. The first touchdown with him in the open field was very sweet. There was no way that safety was going to bring him down. He showed that he could end a one-on-one situation with one move. The more we get him the ball, the better.
Cortez Smith - The cutest scene of the day involved him too. From our seats I saw his family with a little boy that had to be about 3 or 4. He was wearing a custom #7 jersey that said "Uncle Tez" on the back. Uncle Tez had a great game for his young nephew. His first TD was born out of his elusiveness, while the second was him continuing to run his route and sticking with the play. I think he can be the possession receiver we need to replace Keith Smith. Cortez also had the key downfield block on Antavian Edison's 18 yard run.
Robert Marve - He couldn't have started the game better. After two incompletions he had nine straight completed passes for 100 yards and two scores. I know he was pulled due to injury, as twice he limped off the field. I think the second time we just wanted to play it safe with him. On the fourth and 2 I think he saw something, but slipped as he was going outside. That slip caused him to tweak a knee, which limited him the rest of the day.
Rob Henry - Today was some valuable experience for Rob. His throwing motion was very strange, especially on the TD to Cortez Smith, but Rob ended the day as our leading rusher and got his first career touchdown pass. We now have two quarterbacks with more experience than we had at any point last year.
The running game in general - Al-Terek McBurse missed the game with a foot injury. Dan Dierking was questionable with a foot injury. That left us with one healthy scholarship running back in Reggie Pegram, but instead of playing him we spread things around and earned 200 yards on the ground. If we rush for 200 yards as a team we should never lose. Antavian Edison, Justin Siller, and Ross took turns in the backfield with some modest success. Jared Crank had a few carries. Derek Jackson, while not having a carry, laid some great blocks. Maybe we will be able to get buy on the rushing-by-committee approach.
Offensive line play - They improved and only allowed one sack. They also blocked for 200 yards rushing. This was a huge step forward from last week. Keep it up.
The freshmen - This is me thinking way ahead, but I'm starting to get excited for the next few seasons because we're such a young team. Rob Henry, O.J. Ross, Ricardo Allen, Bruce Gaston, and Will Lucas are all playing key roles already in their first year of eligibility. Antavian Edison, Kawann Short, and ATM are only in their second years. This is a very talented group that can do some special things before their time is done.
Harry's Chocolate Shop and the Boilermaker Heroes - Mrs. T-Mill and I were able to get in a Harry's visit today and the Long Islands were superb as always. We even met the Boilermaker Heroes, regular readers who are excellent fans and even funnier people in person. Kudos to you, gentlemen. You can bet we will return for more revelry.
Sean Baker - I must give credit where it is due. Baker is a hell of a safety and I wish we had him.
Negatives from the Ball State game:
Special Teams Coverage - the final seven points of the game are a direct result of not staying in our lanes on a kickoff. It looks like out best coverage is to have Carson Wiggs kick the ball out of the end zone.
Punting - Hopefully this was an aberration, as it had been quite solid before today.
Stagnant offensive stretches - This is a hard one to figure. We started out like we were going to be unstoppable, then did nothing in the middle two quarters. We never challenged much in the middle of the field, and the passing game seemed to really go away with Henry in there. That is disconcerting to say the least. Henry had three completions for 89 yards, but 76 of those came on a fluke tipped pass to a receiver that was 10 yards further down field. While it was a great play, you can't rely on that.
I think a lot of this was related to Marve's injury. The passing game really went south when he left the first time. That doesn't make m feel good if he ever misses a significant amount of time. We have to be two dimensional with Henry in the game. He has to be at least a threat as a passer.
We have been able to survive these stretches the last two weeks because the defense has played great when the offense has taken a break. While this is encouraging defensively, we have to do something once the conference season starts. We only have one more tune up game left, and the middles quarters have produced very little so far. At least we had the encouragement of the first quarter.
The pieces are still not quite there, but I feel like we're a little closer now. With Toledo coming to town we should have a chance to get the offense together. We hung 52 points on them last season and 52 in 2007. They have been unable to stop us, so there are definitely expectations for a much better performance.
I feel like we're coming together, but there is still something missing that I can't place. I know it is not a question of talent. Even without Ralph Bolden and Keith Smith we have talent to move the ball. The execution hasn't been as sharp as we have needed yet. We haven't gotten Justin Siller involved as much as I thought we would. ATM's continuing injury saga doesn't help, either.
We're getting better though. That is the goal. We have done what we needed to do and made these two games wins. That's expected. The same is true for next week. We shouldn't be truly tested again until the Northwestern game, and that is after another tune-up plus a bye week that is appearing to be more than necessary in order to get healthy. As long as we get to six wins (and I still think we should) we have moved forward as a program. Just keep getting better this week.