I am thankful that the good people from Black Heart Gold Pants were able to stop by and enjoy some tailgating time after the game. I got to finally meet two of the other writers here at the site (Juan and Riley) and enjoy some Boilermaker tailgate chili on a windswept afternoon. I even had a nice phone call with Sean Matti's parents on what had to be a difficult day for them.
Those were the day's highlights. Once again, the schizophrenic entity that is the Purdue Boilermakers football team gave us bad Purdue a week after we got good Purdue. A week after we held a potent Ohio State running game mostly in check we had no idea what to do when Marcus Coker ran off tackle to the tune of 139 yards and a touchdown. We treated Marvin McNutt, only the best receiver in Iowa history and one of the best this season in the conference, like he was an ineligible pass-catcher. That's the only logical explanation for him running wide open all over the field time and again for nine catches, 151 yards, and two scores. It really could have been three scores too if not for a dropped sure touchdown.
Coker and McNutt were unquestionably the best players on the field. In fact, they were far and away Iowa's best options to the point where no one else (except Keenan Davis) really needed to do anything. We knew they were the first two options on every play, but still looked surprised when they got the ball.
On offense for us... aye. I am left shaking my head at this point. Ralph Bolden was working, but we only gave him 14 touches. Robert Marve seemed to energize the offense, but he was pulled after his second pick (the first wasn't his fault). We got the benefit of a defensive touchdown, but other than Caleb TerBush doing his usual first drive scripted touchdown we did very little until down by 17.
Finally, we had the bad break of the late fumble that was ruled out of the end zone. We don't automatically win if that becomes a touchdown, but we at least have a chance, instead, this becomes another frustrating loss in a season full of them where the opposition was very beatable, but we shot ourselves in the foot like we did at Penn State and Rice.
Really, this was the mark of a bad football team. As we have seen in 11 games, we can look very, very good if things are working. We can also look very, very bad if they are not. For the third straight year we sent our seniors off with a home loss in a game that we made a metric ton of mistakes in. We lack consistency, which can make even an under-talented team a good one.
Today was no different. Marve was taking some shots down the field, something that has been missing from the offense all year. It worked a few times, but then he threw a critical pick. Bolden was finding room to run, but for the most part he was missing the hole and leaving yards on the field because he was choosing to stretch the play instead of hitting said hole. Brandon Taylor made a fumble recovery for a touchdown to tie the game and put some energy back in the crowd just before halftime. Instead of the defense rallying behind this momentum we gave up a touchdown drive that, in reality, all but ended the game.
I have to credit Iowa too. James Vandenberg was well protected and rarely had to make a difficult throw. they never did anything special because they didn't have to. We never forced them into anything else. Each out route seemed to be wide open and a swing across the field. When a receiver like McNutt breaks on a crossing route and Josh Johnson leaves him to do so, like he did for a first down on 3rd and nine with under ten minutes to play, that is not a player making a spectacular play. That is a blown coverage and not knowing the situation.
Every positive today seemed to be followed by a glaring negative or two. The late Bolden touchdown was followed by that drive where McNutt was uncovered and if he is covered, we can stop them and get the ball back down two scores with 10 minutes to play. We likely get it in good field position too because of the wind. Instead, we give up a first down, they worked more time off the clock, and we later had to go 91 yards instead of 50 or so.
What baffles me is that we have shown we can play so much better. Last week the defensive line was excellent. Against Illinois we kept A.J. Jenkins, a similar talent to McNutt, covered the entire time. We never were able to take the advantage at any time today and that is what resulted in the loss.
Now we have to move on and head to Bloomington next week. Yes, the Hoosiers are 1-10 and possibly the worst FBS team in the country, but I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Would another 62-10 blowout in our favor surprise me? No. Would a 27-17 Indiana win where we turn the ball over five times surprise me? Absolutely not. Akron, Indiana, and Florida Atlantic are the only FBS teams in the country that have not beaten another FBS team this year. Still, they have been competitive against teams that are better than us and this is their bowl game. They give up over 250 yards per game on the ground, but I don't think our coaching staff is smart enough to take advantage of that. It is pretty sad that I would not be a bit surprised if we lost to a 1-10 team coming off of a 52 point loss.
One thing we have learned is that we cannot take anything for granted this year. To me, the Indiana game is now the biggest game of Danny Hope's career. Win it, and you reach a likely bowl game and a level of success that was almost unanimously agreed upon as the ceiling for this year. Lose it, and you have two absolutely brutal losses (Indiana and Rice) to two of the worst teams in the nation in 2011, preventing you from a postseason game for the fourth consecutive year. Most people agreed that a bowl game would be enough to give Hope another year, and I agree with them because of the improved recruits he is bringing in. I still disagree with many of his coaching choices, but I am willing to give him another year if we reach a bowl game because it is still improvement.
If Danny Hope wants to keep his job in 2012 we absolutely must beat Indiana. Lose, and he needs to be gone.