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Exactly What We Needed

As I was walking away from Ross-Ade Stadium yesterday I couldn't help but think of Sean Matti. We left with about 4 minutes to go, mostly because we had concert tickets in Noblesville for Avenged Sevenfold. Purdue was up 52-0 and had just taken possession after a punt into the end zone. As we walked away, our final drive, consisting of Spencer Dawson handing off repeatedly to Brandon Cottom and Akeem Hunt, could be heard outside the stadium. Eventually, we heard the horn blow right as we reached Mackey Arena because Hunt had scored again.

I thought of Matti because yesterday was the type of game where he would have finally gotten his first career carries, and that made me smile because it would have been a justifiable reward for all his years of hard work behind the scenes. It was exhibited in Dawson's tweet after the game:

srdawson14 Spencer Dawson

Grateful for today. Never crossed my mind I would play in the game when I was waking up today. Love my boiler teamates. Great win!

When hardworking walk-ons like Dawson are getting into the game it is always a good game because usually it means something very, very good is happening. Yesterday is something that every aspect of our program, from the coaching staff down to the fans, needed. We needed a game where were clearly the most dominant team on the field. This was our most dominant effort since Tiller's final game, when everyone but me played in a 62-10 win over Indiana. Virtually everyone on the roster that is not going to redshirt played, and they got to lay extensive minutes. Only two very minor things went wrong, those being a missed Carson Wiggs field goal and the fumble by O.J. Ross.

I think everyone expected a win today, but even I was surprised that we were totally dominant against an option team (a look we really hadn't seen this year) and a team that was pretty good last year (9-3 and an FCS playoff bid). It was refreshing to see us do what we wanted, when we wanted to on both sides of the ball. It is enough to renew at least some faith in the goal of a bowl game this season.

Yes, I am aware one of the biggest reasons for yesterday's rout was our simple physical dominance, but seeing us perform so well in all phases has to give the players confidence going forward. We're now a third of the way to the goal of six wins. Yes, we should be 3-0, but there is nothing we can do about it now. With some of the results around the conference yesterday we have to be at least somewhat encouraged that further growth can give us four more wins. Take for example:

  • Indiana and Minnesota both won, but it was hardly convincing. Most people still expect us to win these games, so these are two of the four.
  • Penn State's offense is anemic at best right now. Yes, it is in front of 100,000 Penn State fans on homecoming, but they hardly look overwhelming at the moment. I would say that if we continue to grow, we at least have a chance.
  • Since Ohio State flat out quit on Miami and has absolutely no passing game, I would say that at least gives us a shot, especially at home. If Ohio State starts the Big Ten on an 0-4 streak (against Michigan State, Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin) what is their attitude going to be? I think anything better than 1-3, based on how they are currently playing, is ambitious right now. If they quit on Miami, what will they do after a rough Big Ten start? I am not calling it a win, but it looks a lot more winnable right now.
  • Iowa didn't look good until the fourth quarter yesterday. It's a long way away, but I think we can take Our Most Hated Rival.
  • I think beating Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan, or Illinois is a major stretch right now, but you never know what will happen if they have an off game. Notre Dame still loves to turn the ball over. Michigan's defense is still awful and Denard Robinson is a series of Ricardo Allen picks waiting to happen. Illinois and Wisconsin simply look way too good right now.

Here are some other major positives from yesterday:

The running game - We do not rush for 393 yards often. In fact, it was the 11th best team total in school history, and the most since we ran for 407 yards against Northwestern in 2002. Now only four of our top 11 rushing team games have occurred since 1976. Everyone looked good. Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers will carry the mail for most of the year, but we proved we have options. I really like Reggie Pegram in the first quarter. Akeem Hunt looked really good and Brandon Cottom is a guy that should earn more carries simply because he's built like a brick shithouse. This was all done yesterday with Jared Crank, our starting fullback, on the sideline in street clothes.

I think it is safe to say that if we run for almost 400 yards on Notre Dame we will win. That said, they have a very stout run defense. They're going to try and stop us, but I think it is clear that running the ball is our strength. I would like to see us run to set up playaction more and really open up the offense. Maybe that is a wrinkle we'll add in the next two weeks. To have any chance against the Fighting Irish we have to have success on the ground. Don't shy away from the run. Instead, take it at them.

Robert Marve - It was great to see the young man back under center. As much as I have liked Caleb TerBush, I think Marve showed a little more poise yesterday. I could easily see Marve starting the rest of this year as our best chance at success and TerBush starting next year. Marve didn't force anything, had a nice TD pass to Gary Bush, and even took a hit on a scramble. It remains to be seen who will start against ND, but neither guy has been a problem at all.

Antavian Edison - He needs the ball more. Period

Defensive tackles - In another key point, we allowed nothing up the middle. That is thanks to Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston, Brandon Taylor, and the rest. The defensive line is still not getting to the quarterback as much as I would like, but they need to keep playing strong against the run, especially with the elusive Cierre Wood coming.

Ricardo Allen - Someone finally tested him deep, and he physically ripped the ball away from a bigger receiver. That was awesome. Micheal Floyd, you're next.

Will Lucas - I really liked his play yesterday, and the same is true with Chris Carlino. Lucas is turning into the tackling machine he was in high school and could be a pretty damn good linebacker by next year.

Final Thoughts:

If anything, I would like to see a little more out of the passing game, but I can't wish for too mch when we kept the ball on the ground and did exactly what I have been calling for. There is nothing wrong with pounding the ball if the opposition won't stop it. Why do teams have success over the middle against us? We refuse to stop it, so they keep going back to it over and over again. We might as well have the same attitude if something like our running game is working.

We now have two weeks to rest and prepare for what could be a major turning point game. In my mind, beating Notre Dame practically erases the Rice loss. No one expects us to win, just as no one expected Rice to win. We're going to harvest every advantage we have, but we do at least have a few. A night game at home should be a big boost. The players now have some confidence after a dominant win. Notre Dame's 13 turnovers (and counting) will help a lot. If we can commit to the running game, have success with it, and keep their offense off the field, it will go a long way toward an upset. That is a big if, but Tommy Rees is giving the ball away like stripper cards on the Vegas strip right now. They also have to play at Pittsburgh next week, meaning we'll be more fresh.

At least we all feel better than we did a week ago at this time.