I've had about 24 hours to let NU's win yesterday marinate and whatnot, and now it's recap time.
Basically, it's impossible to feel anything but good after that win, just because it was so improbable. I mean, 24 unanswered points? I mean, look in the comments section of yesterday's post, and you can smell the despair in the comments in the early part of the game. The team that went down 21-3 was the same team we'd seen in the first four games, the one with major defensive issues.
There was a two-play sequence in the first quarter that featured arguably the worst defense I'd ever seen: on the first play, Ralph Bolden ran up the middle, and when he was tackled, seven yards later and about seven seconds later, he had done two spin moves, actually been touched by four defenders and passed within a one-yard radius of eight defenders. And none of those eight were the one that tackled him.
Then, the Aaron Valentin touchdown screen that saw Brad Phillips do his best impression of the guy that got sculpted out of the Heisman trophy and letting Valentin completely manhandle him, then he ran for 70 yards right after that.
But something clicked.
The defense we saw in the second quarter on wasn't just improved on this year's performances, it was legitimately as good as the unit we saw last year. They were hitting Ralph Bolden - hard, mind you - at the line of scrimmage and a little further. They were getting pressure on Joey Elliott and flushing him out of the pocket. And they were hitting the ballcarrier like mad, and of course, stripping him a lot of the time. They put the "forced" into "forced fumbles". This team, outside of maybe Demos' game-winner vs. EMU, hadn't really shown any sort of excitement in terms of sideline celebrating, but you could see, after every big hit, our defense was getting hype out there. It's kind of fun to watch, actually, especially when the mics picked up our guys celebrating on field because the Ross-Ade was so quiet at some points. The defense just got themselves together, and they won this ballgame - I mean, six turnovers, great field position, and of course, a game-winning goal-line stand which featured truly awesome pass coverage. This could actually be the unit we thought they might be, but then again, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let's hit some bulletpoints:
- Not to nitpick after a huge win like that one yesterday, but our offense looked the worst they had all year. The defense was giving us the ball in opponent territory time after time, and we were turning it into field goals. First things first, I think we need to rethink our goal line playcalling. When we get close to the end zone, we need to make a choice: do we want to run a goal line set, or do we want to keep playing the spread the way we have for the previous 80 yards? Because what we're actually doing is keeping ourselves in a four-wide spread, and running the ball up the middle. Which doesn't work. I say we stick with what got us to the goal line and keep our wideouts spread and let Kafka do the work with his arm, with an occasional sprint up the gut, but keeping that offensive unit on the field and calling plays that are completely incompatible with those personnel is silly.
- Also, when you're down two, and anywhere near field goal range: kick the field goal. Seriously.
- Two people deserve an a-men today: Stefan Demos, who managed not to mess up once, which is really all you ask of a kicker, and even aided a turnover with the whole rugby punt thing, and also he was probably applying heavy amounts of grease to the ball considering we recovered two, almost three, fumbles off of his kicks. Also, Sherrick McManis, because that pick is one that can't get talked about enough. Watching the replay, it was truly an amazing play: down 21-3 and messing up a fourth-down conversion, we looked dead-to-rights, then, McManis stepped in. He made Smith look wiiiiiiiiiide open, baited Elliott into the throw, and just swooped in, and, hey, now we have ourselves a game.
- It was good to see Mike Kafka use his feet a little on both designed plays and scrambles - I'd like to see more options and less shotgun delay runs up the middle that get stuffed for two yards. Passing downs are passing downs for a reason, sometimes. Anyway, the running game - both Kafka's, off options and whatnot, and just the running game in general - will vastly improve when we have our #1 running back back. Not that our guys in there now are playing bad, but we do need Simmons.
- Thing that works: running back screens with great o-line blocking when the other team is blitzing. Thing that doesn't: screen to Zeke Markshausen, followed by no blocking from Andrew Brewer, (who was strangely absent yesterday.) I think we tried this play multiple times. (update: i take back my criticism of this play - it did yield a 15-yard third down conversion. in case you haven't noticed yet, i'm an idiot.) Other than that, and one inexcusable drop by Sidney Stewart, our wide receiver corps played well - Markshausen especially.
- Mike Kafka has looked shaky at best on passes that have to travel more than 20 yards in the air. He missed Brewer and Dunsmore with steps on their receivers in the end zone, both were tough passes, but passes Kafka should be able to hit. He's been deadly accurate in the short game, but it's disconcerting to see him missing long balls week after week - he's had at least one misthrown shot down the field in every game except the Syracuse one.
- Purdue didn't use Bizarro Andrew Brewer in the game, so we dodged a bullet with that one.
- I was going to use a photo for this post, but it looks like the AP didn't even send a photographer to this game. Damn, AP, I expected better from you guys.
- Trends: The Wildcats are 3-0 when I say they'll lose their mascot fight, 0-2 when I say they'll win, 3-0 when my name of the week choice is the name of the week, 0-2 when it isn't, and 1-0 when I get more than 100 comments in my game thread, 0-2 when I get less than 10. Just sayin'. I'm very important.
- Oh, and you have to feel for Purdue people. Or at least get your schadenfreude on.
- Anyway, I'm going to shut up. It was a phenomenal win, even if it was only Purdue, and, we might need to just sit back and enjoy it. So let's go ahead and do that.