Monday, October 1, 2012

Purdue - Marshall Recap: The Best Five Minutes in Football

It's 24 hours after Purdue beat Marshall 51-41 at Ross-Ade on Saturday, and I'm still trying to figure out if I'm happy or frustrated and excited or nervous for the Big Ten season.  The Purdue defense had some issues with Marshall's offensive attack, which was ranked first in the nation, and the offense had times of great success and other times of great failure against a very mediocre Marshall defense.  The game was chippy, sloppy, and quite the roller coaster ride, but the Boilers pulled out a win.


This post is subtitled "the best five minutes in football" for good reason.  In less than five minutes of play in the second quarter, Purdue scored four touchdowns.  You read that correctly.  In about the same time it took for the Boilers to score their first touchdown of the game (on a very nice 89-yard drive), four different players found the end zone.  Here's how it happened:
Some happy corners who both scored TDs

  • With the score tied at 14, Shavers had a short run for a TD on a drive where Purdue went for it on fourth and one
  • Antoine Lewis intercepted Marshall's dynamic quarterback Rakeem Cato on the Herd's fourth play
  • Five plays later, Caleb TerBush found Gary Bush for a 35-yard TD
  • Three plays later, Ricardo Allen took an interception 39 yards through traffic to the end zone
  • Four plays into the Herd's next series (already well into Purdue territory), Josh Johnson intercepted Cato for a 76-yard touchdown

This led to a 42-14 halftime lead. Of course, the lead quickly dwindled as Marshall scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter (one off a blocked punt), and it made the rest of the game much more interesting.  Purdue would eventually get a field goal and touchdown to ice it, but the Herd nearly clawed their way back into the game down the stretch.

The Offense:
Bush for the score
Scoring 51 points is great, and even knocking off 14 thanks to our all-star cornerback tandem, Purdue would gladly take 37 points from scrimmage in a conference game.  But this wasn't a conference game, and while there was plenty to like about the offense this weekend, there are still some issues.

First, let's commend the receiving corps (namely Gary Bush, Antavian Edison, and OJ Ross) for a great game.  It was nice to see Bush emerge with three excellent touchdown catches.  The receivers caught the ball, got wide open at times, and added yards after the catch, resulting in over 150 yards for those three.  I know Marshall didn't have a great defense, but they trio still looked quite impressive, and I like where they're at heading into conference play.

The running game was just OK against the Heardsmen. Akeem 1 (Shavers) had some decent carries, but averaged less than three yards per, and he rarely broke out.  Akeem 2 (Hunt) definitely has big play potential but only carried seven times.  I really thought Purdue would have more success on the ground against a poor Marshall defense, but we weren't quick enough to the outside, and the gaps just weren't there inside.  I think there's still a lot of talent and opportunity to hurt Big Ten opponents on the ground, but with some conference powers next on the schedule, I would have liked to see these guys (and their blockers) in stronger form.

Caleb TerBush threw for nearly 300 yards, his most ever as a Boilermaker, with four touchdowns and only one (bad) pick.  Is TerBush developing and getting better or still just doing well against bad defenses?  We'll find out next week against Michigan, and I'd say the jury is still out.  Fans should probably expect at least one bad decision interception though, since he's making this a trend.

The Defense:
It's tough to come down too hard on the defense for giving up so many points.  The Marshall offense worked fast and furious, and it meant starters were constantly rotating in and out to get a rest.  Even though they gave up over 500 yards, grabbing three interceptions is fantastic, and when two of those result in 14 points, I give that a thumbs up.

Short forcing the fumble
Kawann Short had three tackles for a loss and a sack, and he forced a fumble on Marshall's final drive.  He also had a late hit on the quarterback that kept Marshall's fourth quarter scoring drive alive, but it wasn't terribly late, although Short definitely could have held up.  Bruce Gaston had two tackles for a loss and also played a solid game.  There were far too many penalties (9 for 80 yards), but that falls on the offense, too.  A frenetic game like that can result in more errors, so I expect the team to be much more disciplined against Michigan next week.

Special Teams:
The good: Kawann Short continues to get his hand in the way of kick, blocking Marshall's only field goal attempt. Freshman Paul Griggs made his first collegiate field goal.  Raheem Mostert and Hunt had some nice kickoff returns.  Hunt's was for 35 yards and came when Marshall was intentionally avoiding kicking to Mostert.  I'm always excited to see what may happen when they return kicks.

The bad: Purdue had yet another blocked extra point.  This is getting ridiculous and needs to be solved, because it could cost the Boilers a game this season.  Marshall's block kept them within two possessions, which could have been very costly if the Herd had made their two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.

The ugly: In the third quarter, with all the momentum literally behind them, Marshall blocked a Purdue punt and returned it for a touchdown.  They sold out on the rush and absolutely mobbed Cody Webster, who, even if he was a tad bit slow, as it looked, still would've been blocked if he kicked it as fast as humanly possible.  You know the Big Ten coaches are watching film of that and figuring out how they too can get some free points off of special teams.

Best coaching decision:  I loved the play calling in the first half.  The Boilers' first drive saw a very balanced attack of running and passing that led to a touchdown, and Purdue showed big play potential, too, and some great blocking, on a 41-yard TD pass to Gary Bush for the team's second touchdown.  That was part of a two play drive after a nice kickoff return by Akeem Hunt.  I also loved that Hope went for it on 4th and 1 from the Marshall 13-yard line with the game tied at 14.  That took some guts and confidence in your quarterback, and TerBush was able to power through the line for the first down.  That proved to be a big momentum shift as it started off the series of four unanswered touchdowns.  I also didn't mind going for it on fourth down near the end of the game, while the Boilers were well within field goal range (although the actual play called seemed suspect).  It burned more clock, the field goal was most likely not necessary, and after having two kicks blocked earlier in the day (one punt, one extra point), it didn't allow Marshall to gain any big play momentum.

Worst coaching decision: With a 28 point lead at the half, you just knew that the offensive play calling was going to get incredibly conservative in the third quarter.  Gary Nord didn't disappoint.  Here were the first eleven plays from scrimmage for the Boilers in the third quarter:

  • 2 yard pass to the flat
  • Shavers run up the middle (7 yards)
  • Shavers run up the middle (1 yard loss) [punt]
  • 4 yard pass to Tight End Gabe Holmes
  • Edison run up the middle (2 yards)
  • A quick 4 yard screen pass, just barely enough for the first down
  • 8 yard pass to Bush, rolling right
  • Interception - horrible overthrow by TerBush
  • Henry run (3 yards)
  • Shavers run, handoff from Henry (1 yard)
  • Incomplete pass by TerBush (not even close to the receiver) [blocked punt for a Marshall TD]

This led to two punts, one of which was blocked for a touchdown, and an interception.  Fortunately, the offense was able to wake up on the next series and drive down the field for three points.

Worst Call by a Zebra:
For a good portion of the first half, it seemed like the refs had no idea what was going on.  Both teams were playing very undisciplined, with a few plays that saw three or four flags on the field.  I can't judge the calls since the stellar work by the Big Ten Network failed to show video evidence of many of the calls (most notable some holding and personal foul penalties), so I have to take their word for it.  I just felt like the zebras wasted a lot of time figuring out what was going on, how many penalties actually occurred, and how many licks it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but maybe they were spot on.

Therefore, I'd like to take this moment to rip on the broadcast booth.  Erik always has a field day with whatever boneheaded mistakes they make in his Broadcast Recap, but let me chime in.  During multiple times in the second half, the play-by-play guy (I'm too lazy to go to my DVR and look it up right now) mentioned how a Marshall drive was "their worst drive of the game" when it resulted in a three-and-out or stalled series.  Really?  That's worse than that time they threw an interception for a touchdown?  Or it's worse than that time they did the exact thing again?  Really? Clearly he was thinking that such a prolific offense couldn't do worse than scoring zero points, but thirty minutes prior that same offense was scoring negative six points.  Also, if I have to hear that schmuck say "big gainer" one more time, I think I'll puke.

Another complaint on the play-by-play: they sure liked singing the praises of Marshall's offense.  After being stifled by the Purdue defense to a three-and-out on their first series (with far too little fanfare, in my opinion), on their next series Marshall did an excellent job driving 85 yards down the field for a touchdown.  That series consisted of eight complete passes, one incomplete pass, two runs for positive yardage, and one rush for a loss.  The announcers drooled over themselves highlighting how it was the "perfect" drive.  As I said, I agree that it was excellent.  However, I'm surprised it brought the booth to orgasm after they had just watched Purdue march down the field in similar fashion on the previous series.  That drive: 89 yards, five complete passes, no incomplete passes, six rushes for positive yards, one run for no gain.  Call me crazy, but I think the Boilers had the more efficient drive.  Both were exactly twelve plays, too.  If that wasn't enough, Purdue should have shut them up when their next drive consisted of only two plays for 44 yards and a touchdown.  I think that's a far more perfect drive, so Shut the Boiler Up, BTN!

Most Important Play:
There were a lot of critical plays that saved the lead in the fourth quarter: TerBush scrambling to find Gary Bush on third down for Purdue's final touchdown, stopping Marshall's two-point conversion that would have made it a one possession game, Edison easily recovering the onside kick, or Kawann Short forcing Cato to fumble on Marshall's final drive.  But I have to hand this week's award to the back-to-back pick sixes courtesy of Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson.  After having issues stopping Cato's offense, not only did these plays change the entire momentum of the game, but they also gave me the biggest thrill, especially Johnson's catch and run, as I almost woke up my kids, yelling and laughing so loudly. Allen had the more nimble run through traffic, but Johnson had to motor 76 yards and prevented a Marshall scoring opportunity.

The "My sister could have executed that play better" Award:
In the first quarter, with Purdue leading 14-7, the Boilers looked like they were finally going to have to punt with 3rd and 17 at the 13-yard line, but TerBush scrambled around and eventually found Crosby Wright with a 21-yard pass.  I was ecstatic for the first down (and to not have to punt from our end zone), but thanks to a personal foul (which BTN never showed) on Left Guard Peters Drey, the play was called back, resulting in only a six-yard gain, and TerBush was sacked on the next play.  While there was a lot of jawing between the Boilers and Herd during the game (and I think some clear cheap shots by Marshall), you have to be smarter than that and not commit silly personal fouls (I think Drey was called for blocking a "defenseless" player).  How could my sister have executed that play better?  Well, she wouldn't be able to block an eight-year-old, let alone a lineman, and if a player was saying something to get under her skin, she'd more likely just verbally abuse him and save Purdue the penalty yards.  Also, I really want to play a video game that lets me play my sister as the left guard for a football team.  Might as well just lock the joystick down to roll right off the snap.

The Biggest Missed Opportunity
Overall, I can't highlight one missed play that would have changed the tide of the game too drastically, although Frankie Williams almost getting an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter would have been nice to put the nail in the Herd's coffin.  Instead, I think the biggest missed opportunity was how poorly the team as a whole played coming out of halftime.  The offense went three-and-out, then TerBush threw a pick, followed by another three-and-out with a blocked punt for a touchdown.  The defense also gave up a big touchdown drive on their first series after the half.  I understand that playing with a big lead, it's sometimes hard to get motivated, but Purdue always seems to take a nap during halftime and have trouble getting back into game speed.  I blame this on the coaching staff more than the players.

Picks of the Week Update:
Erik correctly predicted that Marshall would beat the spread in a loss to the Boilers (although we were both pretty far off on the total points scored), so he takes the lead thanks to his $6 dessert.  Erik now stands at $14 while I trail with $6.50.  Maybe we need to take the bets up a notch for the Big Ten season?

In Conclusion:
Purdue ends their non-conference season 3-1, with the only loss coming at the last seconds on the road to a Notre Dame team that is undefeated and currently ranked ninth in the AP poll.  Heading into the season, I don't think many fans were expecting anything better than that, so the Boilers are on the top end of where they could/should be right now.  The Big Ten Leaders division is wide open, with Purdue and Wisconsin the only teams remotely good enough to qualify for the title game, so the season should be considered a disappointment if the Boilers don't end up in Indianapolis.  Two months ago I was hoping for an 8-4 season, but probably expecting a 7-5 finish (pre-bowl game).  With no dominant Big Ten teams on the schedule other than Ohio State, the sky's the limit.  I'm hopeful that the team's talent can take them that far, but I'm still nervous about the coaching and the high expectations fans and players have.  Purdue hasn't responded well to high expectations in the past.  But Boiler Up, and let's score some more pick sixes next week against Michigan (we know Denard can throw them!).

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