Why Danny Hope and Rich Rodriguez Won't Be Exchanging Christmas Cards

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Why Danny Hope and Rich Rodriguez Won't Be Exchanging Christmas Cards
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This is the Nov. 7 edition of Carrying On About Big Ten Football, a weekly series.

You may have heard, but Purdue won in Ann Arbor for the first time in forever Saturday afternoon.

Maybe there's hopes for the Cubs winning another World Series after all.


UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: PURDUE 38, MICHIGAN 36

Five things I learned from Purdue's first victory in the Big House since 1966...

1.  Roy Roundtree will be a storyline in this emerging rivalry for the next few years.  For those who might not know the backstory, Roundtree had verbally committed to be a Boilermaker before de-committing and choosing Michigan on National Signing Day in 2008.  The 11th-hour (okay, maybe 11th hour and 52nd minute) switch led to then-Purdue coach Joe Tiller's infamous comment comparing Rich Rodriguez to "a guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil."

Anyway, with Martavious Odoms sidelined due to a sprained knee, Roundtree got the start this weekend against the school he nearly attended, and the redshirt freshman responded with a monster day: 10 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Roundtree's stats are even more impressive considering he entered the contest with only six grabs all year.  Give the Wolverines' wideout credit for taking advantage of his opportunity and stepping up to the challenge (although the extra motivation from facing the school he left at the altar had to help too).

Of course, Purdue got the last laugh, and on the all-important scoreboard, the Boilers have posted back-to-back wins over Michigan since Roundtree switched allegiances.  Motivation cuts both ways, right?

2.  How quickly things can change.  Not so long ago, Michigan was starting 4-0 (thanks to Heisman candidate quarterback Tate Forcier), Purdue was mired in a five-game losing streak (while Boilermaker fans looked forward to basketball season), and Jon and Kate Gosselin were getting more than their fair share of media attention.  Fast forward a few weeks and the Wolverines have lost five straight league games, Purdue has won three of four to start dreaming of a possible bowl trip, and Jon and Kate...well

Okay, maybe some things don't change.

While it seemed unthinkable after the Wolverines' perfect September, the Maize and Blue are in real danger of missing out on the postseason for a second straight year.  RichRod and his 5-5 football team need to either upset Wisconsin in Madison or Ohio State in Ann Arbor to avoid one of the worst collapses in Big Ten history.  Meanwhile, Purdue sits at 4-6 and could become bowl-eligible by sweeping Michigan State and Indiana in the season's final two weeks, neither of which has a winning record at the moment. 

Think about it: if I had told you on Oct. 2 that six weeks later, Purdue may have a better chance than Michigan at qualifying for a bowl game, you would have laughed at me, left nasty comments on my blog, declared me officially insane, or (most likely), all of the above.

And that's why they play the games.

3.  Ralph Bolden's back...and Joey Elliott's not too shabby either.  The Boilermakers' offense is multi-dimensional again after tailback Ralph Bolden found the end zone three times against Michigan Saturday afternoon.  Bolden started the season with a bang, posting 234 rushing yards against Toledo in the opener and following that with an impressive 123-yard performance at Oregon.  However, the sophomore's performance tailed off quickly, as he was held to a total of 400 yards on the ground in the next seven games (an average of less than 60 per contest).

Against the Wolverines, Bolden was once again finding big holes and ripping off huge gains like he did in Weeks One and Two, and his re-emergence is a great sign for Purdue senior quarterback Joey Elliott, who has turned in some his finest performances in the Boilers' biggest games.  Elliott completed a season-high 31 passes in an upset of Ohio State that turned Purdue's season around, and he rolled up a career-high 367 yards at the Big House this weekend.  The one-two punch of Elliott's arm and Bolden's feet gives offensive coordinator Gary Nord flexibility in how to attack defenses, and if both players are playing their best down the stretch, Purdue has a legitimate chance to finish 2009 with a winning record.

4.  The Boilermakers' run defense still has plenty of room for improvement.   While it doesn't even seem fair to point out the negatives after Purdue's first win at Ann Arbor in 43 years, one negative is so glaring that it simply has to be addressed: the inability of the Old Gold and Black to stop the run.

Purdue dropped an ugly shutout loss in Madison, Wisconsin last week because the Badgers rolled up 266 rushing yards on a whopping 53 attempts.  From my experience watching and covering football, it's tough to pull off a win when the opponent cranks out over five yards a carry.  Things weren't much better against Michigan, as Brandon Minor gashed the Boilers' D for 154 carries and three touchdowns.

Purdue ended the day "only" allowing 4.9 yards per rush, but that's due in large part to Michigan's surprising lack of willingness to stick with a gameplan that has worked against the Boilermakers all season long (i.e. pound it up the gut for sixty minutes).  The Wolverines' rushing numbers plummeted due to 18 Tate Forcier carries, and the Purdue defensive line was largely able to keep the freshman quarterback in check (32 rushing yards in all). 
 
Bottom line: if Michigan runs the ball on every play, they probably beat Purdue.  Since Michigan State might try that approach, Danny Hope had better make sure his unit fixes their tackling problems in a hurry.

5.  Danny Hope and Rich Rodriguez won't be sending each other Christmas cards anytime soon.   As if the Roundtree recruiting saga wasn't enough to stir a bit of bad blood between the Purdue and Michigan programs, Hope's calculated decision to bring offensive lineman Zach Reckman along for the postgame handshake will certainly spice things up a bit. 

To summarize, Reckman was suspended for the Purdue-Notre Dame game because he struck a Northern Illinois player as the Boilers-Huskies game concluded the previous Saturday.  Rodriguez had mentioned the play in his press conference as an example of conduct that the league should look into since his linebacker, Jonas Mouton, had been suspended for a similar incident the week before. 

Hope obviously felt that Rodriguez was out of line (at best) and perhaps responsible for Reckman's league-mandated suspension (at worst) and brought Reckman over to meet the Michigan coach in a "see whose life you messed with" lecture.

Hard to know exactly what was said, since Hope refused to discuss his perspective of the confrontation with the media, but a few things are abundantly clear from the way events played out at Michigan Stadium.

I'll lay them out for you.

a. Hope thinks Rodriguez needs to mind his own business and keep his focus on Michigan players, not Purdue's. 

b.  Rodriguez thinks he's innocent and can't believe Hope would throw something like this in his face months later. 

c. And most interestingly, Danny Hope spent the final play of Purdue's first win in Ann Arbor since 1966 thinking about where Zach Reckman was and making sure he got what he wanted from his postgame chat with Rich Rodriguez.  (Watch the replay and you'll see Hope search out Reckman before Rodriguez.)  If that doesn't tell you anything about how much Purdue's blaming RichRod for the Reckman suspension and how many times Hope used that story for motivation as his ballclub prepared to visit Ann Arbor, nothing will.

d.  November 13, 2010 is already circled on both teams' calendars...and chippy won't even begin to describe the atmosphere.

 

MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT

The color commentator for Saturday's Minnesota-Illinois Big Ten Network telecast was Ron Johnson.

The sideline reporter for Saturday's Minnesota-Illinois Big Ten Network telecast was Ron A. Johnson.

Things like that make me chuckle.

And of course, a few announcer quotes made me laugh this weekend as well...

"Elliott's looking very sharp today, except for the two picks."—Wayne Larrivee (Still waiting for an announcer to say "They're playing a clean game this evening, except for the four fumbles.")

"Back here at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Illinois."—Matt Rosen

"Ryan Seacrest is here today."—Sean McDonough
"What position does he play?"—Matt Millen

"I usually get invited to parties where I have to bring my own."—Craig Coshun

"Those two with the masks on—they've figured with all the pigskins in the air that the swine flu is airborne."—Matt Millen

And the award-winner today? It's clock-management, Wayne Larrivee style .  As Purdue tried to drain the clock with a two-point lead in Ann Arbor, the Boilers were stopped on third down and had to punt the ball back to Michigan.  The Boilermakers (for a change) used textbook clock management, running the play clock down perfectly to one second remaining and taking the game clock to 29 seconds before calling timeout and punting.  That leads to this piece of brilliance:

"Purdue elected to stop the clock and take a timeout to decide what they wanted to do.  Had they wound it all the way down, Chris, and just run a dive play, Michigan would have had five seconds to go.  But at this stage in the game, you want to be sure of what you're doing."—Wayne Larrivee

The difference between the play clock and game clock was 29 seconds.  If Purdue had run a dive play instead of calling timeout (on FOURTH DOWN), Michigan would have gotten the ball back with about 25 seconds left and they would have been forty yards closer to scoring the winning points.  You see, once the ball changes possession, the clock st...

Oh, never mind.

Maybe broadcasting is easier than I thought.


MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT

We stick with Purdue-Michigan in this category because of clock management that wasn't quite so textbook.  As the first half wound down at Michigan Stadium (and trailing 24-10), the Boilermakers had the ball just across midfield, facing a fourth-down play that should have been the last snap of the half. 

What's the highest-percentage chance to score there and cut the deficit?  Hail Mary and throw the ball into the end zone?  Or a 66-yard field goal attempt for placekicker Carson Wiggs, who has one of the biggest legs in college football?

Oh, I know...let's hand the ball to the referee, voluntarily give up a possession, and go to the locker room trailing by two touchdowns.  Because if we try to score on fourth down, there's a possibility that Michigan might intercept the ball in the end zone and run it back for 106 yards, so we'll just skip that play.  It's not like we need points trailing 24-10 or anything.

I've seen teams run out the clock with the ball on their own 20 before.  Never on the other side of midfield in legitimate scoring range though...and especially not when they're down two touchdowns.

(Maybe Hope wanted to hustle to the locker room because he was planning to talk to Rodriguez at halftime too?)

I'm afraid coaching may, in fact, be easier than I thought.


MAYBE OFFICIATING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT

Did you see Daryll Clark's "touchdown run" in the second quarter against Ohio State, where he extended the ball almost to the goal line, pulled it back into his body, and got credit for six points anyway?

Horrible decision by the referee to raise his arms over his head, but overturning it on replay would have been even worse.  Despite the fact I'm confident Clark never got the ball into the end zone, the scrum of bodies on the goal line makes it impossible to conclusively show that fact...which means (for once) the officials made the right call on replay, even though the replay showed it was extremely unlikely Clark scored.

You see, extremely unlikely is not the same as conclusive.  And since the officials got that part of it right, I won't harp too much on the Clark dive.

Especially since it really didn't affect the game except to possibly cost Ohio State a shutout.  Impressive performance by the Buckeyes' D.


THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR

What a great leap by Brandon Saine from the three-yard line to get into the end zone for Ohio State.

Awesome hit by Michigan's Stevie Brown on Jeff Lindsay.

Speaking of big-time hits...Mr. Persa, meet Tyler Sash.

How about the hurdle by Brian Linthicum against Western Michigan?

Loved the Mitchell Evans one-handed catch over the middle against Wisconsin.

And before we wrap today's edition, special kudos to Northwestern for their upset of previously undefeated Iowa...I guess the Hawkeyes' nine lives ran out after nine wins.

Carrying On is a weekly feature on FirstandBigTen.com , a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football. Submit your favorite announcer quotes and highlight plays each week on Twitter to @TimCary - you could find yourself in next week's column!

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