1. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: OREGON 32, PURDUE 26 (2-OT)
Every week, I select (with your help) a game outside the national spotlight to watch, analyze, and report on. This week’s Diamond in the Rough was the Purdue/Oregon game I attended in West Lafayette, Ind.
Being a Purdue fan is a lot like cheering for the Chicago Cubs. I believe the correct word is “fatalistic” (if that’s even a word). No matter how well your team is playing, in the back of your mind, you’re just waiting to see what will go wrong.
Despite sending dozens of players to the NFL in Coach Joe Tiller’s 12-year tenure, the Boilermakers are known for not being able to win big games. Purdue hasn’t defeated a ranked team since 2003, and many of the Boilers’ fans are every bit as rattled by the curse of “The Fumble” as Cubbie diehards are when you mention that Bartman guy.
For those of you who aren’t up-to-date on Boilermaker lore: when current Chicago Bears starting quarterback Kyle Orton was a senior (2004), Purdue started the year 5-0 and hosted Wisconsin in a battle of top-ten undefeated teams.
College GameDay came to West Lafayette, a special season was in the making...and Purdue had a 10-point lead late. Still up three, Orton ran a naked bootleg on third-and-short to try and get the final first down that would seal the deal and run out the clock...got upended as he reached for the stick...lost the football...and Wisconsin returned it for the go-ahead touchdown.
Purdue had one final chance, but missed a field goal on the last play of regulation. The Boilers went on to lose four straight excruciatingly close games, and the program has been mired in mediocrity ever since.
Now, don’t get me wrong: mediocrity isn’t so bad. After all, Purdue didn’t have a winning season in the 12 years before Joe Tiller, so 10 bowls in 11 years isn’t anything to sneeze at. But this whole story encapsulates what it means to watch a football game as a Purdue fan...and yesterday’s showdown against Oregon was just one more chapter in Purdue’s oh-so-close recent history.
Oregon came into the game with superior players (Tiller referred to their defensive backfield as half All-American and half All-World), superior speed (in Tiller’s words: “fast, faster, and fastest”), superior uniforms (thanks to “Mr. Nike” Phil Knight), and a superior ranking (14th or 16th in the country, depending on which poll you follow).
Throw in five straight years of only beating bad teams, and Purdue fans weren’t necessarily expecting the home team to compete for long.
Of course, when tailback Kory Sheets ran for 80 yards on the second play from scrimmage, it started to look like this might be Purdue’s day after all. Fifteen minutes in, the Ducks were in a 20-3 hole and relatively shell-shocked. That means, as a Purdue fan, my mind was starting to play “how can we blow this lead?”
Here’s how: Purdue’s offense took the next two and a half quarters off while the Ducks “waded” back in. From the second quarter to the five-minute-mark of the game, the Boilermakers couldn’t string a drive together to save their lives. Three-and-outs...missing wide-open receivers (you can take down that "Curtis Painter for Heisman" website right now)...stupid penalties...it was ugly.
And somehow, Purdue still had a chance to win the game. The defense got stops...forced turnovers...and hung in. With five minutes to go and the score tied at 20, it was back in the offense’s hands...and guess what?
The Boilers strung together a perfect drive. Absolutely perfect. Out of nowhere, all of a sudden the playcalling was great, the execution was superb, the time management exceptional, and Purdue lined up a 44-yard field goal attempt to win the game with two seconds to play.
...cue the haunting refrain...
How can we lose this game?
How can we lose this game?
Let me give you a possible scenario: the kicker who hasn’t missed a kick all year badly shanks the field goal as time expires, the teams go to overtime, Purdue fails to convert a first-and-goal for the game-winning touchdown, the super-reliable kicker misses ANOTHER field goal in the second overtime, and Oregon wins 32-26.
In his scientific law, Murphy tells us that “whatever can go wrong, will.”
And at Purdue, we worship the man. In fact, I think there’s a building named after him somewhere.
Probably an athletic building.
Final score in a great football game: Oregon 32, Purdue 26.
As the Cubs fans say, there’s always next year/century.
Here are my random thoughts on this week’s “Diamond in the Rough”:
-Kory Sheets came to play. Sheets was the lone bright spot in Purdue’s offense, amassing 180 rushing yards on 29 carries. Maybe he should play quarterback too.
-To me, a Pac 10-Big 10 showdown on a gorgeous day in September...especially against a Top 20 team...should sell more than 54,000 tickets. Agree?
-Oregon’s quarterbacks are probably starting to believe in my friend Murphy and his law. Last year, it was Dennis Dixon’s ACL that probably kept the Ducks from chasing a national title.
This year, Nate Costa went down for the season before it even started, and yesterday, current starter Justin Roper suffered a knee injury in overtime.
Since I’m supposed to be unbiased, congratulations to the Ducks for pulling out a tough win after Roper went down.
-Purdue has a talented young star-in-the-making named Justin Siller. The problem is that they don’t know quite what to do with him. Apparently, he was the quarterback of the future. Except now he’s a running back, one of the very few 6-foot-4 running backs I’ve ever seen.
And oh yeah, when he does come into the game...they line him up at quarterback. And then he doesn’t throw the ball. Can you tell it doesn’t quite make sense?
Siller made one great play, turning a toss sweep into a huge gainer by cutting back to the other side of the field. He also made one awful play, making an ill-advised option pitch that turned into a fourth-quarter fumble. It will be interesting to see what coach-in-waiting Danny Hope does with Siller in 2009.
-Play of the game: Up 20-6, Purdue chooses not to go for it on 4th and inches in the third quarter, much to the chagrin of the crowd. Instead, the Boilermakers punt the ball away...and of course, Oregon returns it for a touchdown to cut the lead to seven. Things started to unravel at that point for the Old Gold and Black.
-Third-down conversions and turnovers are the two biggest stats in every football game...don’t let any announcer, analyst or writer ever tell you differently.
-Want to see your team’s next game covered in “Diamond in the Rough?" E-mail me at email@example.com: tell me which game and why!
2. MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
This section of the column is otherwise entitled: “Things I wouldn’t say if I were an announcer." Without further ado...
Chris Fowler on the AFLAC trivia question: “I don’t think we gave the answer away earlier. But, most of you probably weren’t paying attention anyway.”
Way to insult your viewers, Chris.
Chris Spielman: “When you hit a quarterback, go ahead and hit him low.”
And now we know why so many QBs suffer knee injuries...
Remember, if you hear a funny or strange announcer quote, send it in to the mailbag at firstname.lastname@example.org
3. THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
This category lists the weekend’s scores and stats that make me wonder if my television ticker is malfunctioning:
Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2
An RBI double late keeps the Tigers undefeated.
BYU 59, UCLA 0
So much for the perfect start to the Rick Neuheisel era.
Oh, and special congrats to BYU QB Max Hall on throwing SEVEN touchdown passes.
4. THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
The jaw-dropping highlights and plays of the weekend? They both fell into the Hail Mary category:
Buffalo’s last-second 35-yard heave from Drew Willy to Naaman Roosevelt to knock off Temple...
and Middle Tennessee State’s attempt at “Bluegrass Miracle, Part II” coming up one yard short against Kentucky...a 61-yard pass from 62 yards away....what a difference 36 inches makes.
(Just ask Kevin Dyson).
5. SINCE I DO LIVE IN OHIO...
In news from around the Big Ten (my hometown conference), the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan continues a rocky start. On Saturday, the Wolverines turned the ball over six times in South Bend and dropped a 35-17 decision to Notre Dame.
One of my friends who cheers for the Wolverines told me that “outside the six turnovers, U-M actually played pretty well.”
Which is a lot like: “Other than the assassination, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
The Maize and Blue will struggle until they get a quarterback that’s athletic enough to run the spread. Losing out to rival Ohio State on the Terrelle Pryor sweepstakes set the Wolverine program back farther than the faithful would like to admit.
6. MAYBE OFFICIATING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
In a battle of ranked teams on Friday, South Florida knocked off Kansas 37-34 on a 43-yard field goal by Maikon Bonani as time expired. Congratulations to coach Jim Leavitt on a successful decision to turn the kicking duties over to Bonani, who made 3-of-4 kicks in his first college game.
But here’s what I want to know: on the last play, why exactly was there a FLAG on the field as Bonani’s kick sailed through the uprights? ESPN’s announcers completely missed it, and I had to rewind a couple times to figure out exactly what the flag was and where it came from.
Turns out, one of the Kansas rushers knocked Bonani to the turf after he made his kick. In my brief exposure to this game of American football, I believe that’s called a roughing-the-kicker penalty. 15 yards...automatic first down...all that. Nobody really seemed to notice, because as I said, Bonani made the kick.
However, when the game’s last play ends with a flag on the field, don’t we at least deserve an explanation from the guys in stripes? You know, something along the lines of: “Roughing the kicker...defense...number such-and-such. That penalty is declined. The kick is good.”
Technically, if you read the rules, the game can’t even end on a defensive penalty. So why throw the flag and then run to the tunnel without explaining why?
Maybe officiating is easier than I thought.
7. EVEN THOUGH 17 IS A RANDOM NUMBER
Here’s the Top 17 ballot I submitted tonight for this site's poll. Feel free to e-mail me to argue for your favorite team before next week’s rankings.
1. USC (If you look up “statement” in the dictionary, you’ll probably find: USC 35, OSU 3.)
2. Oklahoma (Every time a bell rings...Sam Bradford throws another touchdown pass. Or so it seems.)
3. Missouri (Jeremy Maclin caught three more touchdowns Saturday. Between Maclin and Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, at least two wideouts have realistic Heisman hopes in ’08.)
4. Georgia (The ‘Dawgs survive a scare against Spurrier and company.)
5. Wisconsin (Big-time win at Fresno State, a place most programs won’t play, should be rewarded.)
6. BYU (This week didn’t come down to a one-point game...or a celebration penalty.)
7. Florida (Gators are through the warmup phase of the schedule...bring on the Vols.)
8. LSU (Tigers took care of business against the Mean Green of North Texas.)
9. Penn State (The Lions have been a pleasant surprise so far...will it continue?)
10. Auburn (Usually when you only score three points in a ballgame, you’re gonna lose. The Tigers are lucky to still be undefeated.)
11. East Carolina (Down to earth after two huge upsets, but they get another W.)
12. Texas Tech (Competing with Big 12 foes Oklahoma and Missouri for “scariest offense in the nation”)
13. South Florida (Big-time win in tight contest over fellow 2007 surprise team Kansas.)
14. Ohio State (The Buckeyes validate every criticism they’ve heard after the last two BCS title games.)
15. Texas (No game due to Ike.)
16. Alabama (I should have ranked them last week because of what they did to Clemson. My bad, Tide fans.)
17. Wake Forest (Could be the class of the worst BCS conference in America...)
8. COMING ATTRACTIONS
I don’t know why anyone would need a reason to be excited about the upcoming college football weekend. But if you do, here’s three:
a. “Worth buying a ticket for”: a matchup that deserves the hype...that would be Georgia @ Arizona State. The Bulldogs are notorious for only scheduling in their time zone; the last time they made it this far west, I think they were tagging along with some guys named Lewis and Clark. Even though the Sun Devils were an upset victim this week, they definitely have the talent to give Georgia all they can handle in Tempe.
b. “Heat check”: this team’s playing great, but faces a serious test. How about Tim Tebow and the Gators heading to Knoxville? After dropping their opener at UCLA, the Volunteers will be looking to surprise the Gators in both squads’ SEC opener.
c. “Diamond in the rough”: West Virginia @ Colorado. The Big 12 makes its Thursday night debut on ESPN in an inter-conference showdown...and I’ll have an in-depth review in next week's column.
Speaking of inter-conference play, here’s a mailbag question from Jake:
“Just to let you know, the people down here in the south believe real football is only found in the Southeast, specifically the SEC (along with a few ACC teams). Even USC is considered overrated by many people down here. This is mostly due to OSU's consecutive losses to SEC teams in the BCS championship game. What thoughts do you have on that and where do the conferences stand head-to-head this year after this weekend?”
Well, as I mentioned in the Top 17 rankings, I think as of now, OSU deserves the lack of respect they’ve gotten the last couple years. They utterly embarrassed themselves in Los Angeles.
It’s too bad that the Big Ten as a whole takes the rap, but until the conference starts posting marquee wins, what else can we expect? Michigan State has to win at Cal, Purdue’s gotta hang on against Oregon, Michigan has to hold on to the ball at South Bend, and the list goes on.
Wisconsin’s big win against perennial giant-killer Fresno State is the one bright spot for a league that’s taking a hit in its national image, network or no network.
One more thought on the conferences: congratulations to the Mountain West Conference for going 4-0 against the mighty Pac-10. TCU, New Mexico, BYU, and UNLV get official bragging rights for the weekend. (And special thanks to alert reader David for setting me straight when I tried to assign all of those programs to a different league...my mistake!)
Also in the mailbag, Brent is sold on a certain star defensive end from South Florida: “With the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select George Selvie!”
Agree? Disagree? Send your thoughts or comments my way: email@example.com. I want to hear why your team should be ranked No. 1...or whatever else is on your mind! Thanks for your help in trying to make this the most interactive column in college football history...and see you next week!
Tim Cary (yes, Cary…as in “Carrying on”) is a resident of Springfield, Ohio and a die-hard college football fan (especially when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers). To submit thoughts, ideas, questions, arguments, or anything else for “Carrying On About College Football”, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Send in your ideas on Saturday...and check out the next installment of COACF on Sunday.