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Carrying On About Big Ten Football: September 5

Tim Cary

If you're like me, you're probably suffering through football overload.  After not getting to watch a single live college football game for the last eight months straight, you've seen (insert double-digit number here) in the last three days. 

We've gone from football withdrawal to football heaven...and to be honest, it's hard to keep everything straight.
Michigan State v Penn State

Let's face it.  There were 10 games Saturday involving Big Ten teams alone.  Unless you're one of the fortunate few who has seven televisions in your living room, you probably missed a few things.  Who had that highlight-reel run?  Who made the hit of the day?  What in the world did that announcer just say?

And that's where "Carrying On About" comes in: a one-stop look back at the entire Big Ten weekend.  Each Monday morning, I'll run down the greatest plays, funniest quotes, hardest hits, and craziest listing them all in some of my favorite categories. 

Like this.

One of the integral parts of "Carrying On" is a single-game spotlight, and since I was lucky enough to spend my Saturday in West Lafayette watching Purdue and Toledo, here's five things about the Boilermakers you should know.

1.  Purdue has impressive running backs.  Yes, that's plural.
The Boilers gave Ralph Bolden his first career start at tailback, and the speedy sophomore merely responded with the third-best rushing total in school history.  Bolden raced 78 yards for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball, finishing with a whopping 234 on 21 carries.  Not bad for a guy who averaged only 1.8 yards a carry last year. 

Bolden told me after the game that he wasn't surprised by Purdue's offensive explosion (52 points on 535 yards).  "Our coaches have always told us that we have a lot of talent on our team," Bolden said.  "We try to trust in our coaches: they know what they're saying.  They've done this a long time."

Jaycen Taylor gives Purdue great depth behind Bolden as well--Taylor made a successful return after missing all of 2008 with a knee injury and added 81 yards to the Boilers' rushing attack.  Taylor has always been a productive back, currently ranking fourth in the school record books with over 5.6 yards a carry.  His return to health (and 5.8 yards a carry on Saturday) bode well for the Boilermakers' 2009 prospects.

2.  Tackling the other team is important.  This one may seem like something more often heard at your kid's first peewee football practice than after a Big Ten game, but guess what?  No matter what level of football you might play, tackling can be relatively crucial to your defense's success.  Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt had 423 passing yards largely because the home team couldn't tackle receivers in space.

If you don't believe me, ask coach Danny Hope: "I don't think we tackled near as well as we need to today."

Or ask linebacker Jason Werner: "Sloppy tackling--we need to tighten that up in upcoming games".

Or ask safety Torri Williams: "We need to shore up our tackling--we missed a lot of tackles that resulted in a few big plays for them."

Or ask defensive tackle Mike Neal: "I think we've got a lot to fix."

Neal's right.  For Purdue to compete with Big Ten foes, the defense has some significant tackling issues to fix.  Coming into 2009, the Boilermakers expected their defense to be a team strength, and Saturday's opener revealed there's still some more work to do.

3.  Joey Elliott also has a ways to go.

Elliott came out of the gates poorly in his first career start, misfiring on five of his first seven passes.  Accuracy and consistency were a bit of an issue, but the big plays eventually evened out for the Purdue senior quarterback.  Elliott finished with three touchdown tosses and three interceptions, posting a modest 220 yards through the air. 
Oct 13, 2007 - Michigan v Purdue
Not quite basketball on grass, but if Elliott can cut down on the mistakes (most notably one horrible decision to throw a screen pass without looking first to see if the receiver had gotten open) and hit on a few more out routes, the Boilermakers' offense will be okay.  At least, Ralph Bolden thinks so. "We've got the right guy for the job", Bolden said of Elliott. 

Maybe we're nitpicking a little bit about the offensive performance ever.  After all, the Boilers did score 52 points, but that doesn't mean Hope was thrilled: "If we'd been a little more efficient, we could have scored 70."

That's alright, Coach.  Save some for Oregon.

4.  Tempo can be a big factor.  Both teams used the no-huddle offense extensively and had a great deal of success wearing down the opposing defensive front.  On more than one occasion, Elliott jumped right back up after completing a pass, yelling and rushing his team to the line so the Boilers could try to snap the ball before the defense could get set. 

Toledo actually pulled out the no-huddle first, and Neal admitted it was hard for Purdue's defenders to keep up with.  "When they came with the up-tempo and started doing a whole bunch of slants, we never really got adjusted," Neal told me after the game. 

The defensive lineman actually went down with cramps in the second half and had to get an IV in the locker room, despite drinking "a gallon of water" the night before.

Expect both Purdue and Toledo to continue to use the no-huddle to their advantage as the season rolls along.

5. It's hard to beat a balanced team.  When someone asked me who Purdue's player of the game was, I jokingly replied "Gary Nord" (the Boilermakers' new offensive coordinator).  Nord's only problem now may be that Purdue fans will expect 50 or more on the board every week! 

All kidding aside, Nord and the Purdue offense had an excellent debut.  The unit averaged 8.1 yards every time they ran the ball and 7.9 yards for every pass attempt.  The effective balance of run and pass kept Toledo uncomfortable and helped Purdue score at least 14 points in each of the first three quarters.

Purdue's balance also showed in Elliott's array of targets.  The quarterback completed passes to eight different receivers on Saturday, and if the Boilermakers can continue to get all their weapons involved, it will be almost impossible for opponents to shut down the variety of scoring threats.



This is the section of the column that could be titled "If I were an announcer, I WOULDN'T say..."  So, without further ado, here are the quotes that blew my mind this weekend...or at least made me laugh...

"What this proves to me is that Penn State would win the Mid-American Conference very easily." -- Lou Holtz

"As a quarterback, that was definitely on the defense, but as an alum of Syracuse, that was a bad call." -- Donovan McNabb, describing a pass interference call while visiting the booth during the Gophers/Orange game

"That neutral zone, Pam, is basically the length of the football all the way across the field." -- Ray Bentley, giving colleague Pam Ward a quick tutorial in the rules of football.
"It's only his twelfth start of the year." -- Bob Griese explaining Terrelle Pryor's pregame nerves...on the first day of the season.

"That's potentially a four-point swing." -- Wendi Nix in the ESPN studio, relaying the news on Ohio State's two-point conversion runback. Let's see.  Navy was trying to get two points...instead Ohio State ended up with two points...I would say that's DEFINITELY a four-point swing.

Actually, my favorite television moment of the weekend was an ESPN graphic showing a poll of the nation on which conference would produce the national champion.  Very enlightening scientific data.

According to residents of Washington, Arizona, Oregon, and California, the national champion will come from the Pac-10.

According to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska fans, the correct answer is "Big 12".

Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida residents picked the SEC.  Shocking.

Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania? The Big Ten.

Any guesses what BCS conference Utah and Idaho residents picked?  If you chose "Other", you win.

In other words, ESPN used a very nice color-coded graph to show us that all college football fans think their conference is best.  Alrighty then.


What in the world was Jim Tressel thinking? They do have math and logic courses in Columbus, right? With 6:30 to go in Saturday's game against Navy, the Buckeyes had the ball, a 15-point lead, and a chance to kick a field goal and extend the lead to three possessions.  Three-possession spread with six minutes left is known in most college towns as "time to hit the exit and beat some traffic". 

Instead of salting the game away, Tressel went for it on fourth down, the Bucks turned the ball over, Navy scored twice in a four-minute span, and Ohio State needed an interception on the 2-point conversion attempt to survive.  Just kick the field goal, Coach.  Win the game. 

(Of course, this implies faith that your player will make the field goal...and we all saw how that last extra point turned out...)

Maybe coaching is easier than I thought.


Here's just a few of Saturday's jaw-dropping highlights that were worth rewinding for...

Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor nearly losing his balance, then escaping to throw a pass to Dane Sanzenbacher, who nearly lost his balance...and then scored a touchdown.
Navy-Ohio State

Purdue's Kawann Short diving to make a one-handed interception.  Great effort by the defensive lineman to pull the ball in with the fingertips of his left hand.

Penn State's Graham Zug with a bone-crushing block to spring wide receiver Derek Moye for a big gain. (Hat tip to @FightonState for the picture.)

Ohio State's Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman teaming up to down a punt on the 1-inch line.  (Seems a bit irrelevant since Navy promptly embarked on a 99-yard scoring drive, but the athletic play to keep the ball out of the end zone was still impressive.)

Northwestern's Dan Persa standing in the pocket, taking a crunching hit, and delivering a touchdown pass to Andrew Brewer.  Gutsy.


--What happened to the veteran conservative coaches of the Big Ten?  Mr. Button-downed Vest Jim Tressel calls a reverse on the opening kickoff return...Joe Paterno uses a fake punt in the first half, already up two mean the league has finally moved past "three yards and a cloud of dust"?

--Whenever a formation or play works in a game, there's a hundred coaches ready to copy it for themselves. (Remember when the Wildcat was only a fad instead of a staple?)  For that reason, look for half the Big Ten to add in an "untie your shoelace, fumble the ball to yourself, and run for a touchdown" designed play.  Hey, it worked for Denard Robinson...although I'm sure he's had at least 21 hours to practice it...
Western Michigan v Michigan

-Syracuse's first offensive snap of the game against Minnesota sailed well over the head of new quarterback Greg Paulus.  Welcome back to football, Mr. Dookie.

-It's possible (although not very likely) that I missed your favorite quote, play, or highlight of Saturday's action.  We'll do better next'll just have to help me out.  If you hear or see something that should be included in Carrying On, drop me a Twitter message at @TimCary or send me an could be featured in next week's column.

Until then...just give me a break.  It's only "my twelfth start of the year".



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