Like many fans I am frustrated by the amount we still don't know about this team- and I'm trying to stay optimistic. One thing to note is that we might get bailed out by the schedule this year- or at least as much as one can be "bailed out" and still finish .500- really the question is can we find a win in the next couple of weeks, because the schedule at the end of the year is actually pretty friendly. At the beginning of the year I thought we would lose 4, or 5 if we lost to ND. Now our best might look more like 6-6.
What is difficult is that it's so hard to know what to make of ND. Those who make a lot of our mistakes have us finishing 2-10, others think this was a breakthrough game for the offense and have already chalked up 500 yard masterpieces for the rest of the year. I'm not sure what to think- I do think we have improved, but I also think what really helps is that a lot of our destiny is going to be determined a lot by schedule, and a lot of our opponents are really weak. I think the Michigan State/ Notre Dame game suggests that we have improved somewhat- I expected MSU to pulverize Notre Dame and though they still made mistakes-a-plenty, the Domers were in this one. They are not a good team, but unlike last year they are a real team- I think that means our offensive imrovement can be given some credit.
This week I am hoping we will get a lot more information. We should find out a lot this week when some important macthups take place. One is our linebackers against Wisconsin. Last year this was a disaster, could be even worse this year. Another is Penn State/Illinois. Is either team for real? Purdue plays Notre Dame and Northwestern plays Iowa in what will surely be a ghastly game. I think it's very possible we find out that either Illinois or Penn State isn't that good, and that NW and Purdue are as weak as we thought. I would never say that I want Notre Dame to win, but obviously it's better for our future if Purdue doesn't do well. Maybe they'll win 3-2 or something.
Wisconsin: I don't think it's a stretch to say that Wisconsin is much better than we are. But they sometimes have trouble scoring points. I think probably their linemen on both sides of the ball grind us into dust and this game goes pretty much like last year. Wisconsin's offense is perfectly suited to exploit our light tackling, bad first stepping linebackers. But, in a 13-10 game anybody can win. The good news is that even Wisconsin fans seem to wonder out loud if their real offense looks more like what played against Fresno than what played against Akron. Wisconsin hides it better than most teams but any modern offense with a limited quarterback is going to have a tough time. http://www.badgerbeat.com/news/article/id/304831 All you need is the ball to bounce your way once or twice, maybe our DL plays out of their minds, etc. Still, with our OL against their experienced D, and our LBs against their OL, this has to be a loss, right? I will not gainsay the excellent post by drexel on the Wisconsin D- #92 is Shaughnessy by the way and it looks like he figures to ruin us, which he could just about do single-handedly. We might see a lot of OL butts bumping into ball carriers. One thing: we really shouldn't fall to pieces if we lose to Wisconsin. This was a loss from day one even if we were better than we thought we were, and sure, 1-3 looks like hell but this year the tough parts of the schedule are up front.
Illinois: Just watching the scores this year I thought Illinois was seriously underperforming. Against Missouri they scored a lot of points but were playing from behind. They obviously had a subpar game against UL Lafayette. Defense is an issue for Illinois. Illinois actually gave up a fair number of long drives against ULL, who had two drives stopped by fumbles, missed a field goal, and turned it over once on downs in Illinois territory. Illinois gave up 52 points against Missouri. Obviously Missouri's offense is very good- but, should a good defense EVER give up 52 points? No, not ever. I don't care if it's the first game of the season, a good team does not give up 50 points. I think Illinois has a talented but inconsistent offense that can't throw, and a vulnerable defense. For what it's worth, the Illinois newspapers seem to think the problem is offense and that the D is OK http://www.illinihq.com/news/football/2008/09/14/illini_ready__to_get_to_work- I respectfully disagree about the D, as ULL isn't that good but still had a number of long drives. As of this moment, I think this is a game we can win, but we will find out a lot more this weekend when Illinois plays Penn St. Side note: Ron Zook talking is funny, I like his explanation of bye weeks for mentally exhausted Illini players. http://www.illinihq.com/news/football/2008/09/20/zook_penn_state_is_rolling_now
Toledo: Toledo scares me a little bit because they can put up so many points, like 41 during regulation against Fresno (and 13 in OT), but this is a couple down the road and is still a MAC team. If our game against Miami proves anything, it's that we are still talented enough to play a stinker against MAC opponents and win.
Penn St: Has pulverized four absolutely hopeless opponents, including Temple without their starting quarterback. Still, they really beat the living hell out of them. We will learn a lot this week when they play Illinois, but this is a road game and I just can't see it. if Penn St. rushes for 300 yards and beats Illinois 31-3, then ok. Even without that, this is another team that is really due to beat us and really needs to take advantage of the opportunity. At that point this is probably a game that they would really need to win but that we would be expected to lose. That shouldn't matter, but it does, and this has to be a loss. One note: Penn State's defensive players are getting themselves suspended for different lengths of time at a fantastic rate.
MSU: This game is totally unpredictable, and the ability of State to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is amazing. But just on paper, I see State doing what Wisconsin would do- no way our linebackers are up to the challenge of a big line plus Ringer. Still, Heuer is weak and they're State. I'm still calling this an L for now, as our linebackers are about the weakest position we have after safety.
Purdue: I'm not very impressed by Purdue at all. They give up a lot of points. Central Michigan got 440 yards and scored late in the 4th quarter. A loss to Oregon, who just got beat by Boise St. (at home, can't blame on blue turf) is looking less forgiveable. Tiller is tired and cranky. I still don't see that Purdue has overcome the deficiencies that caused them to fail last year. Purdue still turns the ball over and quarterbacking is still an issue. In fact Painter was "one series" away from getting yanked last week. That can't be good. http://boilerstation.jconline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080922/SPORTS020101/809220326&referrer=FRONTPAGECAROUSEL
I think this is a W.
Minnesota: A lot better than they were, which is saying they aren't the worst team in the universe. They beat 4 weak teams but gave up 356 yards against a really weak Montana State team. They're still no good, this is a win.
Northwestern just beat 0-3 (now 0-4) Ohio 16-8 in what I'm fairly comfortable saying was an awful game. Ok, Ohio has lost 4 close ones but still, they were a very average 4-4 in the MAC last year. Like Minnesota they've showed some growth. Hey, they beat Duke this year. Still though, there is a dearth of talent and a defense that's not much good this has to be a win too.
OSU: Looks a lot weaker than we thought. Not enough weaker. On the road, we will lose.