This weekend on the college football scene featured a heartbreaking loss, two solid performances from state powerhouses, and a couple of significant victories for two teams less heralded by the Indianapolis media.
Indiana vs. Northwestern:
If the only bowl the Indiana University football team is involved with on New Year’s Day has cabbage in it, they can point to Saturday’s loss against Northwestern as the reason why. With just under five minutes left to play in the second quarter, the Hoosiers led the Wildcats by 25 points. As they headed into the locker room for halftime, the lead had been trimmed to 11, and Bill Lynch was no doubt angrier than a maced badger.
The second-half would prove no better for Lynch and his frustrating squad.
Despite picking off Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka three times in the second half, Indiana failed to sustain a drive of more than three minutes and allowed a Chris Hagerup punt to be blocked in the endzone for a safety. On what proved to be the most impactful play of the game, the Hoosiers — holding a precarious nine point lead – faced a daunting fourth-and-goal from the Northwestern one-yard line. Instead of attempting a chip-shot field goal — which would have made it a three possession game — Lynch opted to bring in the “Wildcat QB”, Mitchell Evans. A botched pass play resulted in a misguided Evans scramble, and the opportunity to further distance themselves from Northwestern was lost.
The Wildcats promptly marched 97-yards down the field, and then stopped Ben Chappell and the offense on fourth down for the second time in the half (Lynch could have attempted a 50-yard FG instead). Kafka rallied his team yet again by driving them down for a field goal to give Northwestern a one-point lead. The game — and most likely the Hoosiers bowl hopes — ended when IU’s Nick Freeland came up just short on a 59-yard FG attempt (really makes you wonder about that possible 50-yarder earlier in the quarter, doesn’t it).
UPCOMING: Indiana must win two of their remaining four games to be bowl eligible. Their opponents in the next three contests (#7 Iowa, Wisconsin, #11 Penn State) are a combined 20-3 this season. Not a great sign for the boys from Bloomington.
Purdue vs. Illinois:
For the second week in a row, Purdue University celebrated a victory by its football team. It was the first time in a while that fans of the program have been able to do that; the Boilers hadn’t won consecutive games since October of 2007. Coming off the heels of beating Top-10 ranked Ohio State, Purdue defeated the one-win Fightin’ Illini 24-14 on Saturday.
Quarterback Joey Elliot was once again the model of efficiency, completing 15 of 24 passes for 166 yards and chipping in another 62-yards on the ground, including a five-yard scramble for a touchdown. Running backs Jaycen Taylor and Ralph Bolden found plenty of holes on their way to combining for 149 yards on the ground, and the defense swarmed its way to three sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Most importantly though, the Boilermakers didn’t commit a turnover for the first time all season.
When asked about the difference between the past two games compared to the previous five-game losing streak, Coach Danny Hope cited the turnover battle as the primary reason:
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference other than we won the turnover margin,” Hope said. “We turned it over some last week but they turned it over more. We didn’t turn it over (Saturday) and they turned it over some.”
Not exactly the most elegant quote, but you get the picture. When the Boilers protect the ball, Indianapolis sports fans who follow the team can expect a celebratory result.
UPCOMING: While securing a bowl berth still figures to be a longshot — Purdue needs three wins in their last four games — it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. Although they’ll be away from the confines of West Lafayette in three of the contest, the opposition has won a combined seven games in Big Ten Conference play, and the Boilers are as hot a team as there is in the league.
Notre Dame vs. Boston College:
The Fighting Irish engaged in yet another close battle in South Bend on Saturday, this time against a Boston College team that had beaten Notre Dame six straight times. Powered by Golden Tate’s 11 catches for 128 yards and two scores, Notre Dame overcame a three-point fourth quarter deficit to hold onto a 20-16 victory. The Irish moved back in the Top 25 with the win, and with games against Navy and Washington St on tap, Charlie Weiss’ team should find itself 7-2 heading into a mid-November matchup with 20th ranked Pittsburgh.
Ball State vs. Eastern Michigan:
After a 2008 season in which the Cardinals completed the regular season with no losses, Ball State found themselves winless in ’09 heading into this past weekend’s game against Eastern Michigan.
With starting QB Kelly Page sidelined, the “Men of Munice” were unable to muster a worthy passing game (backup Tanner Justice completed just two passes), so the team located just 40 minutes north of Indianapolis resorted to old school smashmouth football to get the job done. Cory Sykes ran for three touchdowns and 203 yards on the ground, and the human bowling ball, MiQuale Lewis, had a school record 301 rushing yards as the Cardinals prevailed 29-27.
Indiana State vs. Western Illinois:
Indiana State beat Western Illinois in a closely fought battle, 17-14 in Terre Haute this past weekend. Normally, the Sycamores wouldn’t be worth a mention when discussing football among colleges in Indiana, but this win was especially significant. Not only did it mark ISU’s first victory of the season, but it was the first time the team has won a game in three seasons . Yeah, that’s right, October 21st, 2006 was the last time Indiana State won a football game. So hat’s off to the Sycamores; it was about damn time.