Oct. 10, 2010
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By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
This game with Purdue was the 'Cats home prime-time debut of the 2010 season and they performed just as so many of the television networks' new fall offerings do. They underperformed.
Their center, Ben Burkett, was called for holding in its final two minutes. That wiped out a Jacob Schmidt run that would have set them up just four yards away from a go-ahead touchdown. Their place kicker, Stefan Demos, had one attempt blocked and then, after Burkett's penalty, another he pulled wide right with a chance to tie at :58. Their sure-handed punt returner, Hunter Bates, fumbled twice and lost one of them, and their sure-handed kickoff returner, Stephen Simmons, fumbled one that Schmidt recovered on the five-yard line. Then finally, with a chance to get the ball back for a final, desperate shot at a victory, their linebacker Quentin Davie was called for a personal foul that guaranteed the Boilermakers could run out the clock and nail down their win.
This is what coaches often call "shooting yourself in the foot." The 'Cats Pat Fitzgerald did not do that. But late Saturday night, when asked what he had told the team in the locker room, quarterback Dan Persa replied, "He said they outplayed us, and that they wanted it more, and we can't keep beating ourselves. We can't beat two teams every week."
The 'Cats had 23 first downs to the Boilers' 13. The 'Cats ran 83 plays to the Boilers' 60. The 'Cats rolled up 389 total yards of offense to the Boilers' 279. The 'Cats finished with a better than nine-minute edge in time of possession and held the Boilers to just three-of-13 on third down conversions. But in the fourth quarter, which they normally own, they gave up a 17-13 lead and mounted just one drive. That was the last one and then, wide receiver Jeremy Ebert later said, "We were ready to go. That's kind of bred into you here. That's what we do. We came up short tonight."
But first they appeared as if they would do it again. Persa hit Drake Dunsmore for eight and then scrambled for four, hit Ebert for nine and Sidney Stewart for four. That set the 'Cats up with a first down on the Boilers' 46 with 2:49 remaining and now Persa scrambled for nine and Mike Trumpy ran for six for another first down at the Boilers' 31. Then Persa was stopped for no gain and hit Ebert for six, and here came Schmidt busting through right tackle and rumbling down to the four on the third-down play negated by Burkett's hold. A short out Persa now completed to Schmidt picked up only eight, which brought on Demos with the chance to tie.
"We had a lot of good stats, whatever, but didn't convert in the red zone," Persa later said, even though the 'Cats were actually two-of-two in red zone conversion. "That's been our problem all year. That's why we lost the game."
How is that fixed?
"Have a better focus," he said. "We just have to have a heightened sense of awareness in the red zone. We've got to score (touchdowns). We can't be kicking field goals."
There was much to like about the 'Cat defense. After Brandon Williams followed Simmons' muffed kickoff with a 15 yard punt that set the Boilers up on the 'Cat 32, safety David Arnold immediately made a pick in the end zone. After the Boilers recovered Bates' fumbled punt on the 'Cat 24, that defense forced them to settle for a field goal. They held Rob Henry, the Boiler quarterback, to just six completions on 18 attempts and forced the Boilers to punt on six of their 13 possessions (another ended with the interception and two others with halftime and the game's conclusion). But they did give up the fourth quarter drive that ended with the Boilers' winning touchdown, and a pair of big plays that set up their other scores.
The first was a 67-yard run by Henry on the final play of the first quarter. That resulted in a touchdown that tied this one at seven. The other was a 51-yard run by Keith Carlos off a pitch from Henry. That resulted in a field goal that cut the 'Cat lead to four late in the third. "On offense, we knew they would run the quarterback. How they were going to run him, we had to obviously adjust to," Fitzgerald later said of Henry, who netted 132 rushing yards in his first start after taking over for the injured Robert Marve. "They changed their scheme a little bit and were reading the defensive tackle as opposed to the defensive end. There were times when we fit it really well and times we didn't, and that led to the one explosion play. Out of the two explosion plays, pretty darn good performance by our defense."
"We had specific calls for a linebacker to get a quarterback," Davie later added. "It's just breakdowns in our communication sometimes where things get messed up and we let the quarterback run past us. . .It's the same kind of offense we faced in fall camp, our offense runs the same thing. We just need to get it fixed up."
Asked about his final penalty, which came after Henry scampered around the backfield to take time off the clock, Davie said: "It was a situation where he rolled out and I thought he was still trying to waste time. If I wouldn't have tackled him, I was thinking he would have kept backing up and not take a knee. So I kind of tapped him and he fell over. He's a quarterback."
Persa ended up with fine passing numbers, going 30-of-41 for 305 yards. But he was sacked five times and never was he able to bust a scramble, one of his favored weapons, for more than nine yards. Was the Boiler line laying back to prevent that, he was later asked.
"The D tackles were," he said. "The D ends were getting up the field. But the D tackles were definitely just hanging around the line of scrimmage."
Pretty awful," Persa said later when asked how he was feeling. "The first loss of the year. Purdue outplayed us. They wanted it more than us in every phase. They outplayed us. The feeling's awful."
"It's a bad feeling, a bad taste that we have in our mouths," echoed Davie. "As they were taking a knee (at game's end), we told each other to just remember this feeling because we don't want to have it again."
"We're going to have to respond. We're going to have to respond the same way we respond after we have success," Fitzgerald would finally conclude. "It's a terrible taste in your mouth right now. The taste of defeat is awful. . . (But) as disappointing as it is, we have half the season left. We played well enough in a few games to win. Obviously tonight we did not. But a lot of positives to draw from. A lot that we've learned."
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