Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The NBA is Letting the Iron Cool

"Strike while the iron is hot."

One of the classic lines of advice my father has bestowed upon me over the years.

It's a pretty good mantra that applies to multiple aspects in life.  For those who don't follow, it basically means, don't halt momentum when you've got it going in the right direction.

If only the NBA could have a little chat with my old man.

The lockout has killed any momentum the league had and that's sad given the Association is coming off arguably the most exciting season since Jordan's last year in Chicago and maybe even before that when MJ, Magic, Bird, Dominique, and Isiah battled for supremacy.

I am not going to pretend to be some kind of financial wizard.  I hate math and I hate numbers. So, the monetary issues of the lockout are a bore to breakdown.  But, I understand the concept of not ruining a good thing (my ex-girlfriends will argue against this statement) and to me, this lockout seems unnecessary.

The cliff notes version is the owners want to put measures in place that protect themselves and small market teams from losing money.  The players want a greater share of the revenue.  Surely there is some middle ground, middle ground that doesn't need to be found by throwing away an entire season.

Let me take you back to early June.

The start of the NBA Finals had a special buzz.  It was evil versus the rest of the world with Miami and their over-hyped, but amazingly talented trio taking on a Mavericks team made up of guys likely playing for their last chance at a title.  The six game series was a phenomenal ending to a season that even started with a level of excitement that, like a Blake Griffin dunk, just continued to accelerate higher as the year went on.

It was perfect.

In a country where football reigns supreme and baseball is a distant second, the NBA took center stage.  The NFL was dealing with its own lockout and the dog days of the MLB season were in full swing (pardon the pun).

It was an ideal chance for the NBA to capture the attention of the sports world, and it did.

I remember racing home from work to watch the Finals' games and was glued to Twitter as LeBron and Dirk battled.  I never used twitter before the NBA playoffs, but there was so much debate regarding legacies, letdowns, and legends that I wanted to see what everyone was saying.

The NBA was back and better than ever. It was captivating, "must see T.V" that Carl Winslow would be impressed with.

Now look at it.

The NFL season is upon us. College football is approaching the midway point, and the end of the Major League Baseball season has been one for the ages.  Those leagues are again the primary focus and now people are even asking the question "Will you miss the NBA?"

A league that truly cared about its fan base would never let this question arise.

If there is one thing Americans share in common it's that we have short memories.  We love this candidate one minute, seconds later we are putting up lawn signs of their rival.   We buy an Iphone Four and months later think its garbage when the Iphone 4s hits the shelves.  We change our minds like a Kardashian changes boyfriends.

The NBA players, owners, and commissioner should keep this in the forefront of their minds.

If in-your-face dunks and Melanie Iglesias-type dime assists are off the nightly highlight reels and not the topic of debates on sports talk shows daily, the country will find other places to turn its attention.

If the league thinks it has a revenue problem now, just wait to see how bad it will be when no one remembers or cares if it exists.

The first two weeks of the regular season have already been scrapped and the NBA's iron is getting cooler.  If the owners and players don't come to an agreement soon, they  may alienate fans just enough that excitement for the league may flame out for good.

...Just ask the NHL.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Purdue Looking to Redefine Season

Purdue’s defense used words like “embarrassed,” “ashamed,” and “confused” to describe last week’s performance against Notre Dame.

The Irish offense torched the Boilermakers for 551 yards in a 38-10 blowout in Ross-Ade Stadium.

Seven days later, Purdue’s defensive players had a more upbeat tone in defining their play.

“We had to remember what we wanted to be all about,” said defensive end Ryan Russell. “First and foremost we wanted to be a dominant defense, dominate the opponent, dominate the person across from you. So we tried to come out and establish that early.”

Saturday represented a new season for the Boilermakers. After an underwhelming 2-2 start to the year, Purdue is using the beginning of the Big Ten campaign as a redo and an opportunity to turn the season around.

They are off to a good start.

The Boilermakers defense stymied Minnesota, Saturday, en route to a 45-17 win.

“I thought we really came out there and extended a lot of energy and wanted to be a more violent football team,” said head coach Danny Hope. “I thought our football team really showed up and played today.”

On the Gophers’ first five possessions they went three-and-out twice, lost a pair of fumbles including one on their own eleven yard line, and were intercepted for a touchdown.

“When your defense scores it’s a big thing because it actually makes the (opposing) offense think about something,” said cornerback Ricardo Allen. “They can’t come out with every play in their playbook because we get turnovers.”

Not only did the Boilermakers shut Minnesota down, but they did so in record fashion.

Russell recovered the two fumbles, tying a school best for a game and Allen’s 37-yard first quarter interception return for a touchdown was the third of his career. He joins NFL Hall-of-Famer Rod Woodson and Mike Rose as the only Boilermakers to have three pick sixes.

“I was really proud of Ricardo. He’s a resilient young man,” said Hope. “It means a lot to him and I thought [the INT] impacted the game in a lot of ways and at a good time.”

Purdue’s defense appeared as focused and urgent as they have all year.

“I feel like we weren’t able to unleash what we were really able to do last week [against Notre Dame]. We showed something bad on TV.” Allen said. “This was the game to redeem ourselves.”

Maybe Purdue’s performance Saturday was because of the level of competition or maybe it was the fact that there was less pressure of not playing in primetime (there were about 38,000 fans in Ross-Ade, Saturday, compared to more than 65,000 against Notre Dame). Whatever the case, this was a different Boilermakers team.

As good as Purdue played, the team is keeping the victory in perspective. That was probably the most winnable game on the Boilermakers’ conference schedule. They go on the road next week to Happy Valley to face Penn State then take on three teams in consecutive weeks that are currently ranked in the top 25, including contests at Michigan (12th) and Wisconsin (4th).

Minnesota isn’t exactly the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. The Gophers fell to 1-5 with the loss and have been outscored 103-to-17in Big Ten play.

But, the Boilermakers aren’t discounting Saturday’s game, either. They hope to use their best defensive performance of the year to build momentum throughout the rest of the conference season, one that they believe can still be described as a success.

“[We need to] remember this feeling. Remember what we did to prepare. Remember what we talked about and just keep your eye on the prize,” said Russell. “You can’t get too satisfied. Each week is a different season basically. It’s a one season game every week.”

Purdue Gets Defensive Against Minnesota

Minnesota’s first five possessions Saturday at Purdue read something like a nightmare for the Gophers.

Three-and-out. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception returned for a touchdown. Fumble.

Purdue jumped out to a 24-0 lead before the Gophers even sniffed the other side of midfield.

Once Minnesota finally did get into Boilermakers' territory, it was forced to punt and Purdue took the ensuing possession 70-yards on eleven plays capping it off with a 12-yard pass from Robert Marve to O.J. Ross.

Just like that, it was 31-0.  The Boilermakers cruised to a 45-17 win in their Big Ten opener.

“I thought our team came out and played with great enthusiasm and energy,” said head coach Danny Hope. “All 96 guys were really into it…I thought that really made a difference in our fast start.”

Purdue improves to 3-2 overall. They bounced back after a disappointing 38-10 loss to in-state rival Notre Dame last week.

The Irish put up 551 yards, Saturday the Boilermakers held Minnesota to just 213.

Ryan Russell and Ricardo Allen sparked the defensive charge.

Russell forced a pair of fumbles and Allen returned an interception 37-yards for a touchdown. It’s the third pick six of the sophomore’s career. He joins Mike Rose and Rod Woodson as the only Boilermakers to have that many.

“I feel like my coaches call the right plays for me and put me in the best spot and I have a great D-line and good linebacking corps, so they make things easy for me,” said Allen. “I think people pick on me because I’m 5’9 but it’s biting them in the butt a little.”

Offensively, Purdue used a multi-quarterback system, as it has all year. Junior Caleb TerBush started and went 14-of-21 for 140-yards. He also hit Akeem Shavers on a ten-yard scoring toss.

Robert Marve stepped in midway through the second quarter and finished the day four-of-six for 15-yards.  He threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to O.J Ross. Spencer Dawson also saw action under center.

“We came out and we had to start fast, which we did, so it worked out,” said TerBush. “We just put a bunch of things together and it worked out for us, so it’s really good to build that confidence up to head to Penn State.”

The Boilermakers used a committee of running backs, as well. Shavers led the way with ten carries for 52-yards. His first score came on a fourth-and-goal run from the one yard line in the opening quarter.

Akeem Hunt went for 71-yards on nine carries. Ralph Bolden had the most carries with 12 for 41 yards and a touchdown. Raheem Mostert ran for 31 yards and a score and Reggie Pegram picked up 20 yards on two carries.

As a team, the Boilermakers ran for 217 yards. It’s the third time in five games Purdue eclipsed 200 yards on the ground.

“What I like about our football team right now is we don’t have anyone pouting about how many carries they get or how many catches they get or how many passes they get to throw,” said Hope. “We have a bunch of guys on our football team who really want to win.”

One of Minnesota’s few bright spots was a 92-yard kickoff return by Marcus Jones in the third quarter. It was the Gophers first touchdown of the Big Ten season. MarQueis  Gray added a one yard rushing score in the fourth.

Jerry Kill’s club falls to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the conference. They have a bye week before playing Nebraska at home.

Purdue goes to Penn State next weekend. The Boilermakers are looking to start 2-0 in the Big Ten for the second consecutive season.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Purdue's Season Up Against the Ropes

Throughout training camp, Purdue football coach Danny Hope stressed to his team about the importance of starting fast and fighting through adversity. Like a great boxer, he wanted his players to be the aggressors and set the tempo in games before their opponents did.

Four games into the season, it’s apparent the message is easier said than done.

Even with an extra week to prepare, the Boilermakers took the first, second, and third punches from in-state rival Notre Dame, Saturday, and the Irish never let them off the ropes ending with a 38-10 win.

“We didn’t get it done. Sometimes we were inches away and they were a much better football team tonight, but if we make some of those plays and cash in on some of those opportunities, at least we’re in position to compete,” said Hope.

“When you don’t cash in on some of those plays that you’ve worked on that’s supposed to make a difference in the game, against a really good football team, and you’re not playing well, then your opportunity to compete diminishes.”

Notre Dame grabbed momentum on the first play from scrimmage. Gary Gray stepped in front of and picked off a Caleb TerBush pass.

Two plays later, All-American candidate Michael Floyd hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to give the Irish a 7-0 lead. 

That was all Brian Kelly’s team need, really, but the Irish added a two yard score from Jonas Gray and a 55-yard run from Cierre Wood to take a 21-3 lead into halftime. The break didn’t slow Notre Dame down.  They scored on their first possession of the second half when Reese found Tyler Eifert from six yards out.

Purdue simply had no answers on how to slow down the Irish offense that had been the definition of inconsistent in its first four games.

“They are a very, very talented football team. They really are,” said Hope. “They were a much better football team tonight.”

Notre Dame racked up 551-yards of total offense compared to 276 for Purdue.
As efficient as Notre Dame was offensively, Purdue didn’t do itself any favors. The Boilermakers were penalized 13 times for 118-yards.

One that was particularly costly was called on one of the last players Purdue would expect, senior captain Albert Evans.

With the Boilers trailing 7-0, Evans successfully defended a third and goal pass that would have forced the Irish to try a field goal. But, after the play, the safety gave a high five to a Notre Dame fan and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. That gave Notre Dame a fresh set of downs and they turned the new possession into the two-yard score by Gray.

“I was in the moment, so I couldn’t tell you who I high-fived,” said Evans. “It’s kind of gut-wrenching and a little upsetting, but I guess they saw what I did was real unsportsmanlike so you just got to roll with it and go back out there.”

On top of the penalties were missed opportunities like dropping what would have been a pick six and missed tackles that gave Notre Dame the extra yards needed for first downs.

“Obviously we played really sloppy or we wouldn’t have had all those penalties,” said Hope. “They are a very good team and sometimes when you are just hanging on, trying to make a play, you get penalties.”

When you are getting beat, the last thing you can afford is self-inflicted wounds. The Boilermakers made mistakes they knew they couldn’t afford if they hoped to beat Notre Dame for the first time since 2007.

“It’s a disappointment to lose any game but coming into the game we really felt like we could win,” said defensive end Gerald Gooden. “I’m just disappointed we couldn’t come away with the victory.” 

Purdue thought this would be a momentum building game heading into the Big Ten season next week and the stage was perfect. It was nationally televised, under the lights, and against one of its biggest rivals. But, Purdue fell flat. 

“The loss in general is pretty tough,” said Evans. “ESPN and the national stage just kind of adds to it, but to go out there and lose to anyone, on any stage…is pretty frustrating”

Notre Dame beat up on Purdue and while the Boilermakers are down, they aren’t all the way out. 

“Believe it or not, I think we can still be a good football team,” said Hope. “It’s going to get better. I can assure you that. It’s going to get a lot better. I believe that we have good people and good talent, but we obviously haven’t put it together yet.”

The Boilers have a good chance to lift their season off the canvas when they host a 1-4 Minnesota team that was blown out by Michigan, 58-0. The Gophers may be just the remedy needed for Purdue to heal its wounds. If not, the Boilermakers’ dreams of making a bowl game for the first time in the Danny Hope era may soon be knocked out.

Irish Roll Through Boilermakers

Notre Dame has shaken off its 0-2 start.

The Irish won their third in a row, Saturday, beating Purdue 38-10 on the road.

“We didn’t play well and things didn’t go our way and we had bad luck, too. When all those things happen it ends up being a bad showing for our football team.” said Purdue head coach Danny Hope. “We played a very talented football team.”

The home crowd was amped for the seventh night game in Ross-Ade Stadium history, but the excitement deflated quickly when Notre Dame’s Gary Gray picked off Caleb TerBush on the Boilermakers first play from scrimmage.

Two plays later, Michael Floyd grabbed a 35-yard pass from Tommy Rees for a touchdown.  Floyd continued his All-American campaign with 12-catches for 137-yards.

“We just went out there and didn’t execute and missed some tackles we should have made,” said Purdue safety Albert Evans. “That happens sometimes when you are going against good athletes.”

The tone of the game was set in the first quarter and it was a nightmare for Purdue. The Boilers ended the first 15-minutes of play with more yards in penalties (48) than they had in total offense (39).

For the game, Purdue racked up 13 penalties for 118 yards and recorded only 276 yards offensively.

“Penalties hurt us,” said defensive end Gerald Gooden. “Stopping their running game and passing game is pretty tough and we kind of struggled.”

Even after falling behind early, Purdue had chances to get back into the game. Defensive Tackle Kawann Short blocked the fourth field goal of his career. He got a hand on a 28-yard try from David Ruffer.

After Purdue’s offense failed to do something with the ensuing possession, the Irish again marched down the field and appeared to have to settle for another field goal try, but Evans was penalized for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for giving a high five to a Notre Dame fan after defending a third down pass.

The Irish used the new set of downs to take 14-0 lead when Jonas Gray ran the ball in from two yards out. 
“That was a downer, but I guess you just have to learn from it,” said Evans. 

Notre Dame extended its lead to 21-0 after Cierre Wood broke free for a 55-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Purdue finally got on the board more than halfway through the second quarter with Carson Wiggs capping off a 14-play, 70-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal.

Rees (25-41, 264 yards) threw his second touchdown of the game on the Irish’s first possession of the second half. He connected with Tyler Eifert on a six yard score to give Notre Dame a 28-3 lead. He found T.J jones from eleven yards out later in the quarter for his third touchdown toss.

Notre Dame (3-2) will go for four in a row next week in South Bend against Air Force.

Purdue (2-2) begins conference play, Saturday, at home against Minnesota.

"We are going to rebound," said Hope.  "We have good guys, good players, who want to win."