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Questions and answers with Off the Tracks.

The author of Off the Tracks, a fine Purdue blog, and I have been exchanging questions and answers this week. My answers to his questions will be posted there in the next day or so, and his answers to my questions are below:
1. Let's keep things light to begin. Of all the Bucket games you have seen, which was your favorite, and which was the most difficult to handle? Just so we know the timeframe you are considering, you might mention how long you have been a Purdue fan.

Well, I was born in 1979 as the son of a 1975 Purdue grad and came home from the hospital in a Purdue outfit, so that should give you an idea. I started going to games in 1987 with my parents, and three bucket games really stand out to me. The first was the 1992 bucket game with the interception of Trent Green at the goal line in the final seconds and a fight breaking out after the return. That was a small bright spot in a dreadful era of Purdue football.

The second is the 2000 bucket game also at Purdue. It was my junior year and everyone was abuzz at the possibility of heading to the Rose Bowl. It was on national TV and we had gotten a reprieve at clinching the Rose Bowl bid the week before. We had lost a bad, bad game to a bad Michigan State team but Iowa bailed us out by beating Northwestern. There was simply no freaking way we were losing the Rose Bowl bid at home to a 3-7 Indiana team, and Montrell Lowe just dominated on the same play over and over again to the tune of 200 plus yards and four TD’s. The site of me running onto the field, roses in the bucket is a sight I will never forget.

The most difficult to handle was the very next year and my first ever trip to Bloomington for the game. It was an absolutely miserable day weather-wise and we ended up blowing chance after chance to win in a 13-7 loss. I remember thinking, "I drove three hours and stood in the rain for THIS?"

2. Not long ago, Brock Spack was one of the names bandied about for various head coaching positions, but in recent years, the Purdue defense has been dreadful. What's the problem, and what can be done about it?

I really don’t know what the problem is. I watch the NFL on Sundays and I see names like Landon Johnson, Shaun Phillips, Akin Ayodele, Stu Schweigert, Jacques Reeves, Roosevelt Colvin, and many more thinking it wasn’t that long ago they were all at Purdue. Many of those guys played on the same defense that started together for years. We thought the dropoff would come in 2004 when most of those guys left, but that year the defense was fine. It really came in 2005 when some on the defense (Ray Edwards and Bernard Pollard) got a bit of a big head and constantly got lit up. A play that stands out is Bernard Pollard body slamming a guy and posing during the 2005 Minnesota game. That’s a great tackle, Bernard, but too bad you’re a safety and he was 15 yards downfield.

Things seem to be improving this year, but last week was an example of not making adjustments. Michigan State kept throwing to the same receiver (Devin Thomas) in one-on-one coverage on third down and he kept making catches. We simply refuse to adjust, double cover, or even play up on him. We gave him ten yards and one-on-one coverage on every 3rd and 6 and Hoyer just kept throwing to him. We need somebody aside from me screaming section 128, row 42 to realize things like this.

3. What's the word on Curtis Painter? He generated a bunch of yards last year, but wasn't terribly accurate and turned the ball over quite a bit. He has been better this year. Are Purdue fans satisfied with his progress? Also, I see that the Purdue website lists him as a senior, but it appears that he has a year of eligibility remaining, so I presume he will be back. If I am wrong about that, how are your QB prospects for next year?

He is a redshirt junior, so he has one year of eligibility remaining. I don’t think he has been as much of a problem this year except in probably the Michigan State game. Even then I felt he played a good game if you take away his two interceptions, but when those two interceptions came on plays that easily could have gone for scores and instead gave 10 points to the other team in a 17 point loss they are big mistakes. In our wins he has been great, but in our losses we lost for bigger reasons than him.

Against Ohio State the coaches abandoned the running game and Ohio State played great defense. Against Michigan he had some bad picks, but the whole team sucked that day. Penn State saw a lot of dumb penalties by our guys, a costly goal line fumble by Jaycen Taylor, and some terrible calls from the officials. Against Michigan State the defense could not get a stop when they needed to, and we easily could have overcome the picks had they been able to. Personally I am satisfied with what he has done, but there are elements within the fan base that will never be happy until Drew Brees returns. Painter could be in for a big year next year, but changes on the O-line, a much tougher schedule since Oregon and MAC champ Central Michigan come to Purdue, and a still questionable defense will be tough to overcome.

4. As for the Bucket game, what concerns you most about IU and why? What concerns should IU have about Purdue?

Kellen Lewis scares the hell out of me because I remember how Randle El ran circles around us in the rain six years ago. After seeing what Devin Thomas did last week to us, and knowing we will never adjust in game to what he’s doing, I fear James Hardy could set NCAA single game records against us. It also concerns me that Indiana has everything to play for at 7-5 trying to reach that bowl game for Hep while our season evaporated last week in the Michigan State loss. Even with three losses we had a good shot at a New Year’s Day bowl if things fell right by winning these last two games. Now even if we beat IU we could possibly get no higher than Detroit for a bowl. It’s hard to get excited for that, and I hope the pride of keeping the bucket is enough. Simply put, Indiana has more motivation for this game.

Indiana should worry if we actually do what I have been screaming about for years and commit to our running game. Kory Sheets has had a field day the last two years, going for 200 yards and four touchdowns in the two games he has played against the Hoosiers. Two years ago was his best game, with a 137 yard 3 TD game in Memorial Stadium. He probably had the best day of anyone last week with a 59 yard TD run and a 41 yard TD catch on a screen pass. With Jaycen Taylor complementing him and IU’s run defense being a little suspect IU fans should be concerned if we commit to pounding the ball with those two. I don’t think our coaching staff is smart enough to do so though.