Saturday, September 27, 2008

Swimming in quicksand

IU losses to Michigan State 42-29.

The good news: Javon Ringer didn't get 200 yards for the third straight game. He only got 196.

Last week's loss was embarrassing. This one was just painful. IU easily could have won this game and I venture to say they SHOULD have won this game. But it seemed for every good play that was made, there were two bad plays.

The microcosm of the whole game: Third quarter, 4:12 to go. Third down and 8 at the IU 3 yard line. Kellen Lewis throws a 97 yard touchdown pass that gives IU the lead. But it's negated by a holding penalty. And it occurred in the end zone, which is a safety and Michigan State goes up by 7.

IU had nine penalties for 89 yards and it seemed a lot of them came at the worst possible time. Personal foul penalties were called to killed first-down gains. A holding call in the end zone. You name it, every time IU tried to get back in the game a crippling penalty was called.

The Hoosiers slipped to 2-2 and head to Minnesota next week. The Gophers are playing much better, in spite of a loss today at Ohio State. I'm not feeling very good about a bounce-back next week.

Memorize this phrase...

Actually, Hoosier fans probably won't have to, but they likely will not forget it until well after this week's game against Michigan State: "Ringer gets the carry."

Spartan running back Javon Ringer is a Heisman Trophy candidate. And the Hoosier defense had trouble stopping the run against Ball State last week. The Cardinals' top back rushed for 166 yards last week. Expect Ringer to get a lot of carries and a ton of yards, maybe more than 200. Hopefully the IU offense will be able to keep up, otherwise it will be a long day.

Michigan State is an 8-point favorite. Kick-off on ESPN is in 20 minutes.

I'm hoping I don't have to invoke the 21-point rule this week. It was the unofficial football rule when I was a student: when the Hoosiers went down by 21 points or more, you left. Sometimes it was in the fourth quarter, sometimes it was in the first quarter. In either case, it was strictly followed by hundreds of fans.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Finally, a win

Phil Mickelson didn't deliver in his singles match, but the Americans still won the Ryder Cup 16.5-11.5, thanks to some great shots made by the young guns of the U.S. team.

I watched almost the entire six hours of coverage on Sunday without changing the channel, except for updates on the Bears and White Sox games. Almost every match was close throughout and for the most part the play was outstanding.

It was amazing drama to see. I found myself yelling "Boo!!" whenever Boo Weakley made a great shot, or siting on the edge of my coach watching Hunter Mayhan, J.B. Holmes and Anthony Kim make big putt after big putt.

It was a great weekend. Congratulations to Captain Paul Azinger. Now let's keep it in 2010.

Update (Sept. 22): The European press was not impressed with losing Captain Nick Faldo.

The Ryder Cup, Mickelson's dream chance

The U.S. has the lead heading into the final day of the Ryder Cup. After two consecutive beatings, and five losses in the last six competitions, the Americans have a chance to win the cup for the first time since 1999.

For Phil Mickelson, this is his chance to make a name for himself and cement his career legacy. Tiger Woods is not at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. after suffering a knee injury that required surgery. Meaning, the world's best golfer is not leading the U.S. charge. That leaves Mickelson as the U.S. team leader.

While Mickelson has won several majors, he has lived in Woods' shadow the last 10 years. But even Woods has not been able to bring multiple Ryder Cup victories. The U.S. has been the underdog in this event almost since Woods announced after the U.S. Open he wouldn't play the rest of the year.

Mickelson said each of the five matches feel like the final round of a major, all jammed into three days. If the Americans can handle the pressure and hold on in the singles matches to win the cup, much of that praise will rest on Mickelson's shoulders. While not playing brilliantly at times, he has done well, accounting for 2 full points in his four foursome matches, the second highest total on the American squad.

Mickelson, with a U.S. win, will be able to say he led a U.S. team to a victory over a better European team, without the best player in the world. Woods hasn't been able to lead U.S. teams to victory that were better than Europe on paper.

Mickelson will play Justin Rose in the fourth match of the day today, to help set the American tone. Winning The Masters may have been Mickelson's greatest golf moment, but winning this Ryder Cup may be his career-cementing moment.

A real test? A real failure

Hoosier fans were waiting for a measuring stick of how good this year's team is and we got it. Instead of taking a step forward by beating a quality team, they took two back with an embarrassing loss to Ball State 42-20.

Ball State is undefeated, but there was no reason the Hoosiers should not have won this game. The Cardinals, a pass-happy team running the spread offense, ran the ball all over the lot, amassing 224 yards. And they also put up 239 yards passing. The Hoosier offense couldn't keep up and didn't score in the second half.

The worst part of this game may be that 41,349 people were in the stadium to see it. IU football boosters, me included, have been crying for more fans to show up and watch this team as it has improved. We could win even more games and recruit better players if the fans created a better home field advantage. But who wants to play for IU after this game? And how many IU fans left Memorial Stadium Saturday night saying this team was no better than previous incarnations. How many left thinking last year was a fluke?

I said before the season started IU needed to beat one of the Big Ten's elite to take the next step. But that step also means winning games its supposed to win. The Hoosiers won't be taken seriously until they can do those two things.

Up next: Michigan State next Saturday. After this defensive performance, a win next week is becoming less likely.