Boilermakers Nearly Make History vs ISU
Has a win ever felt so awful? I don't think so. I remember some games against cupcakes that were closer than one would have liked, but I never recall having one bearing down on Purdue only needing 7 points to steal a win in Ross-Ade. The Boilers nearly let the only "sure" win on their schedule slip away this afternoon, turning a 17-0 third quarter lead into a 20-14 squeaker of a win to remain unbeaten against FCS programs.
So yeah, you'll see and hear people -- including Coach Hazell -- say that a win is a win and anytime you win you should be happy. However, I would argue that while that's usually the case (and definitely in Big Ten play), games against FCS opponents are not supposed to be like this. I also understand that eight FCS teams rose up and defeated FBS teams last weekend, so maybe they're not total "gimmes" anymore. But for a program that wants to be on the rise and one that is turning things in the right direction, this game didn't give anyone that feeling. I saw a comment on Twitter that said "I guess when Hazell said he wanted us out of the middle of the pack, he meant towards the bottom." Ouch.
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The Boilermakers did very little right today. The opening kickoff return for a TD was a thing of beauty, though if you watch the replay, tell me if you spot the clip and the hold that Purdue got away with.
Dicey, my friends. After that, things were quiet. Lots of punting (where Cody Webster continues to be exceptional) and inept offensive play by the Boilers.
The defense played pretty well today... for about two and a half quarters. Then about midway through the third, they -- incredibly -- began to look fatigued again. I don't know if this is a conditioning issue or a heart/focus issue, but the Boilers wilted, without a doubt. And then after taking a 20-7, the Boiler D let ISU come down the field like they were Alabama. Don't believe me? Think that's an exaggeration? The mightly Sycamores covered 60+ yards in 1:35 and made it a one score game with 9:22 to go.
Meanwhile, an already tight in the chest fanbase had zero confidence at this point that Purdue could move the chains and end the game. And they were right, as Purdue failed to move at all and on their final possession prior to the kneel-down, wound up punting from their own end zone. ISU had a shot at driving 45 yards to win the game, but Ricardo Allen continued his domination of FCS squads and got the INT for the only turnover of the game to ice it.
Why were Purdue fans already tight in the chest when it came to this offense? Earlier, the Boilers had continued to struggle in the art of scoring points. Never good when you're going to be facing a lot of teams who are experts at scoring. If you watched the game, you don't want me to recap the end of the first half for you, and if you didn't watch, well, you were smart and you don't want to know. But for those who do...
Purdue brought the house on an ISU punt from deep in Sycamore territory and Frankie Williams got a hand on it (after which, J Leman on BTN called Williams "silky"), allowing Purdue to take over on about the 20. The Boilers got to the 1 fairly quickly, but could not move it in from there. Again. They ran Hunt up the gut several times, never once pausing to consider that ISU seemed to be stacking up for that and thinking maybe rolling Henry out might work. The Boilers were also out of timeouts, so after the third straight rush attempt was stuffed , there were 14 seconds left to attempt a FG. They weren't able to get it off in time. In the midst of this mayhem, Leman thought the Boilers had a timeout and couldn't understand why they weren't calling it. So there was confusion everywhere.
Bdowd and Lil' Bdowd were in the house today and said that was one of three times today the offense was loudly booed. That's also never good against a team this mediocre.
A couple of bright spots, in my opinion, today were BJ Knauf and Akeem Hunt. While Hunt got stuffed more than a few times today, he also had more than 200 all-purpose yards, with the huge kickoff return to start the game, plus 82 yards rushing and 38 receiving. Knauf had a rushing TD and is just generally a likable player. He's quick, runs precise routes, has a knack for being open (reminds me of Wes Welker) and can also slice through as a rusher.
Knauf's TD, by the way, was really Purdue's only legitimate offensive TD so far this year. Last week, Henry's rushing TD was set up by special teams (an excellent punt by Webster, which was the catalyst for the fumble that followed) and of course today's first score was a return TD.
On the subject of Rob Henry (15/24, 150 yards, 0 TDs), we have a very hard time overly criticizing guys who have chosen to put on the black and gold and represent our university. Especially guys like Rob Henry, who clearly work hard and take their responsbility as a Purdue athlete seriously. That said, it's hard to defend his play at this point. He's a good young man and a guy we really wish would succeed (not just for selfish, Purdue-winning-reasons, but because he's a good dude who deserves it), but it's not happening, and it's hard to imagine that Austin Appleby could possibly be any worse than this. Is Hazell attempting to protect the freshman from the brutal schedule and the suspect offensive line play? We discussed that here at BS HQ and I can't help but come back to the idea that if your offensive line is suspect, wouldn't it be better to have a "true" quarterback back there who will make quick decisions and possesses the ability to fire off accurate passes quickly?
It's rare that a victory feels this awful. Derek Schultz tweeted "Is there such a thing as a demoralizing win?" If there is, this was it. Boilermaker fans won't be expecting wins going into many games in the near future. And to be frank, if the team plays like they have the first two games, there may not be any more wins. Can you imagine a 1-11 season? It's hard to consider Purdue being that bad, but that's how they look thus far. I don't think that will happen, though. I think Purdue will get a couple more wins at least, only because that's what happens in the Big Ten. Also, I don't think it's reasonable to assume the Boilers won't improve at all throughout this year under Coach Hazell and company. The question is, does the next six weeks bludgeon Purdue to the point that these guys quit on 2013? You've got:
vs. #14 ND, @ #21 Wisconsin, vs. NIU, vs. #22 Nebraska, @ MSU, vs. #3 Ohio State.
Buckle up, guys and girls. It's going to get worse before it gets better.