More than a moral victory
Baseball and football are different for me- I can generally watch about any football game with about anyone and enjoy it...I can especially enjoy watching my alma mater play. But as I looked ahead to tonight, the game wasn't what I was looking forward to. I looked forward to seeing some great friends before it and watching it with one of my oldest friends. The trappings were there, but I didn't think Purdue belonged on the big stage.
Well I was right about one thing- Everything around the game was pretty great- the tailgate was fun, catching up with friends is always great, the weather was perfect, the Goodyear blimp reminded all of us that this game was being seen by everyone...once again, I didn't love this idea. I figured if my favorite squad was gonna get lambasted, I'd prefer the smallest-possible viewership.
Like J said though, just after kickoff, it was pretty obvious that Hazell's boys weren't there just to participate. They marched down the field and scored...the defense stopped UND, again and again and again. The game was 10-0, it was the middle of the second quarter, and my prediction was already very wrong- and I was loving it. We sat in 103...and that section earned some respect from me. We stood almost the entire game with no bitching from curmudgeons. The old and young alike were on board and all in.
At the half, I was pretty stoked that the good guys weren't competing, but winning.
From all the way across the field and up 43 rows, I could see Coach Hudson (DC) working hard- the defense reflected his energy...played hard...looked prepared...looked fast and athletic. But, kind of like what we saw in the past few weeks, they lost some steam as the game wore on. The differences were that this was a motivated ranked opponent and the collapses that happened didn't occur until very late in the game.
I don't think Hudson, Shoop, Hazell or the players would call today a success. I'm positive that most, if not all, would call it a step in the right direction. The way I look at this season is the process matters. Rebuilding the psyche of the team matters. Making progress matters.
Purdue didn't fold when they could have late in the game, Henry made better decisions today, the offensive line played much better in facets today, the linebackers were pretty damned good today, and the WR pups seemed to learn a lot today.
Now, I will be critical of one player's play...only because he has said multiple times that his goal is to dominate and be one of the best players at his position in the nation. Ricardo Allen simply must step up against one of the premier programs on the schedule in order to take the next step. He's dominated smurfs on the schedule and made big plays versus nobodies... but bluebloods typically end up picking on him successfully at important junctures in the game. Today was no different. He had a great strip in the fourth, that was important and showed some fight, but as a cover corner, he simply has to be better if he wants to get close to his self-set goal. AND if Purdue's defense is going to get better, his role within the defensive backfield can be something they can build around.
So why was this loss more than a mere moral victory? Because it renewed faith in the Hazell's rebuilding process among the fans AND, it showed what might be in the future for this program to a TON of recruits. A few very important cogs in Hazell's plan were in the house tonight (as well as a bunch of Matty's guests). Those guys needed to see a full-ish Ross-Ade and hear from a fanbase that's absolutely starving for a team that consistently beats ranked opponents. For the first time in Hazell's short stint at Purdue, a glint of bright light peaked through.
I can't speak for you, but I can tell you that I needed to see something from the team today just so I didn't have such a negative perspective about this young season. The next step in this process is for the Boilers to finish out, and beat one of the good teams that they'll play in the next four or five weeks. Traveling to Madison to go toe-to-toe with a gaggle of angry Badgers, is a tall order....we'll see how quickly they can take this next step.