Purdue Shows No Fear Vs ND But Game Slips Away, 31-24
Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Boilers played stronger than expected against the Irish tonight only to lose the game late. Man, that one hurts and dammit, do I hate Notre Dame. I can only imagine how it must be as a fan to cheer for a team that can look that middling for that long and still win games.
Purdue came out and played -- by far -- their best game of this young season. Coach Hazell and company had them completely prepared, more than 61,000 packed into Ross-Ade and the vibe was unquestionably great. ABC was covering the game and Eminem was playing us into and out of commerical breaks. The Boilers had an opening drive that was reminiscient of the early drive against Cinci that wound up leading to nothing -- but this one led to a TD and included multiple third-down conversions. Who was this team?
The Boilermaker defense also came to play tonight, holding down Notre Dame for more than 3/4 of the game. The Boilers held a 10-3 lead at the half, though if you're anything like me, you knew Notre Dame was going to put some points on the board. This is not a bad team, so I think we all knew 10 points wasn't going to do it.
In case you've already blocked it out, the Boilers even led after three quarters, 17-10, managing to avoid their recent history of deplorable third quarter performances. So that's definitely a step in the right direction.
And then the fourth quarter happened. Notre Dame outscored Purdue 21-7 for the quarter, but the critical part was that UND scored three TDs in about three minutes of game action. Two TD passes to DaVaris Daniels -- the second of which was an 82 yard TD in which he seemed to burn Ricardo Allen multiple times on the same play -- and a pick-6 turned a 17-10 Purdue lead into a seemingly-insurmountable 31-17 deficit.
However, I'd like to give credit here to Rob Henry and the Boilermakers in totality -- they did not fold. And I think that's significant, as it was gut punch time. Rob brought the team down and on fourth down his Justin Sinz for a TD to bring it back to 31-24 with eight minutes to go. On the next ND possession, the Irish fumbled it back to Purdue, but the Boilers had nothing more in the tank.
The atmosphere at Ross-Ade looked great tonight (boilerdowd was there and will report in with more, I'm sure) and the fans deserve credit for that. As for Purdue football itself... click for more...
Could you argue things are getting better? I think so, actually. There's no doubt that was the best the Boilers have looked this year, slowing improving from a drubbing at Cinci to a weak victory over ISU to a strong performance (that you could argue -- again -- should have been a win) against Notre Dame.
I noticed quite a few people saying at halftime that regardless of how it played out that they were firm believers in Darrell Hazell now. Not sure how they handled the fourth quarter collapse, but I'll take them at their word and concur that Coach Hazell deserves large amounts of credit here. He and his staff had the team completely ready to play. The focus was evident, as was the intensity. Akeem Hunt knocking over UND defenders on the first drive was terrific. Seeing Coach Freeman looking like he was ready to put on pads was inspiring. And seeing Coach Hazell's calm demeanor looking over all of it was reassuring. Sure, it hurts now, and it should... but the way this Boilermaker team looked tonight as far as composure and focus was a big chunk of what we've been longing for for quite a while.
This is not to say everything is fixed now. While they moved the ball better than they have in the first couple of games and scored more points, the offense still had its anemic aspects, including...38 yards rushing? Akeem Hunt had 22 of those on 12 rushes. I have to say, I wouldn't have guessed the numbers were that weak on the rush, mainly because Akeem Hunt felt like he was very active tonight, but those were more out of passing situations than anything, as Akeem led the team with nine catches for 72 yards and a TD. BJ Knauf continues to give us things to like about him, as he caught four balls for 51 yards and a slick 18 yard TD that put the Boilers up 17-10. (Incidentally, did you know BJ only had one catch in each of the previous two games? Felt like he did a lot more, right? He had seven rushes in those two games and a TD, for the record.)
Another thing I liked was John Shoop and Darrell Hazell pulling out a little trickery early in the game, having Bilal Marshall on the field for an end around pass play, which Musburger was dying to tell us all he knew was coming. The play busted pretty quickly and Purdue was lucky not to turn it over, but all I could think was how that place would have erupted if Marshall had connected for a TD to put the Boilers up 14-0.
There have been many (deserved) criticisms lobbed at Shoop for his weak-looking offense in the early weeks. I give him some credit for tonight's game, in that he clearly worked with Rob Henry and worked up a game plan that Henry was comfortable with. It was also evident that Henry was repeatedly told this week that if the pocket collapses and you get into imminent trouble, simply throw it away. The Boilers tried to be steady and careful and simply not make any backbreaking mistakes. The INT for a TD and the missed gimme FG are a swing of ten points -- even though the majority of the game was played well and the Boilers made us proud, you simply cannot give away ten points when you're also the three-TD underdog and an outmatched team on the talent front. Let's hope they can improve there. If they do, wins will come.
Still, as much as I was very pleased with Rob's performance -- hell, I'll take 25/40 for 256 yards and 3 TDs every week -- and decision-making, I can't help but wonder how much better Akeem Hunt would be if Purdue had a QB in there who was a threat to stretch the field. We still believe we're going to see one of the young guys at some point this season, so maybe we'll find out.
And on the subject of "what might have beens," I have to say that I would love for Ricardo Allen to come up big in one of these big games. He's had many opportunities to live up to the endless hype that's surrounded him for his four years, yet it feels like good teams don't hesitate to pick on him -- and he never makes them pay. As I said on Twitter, if we're going to criticize guys like Rob Henry for their shortcomings, I believe it's time to begin asking why Ricardo only gets picks against terrible or overmatched teams.
In the end, the Boilermakers did what they do in night games, especially against Notre Dame. They got our hopes up and in many ways made us very proud of them.... but ultimately found the banana peel and, in this case, were outplayed for a mere 3:30 of game action. As it turns out, that was enough.
Next week, it doesn't get any easier, as Purdue travels to dreaded Camp Randall.