SET IT UP – THE SIU Predicto
As with many years, the disappointment/afterglow following the Notre Dame contest can take many forms. As with many Boilermaker teams of recent years, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen next. But there is a lot of football let to be played, as the Boilers still have another game before conference play begins with a potential slap-fight against former OMHR Iowa. That game is against a lower-division foe – Southern Illinois University – on the fourth different TV network Purdue will play on in four games. Games against FCS teams used to actually be fun because it meant your favorite squad had basically a glorified scrimmage to tune up for more important games, in recent years even good programs have been felled by these Davids of the college football world. Purdue, however, despite not being what one might objectively call a “good program” in recent years, has managed to avoid this ignominious circumstance. The Boilermakers are 9-0 in their history against FCS (D-II) opponents, but that’s one of those stats that means absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. In fact, if that stat gives you any confidence, you should have your head examined. What matters is this year’s team against this year’s SIU program. So let’s get to it.
Aneesh the Swamy:
We lost last week, but I’m not feeling completely ashamed to be a Purdue fan, so yay?
Papa bears J Money and BDowd described the scene from Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend, and posted a Facebook video that delightfully highlighted how vertically-challenged (yet astonishingly handsome) BDowd is in the real life.
My additional thoughts: I thought Etling looked solid against a very good Notre Dame defense, relying on short, quick completions to methodically move the offense forward. ND made second half adjustments that rattled him, but that first half was the best a Purdue QB looked since Robert Marve was under center. Honestly, it was the third quarter defense that disappointed me, with ND converting two third-and-longs on the way to extend the game out of reach. Some Purdue fans declared themselves “done” with the program…but I thought the effort wasn’t awful and thus a small (moral) victory. And I share J’s skepticism that we’ll ever see a regular Purdue-ND rivalry series resume. Every move they make is to build their national brand, and I just don’t see how a fairly-useless regional rivalry game helps that mission.
As for Southern Illinois…well, the Salukis are an FCS team in the Missouri Valley Conference, coming of a 7-5 season and are CURRENTLY UNDEFEATED AND RANKED #16 IN THE FCS. But for real, the Salukis feature a handful of FBS transfers, so a few of them can actually play. The player to watch is former Oregon State Beaver RB Malcolm Agnew, who should be fully healthy after a hamstring injury plagued him last year. Also of note: their long-snapper is named Thor, and Pat Forde wrote about him in his latest weekly post on Yahoo. He’s got an interesting QB-to-LS story, and delivers grandmother-made desserts to his team after wins, but the real story is that two adults decided to name their kid Thor.
Last year, Purdue got a good solid scare from FCS Goliath Indiana State, and needed a game-clinching Ricardo Allen interception deep in Purdue territory to secure a win…and avoid what could have been the most embarrassing loss in recent Purdue memory. So, you know, I’m hoping for a comfortable non-dramatic win this weekend. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I’m feeling good and ready for a stressless Saturday.
Spread: Off all betting sites. I hope this is because they assume a Purdue victory, but you never know.
Purdue: 45 SIU: 20
Handsome Mike Henry (RRT):
It may be obvious to the point of being cliche, but QB might be the most challenging position in professional sports. You're the center of not only the offense, but the team. Yours is the picture on the cover of magazines, and yours is the locker most crowded following a game.
But it's not all sunshine and butterflies. As the old adage goes, the most popular man on a football team is the backup quarterback (in Purdue's case, QB2 is given a run for its money by the mythological "next" offensive coordinator, riding in on his unicorn of justice to liberate still-bitter Bears fans from John Shoop.). Your failures are front and center, replayed, debated, and driven into the ground. A receiver runs the wrong route and you throw to a field of green? Nice throw, dummy. Your left tackle is slow getting out of his stance and you get creamed? I've seen my grandma make more athletic moves than you; enjoy your sack. A receiver tips an easy catch in the air and it's picked off? That INT in the box score only serves to highlight your compete incompetence.
There's no easy learning on the job, even at the college level, when any QB worth his salt enters college having ran through high school defenses like water through a colander. Not to mention the offensive sets (and opposing defenses) are so much more complicated than at the high school level that it's nearly a completely different sport. There's two ways to learn: doing, and watching. Alas, Danny Etling has not had the luxury of watching, being thrown into the starting position last year as a true freshman after Purdue's offensive impotence made them physically painful to watch.
So here we are, Etling is still learning on the job, but with the added weight of football PTSD from the difficult season last year. I'll strap on my armchair sports psychologist tweed jacket for a second and point out that Etling has looked rattled on the field for most of this young season. It's not hard to see that he has struggled to trust his line, his receivers, and least of all, himself. Can you blame him? This was not what he signed up for. Now add in a quasi QB "conversation", with Austin Appleby having won the heart and minds of a sizable portion of the Purdue fanbase. As easy as it is to point out Etling's struggles, it's hard to do so with Appleby, due to his small sample size of play. Purdue will struggle all season this year, and all season the debate will rage. I would caution to compare this to the great "Marve v. TerBush" debate of a few years back. Then we were dealing with two players whose style could not be more different (Marve as the improvising risk-taker, TerBush as the "system" guy). Etling and Appleby are cut from the same cloth; one fails to bring an element that the other lacks. Switching QBs may placate a portion of Purdue's fanbase, but I'd wager that the end results would stay the same.
Anyway, despite Etling's uneven performances this season, we happened to catch a glimpse of why he was so highly regarded out of high school by coaches and fans alike during the first half of the Notre Dame game. He was calm, decisive, and accurate in the face of a front seven that by all rights should have scared the crap out of him. Yeah, he didn't remind anyone of Drew Brees during that first half (here's where I also point out the vastly different system that Darrell Hazell runs compared to Joe Tiller), but come on, he's a true sophomore playing a top-15 team on the road. If you didn't see progression, then you are willfully ignorant of the facts in front of you. Of course, Purdue played like a team coming off a 1-11 season, unable to hold Notre Dame, got behind, and Etling started pressing. And no good came of that.
I know this is supposed to be a preview of the game Saturday, but my point is, when you're not contending for a bowl, you want to see positive progress. I saw that Saturday, and while I'm of course not satisfied with the state of Purdue football, I saw enough to give me a little hope that giving up completely would be a bit premature (would that I could anyway; I have Purdue-induced Stockholm Syndrome. I'll call it "Colletto Syndrome").
The Southern Illinois game, right. They're an FCS school, but a good one. They have a ton of FBS transfers, they're well coached, and the type of team that could beat a struggling FBS team, like oh, say, Purdue. Purdue needs all hands on deck on offense, specifically, Hunt, Mostert, Sinz, and Yancey. The defense needs to be on point, especially in the running game, which frankly worries me the most. I think we'll see Purdue do just enough to get the win.
Purdue: 27 Southern Illinois: 17
Super Dave (zlionsfan):
It's always difficult to predict the outcome of a game between I-A and I-AA teams, particularly when the I-A team is bad or the I-AA team is good. A dominant I-AA team, like the Appalachian State teams of the mid-'00s, might be a middle-of-the-pack power-conference team, a strong mid-major team, or worse. (Ken Massey, whose system is one of the few that rates all divisions together, estimated the '07 Mountaineers - the ones who beat Michigan - 55th in Division I, one spot ahead of Purdue.) It's hard to say, because there isn't a lot of overlap between the halves of D-I, and what does happen is usually intended to be mismatches to pad records or to save travel time (like when ISU plays Purdue).
It doesn't help when those I-AA schools play D-II schools, either. For example, I-AA Portland State has played three teams: I-A Oregon State, D-II Western Oregon, and I-A Washington State. (I bet you can figure out their record.) So you end up almost having to guess what's going to happen ... of course it pains me to just guess, so let me look it up. Massey, what do you say?
Southern Illinois = 68th. Purdue = 131st.
Oh. Massey actually gives the Salukis a 73% chance of winning, and his system predicts a 28-20 loss for the Good Guys. That would be ... not optimal. As good as SIU might be this year, they haven't made the I-AA playoffs since 2009, and this year's team has yet to be challenged, beating NAIA Taylor, Eastern Illinois (who is, uh, #119) and SE Missouri State. A loss here would probably trigger a Kickstarter to buy out Darrell Hazell's contract. I don't know that it'd be the right move, but then it'd be hard to defend giving a third season to a coach who could well end up 2-22 in his first two.
It probably won't happen. Purdue's talent isn't evenly distributed, which is a good thing when you're playing a team a level below you. It just takes a couple of plays where a fast I-A guy gets the ball in space to put a plucky I-AA team down. I think it'll happen that way Saturday. SIU will hang around the whole day, but Mostert will be just too much for the Salukis to handle. Purdue will eke out a second win, but it won't be big enough to keep the wolves from howling in disappointment again.
The Boilers and Salukis haven't met yet, so I'll steal a prediction from another I-A/I-AA matchup:
Repeat of 9/11/2010 (against Western Illinois):
Purdue 31 Southern Illinois 21
I never know what to say when Purdue plays an FCS team other than this should probably be a win.
That said, last season taught me that we're in a new, awful era for Purdue football. Indiana State, an OK FCS team probably should have beaten our Boilers...and would have, had their starting running back been available. He wasn't...and Ricardo Allen did as he always did- feasted on a lesser opponent and closed out the game.
This FCS team, Southern Illinois has an offensive line that's nearly as large as Notre Dame's. Granted, the numbers don't tell what the guys look like, how they move or how long their arms are, but a 305+ pound (average) line is sizable.
Jelani Phillips fought through multiple injuries to make noise in the trenches against the hated Irish in Indy last week...while Williams and Lewis reminded us that they're pretty good football players too...but Purdue really needs even more from the pass rush in the coming weeks.
This is a pivotal weekend for Hazell's second year squad...last year, his Boilers followed a good effort v. UND by getting thrashed by a very good Wisconsin team. This year, they'll follow a good effort v. UND by playing a team that would finish in the bottom third of the B1G.
Sure, SIU is the 16th-best FCS team and they're big and athletic...for an FCS team. But this schedule isn't like last season's (thank God)...and I really don't think these Boilers are as mentally weak as the last version (thank God). Does that translate to a win?
Well, the offense will have a lot to say about that. Etling had a super-efficient first half last week, but after UND made adjustments, Coach Shoop, Etling and co. didn't seem to be able to do the same. For Purdue to be an OK team, they'll need tremendously-good play by the QB; not for a half, but for the entire game.
The Super Swede, David Hedelin, will become Purdue football's first-ever Swedish football player (officially) as his NCAA-issued suspension is over. Unlike schools that harbor child molesters, Purdue is forced to pay the entire penalty for its egregious crimes against the toothless athletic ruling body...but I'm looking forward to seeing him play. The offensive line has been surprisingly-good thus far...another solid player in the rotation won't hurt.
Etling plays well-enough again, people like me continue to wonder what this team would look like with Appleby as the starter. Mostert/Hunt do what they'll do all year versus slower teams...both get a score...both get over 100 yards in all-purpose contribution; good guys win in a close one.
Purdue 27 SIU 23
Merely J Money:
You can smell the consternation here as clearly a mid-90s Cary Quad bathroom stall. Aside from the perpetually optimistic Swamy, there is some worry in the halls of Boiled Sports. However, nobody wants to actually say the unthinkable will happen. But really, is it so unthinkable anymore? Just ask Iowa State, who has lost to lower division foes each of the past two seasons. Mercy.
The problem here, of course, is that Purdue is teetering on the precipice of something we honestly haven’t ever seen in our lifetimes. The Boilers went 1-11 last year, something only done one other time in recent memory. But the following year the team went 4-5-2 (yes, there used to be ties back when the old men among this site were in school – and Jim Colletto loved going for ties), so despite still not being good, they weren’t an automatic punching bag for everyone else to pad their record against.
You know how you look at a schedule for your favorite team, whether it’s Purdue or a pro team or whatever…and you mentally tick off the games that really should be wins? You almost chalk them up into the left column, right? Even if your team isn’t that good, we all do it. Well, that’s Purdue football right now!
Purdue is the program everyone scans the schedule for and thinks, “Well, we’ll get right against them.” And until Darrell Hazell has a signature win, that’s the way it will be – there will be no “well, we should worry about them…” because nobody worries about Purdue right now, other than to say “Well, sheet, we better not lose to them.”
What I’m getting at here is that you can be damn sure SIU knows that Purdue is vulnerable. All football players – all athletes, at almost any level – can smell blood in the water like sharks. You’ve done it, too. Even if it’s just pickup basketball, or church softball, or old man hockey… you know when you have a shot to overpower a team that’s either terrible, reeling, undermanned, or not confident. If we schlubs can sense that, what do you think an SIU player at RB who recently played in the Pac 12 might be thinking?
I have had an awful feeling about this game all week, for many reasons. Purdue fans (me included) were putting this in the win column in Sharpie even before the season began. That’s never a good move. Purdue also is coming off a game against ND in an NFL stadium when they were clearly amped to be there and for a half looked to be able to take the Irish’s best punches and fight right back. One thing Purdue teams of the past decade have shown is a maddening inconsistency – particularly following big “up” games. Coming back to another half-empty Ross-Ade to play at noon against a school they have nothing against sounds to me like a perfect recipe for listlessness and another flat start. If the coaches have the guys coming out like they were fired out of a cannon, then kudos to them, because that might be hard for any team.
I also think that last year’s team would absolutely, without a doubt, lose to this SIU squad. So one could argue that whether they win or not will depend on if they’ve truly gotten better. I do think they definitely have, but the lapses in execution and mental focus are still there in glaring quantities. Just look at week 2 against a not-very-good Central Michigan team: Purdue got absolutely manhandled a week after rolling up points like they should against less-talented teams. There is no consistency of effort, of execution, of mental toughness. I just don’t see it.
Of course Purdue should win this game. Of course it should be a walkover. Of course it should be a fun rout for the loyal fans who have made their way to Ross-Ade on what sounds like it’ll be a gorgeous 80+ degree day. And I want to be wrong here…. But I’ve had this gnawing at me ever since I first looked over SIU’s profile early in the week.
Boilers lose, fans lose their minds.
Purdue 24 SIU 27