Some Things Don’t Change
There has been a palpable change in the Purdue football fan mood in recent weeks. While some have gone from frustrated but supportive to genuinely excited, I think more are in the bucket that went from hopeless to waiting for the shoe to drop, which, as any longtime Purdue fan knows, is our default state. Purdue’s state of being noncompetitive had felt like an eternity. There are those remarking around these parts (in the comments) about how Danny Hope had 6 win teams and that “at least” we had that to look forward to. That may technically be true, but you may also recall how in 2012, Purdue was 3-6 and Ross-Ade was as empty as any of us could remember. That team definitely had ability, but they were so ill-prepared and poorly-coached that they turned good opportunities into no contest bouts like it was a magic trick. So sure, they beat the three worst teams in the conference that year to eke into a bowl game (and let’s try to remember how that turned out) but by and large, Purdue had been noncompetitive against good competition for basically two years. That’s half a college career (or, uh, 40% in my case). That’s a long time.
We all know how things bottomed out last year at 1-11 and I think even the cynics agreed that the climb back to respectability had begun this year with the early wins. Then came a conference road win over Illinois, which was significant as we told you (Illinois is still competing for their dead coach walking). And since then Purdue has not won again, but one could argue they deserved to win at least one of those.
Let me say this: Don’t fool yourself into thinking Purdue should count MSU as a near-win. Michigan State got drowsy and someone slipped something into Coach Dantonio’s porridge at halftime. There’s really no other explanation for his boneheaded and decidedly un-conservative fake punt attempt that let Purdue right back into the ballgame. What you can take from that game is Purdue’s refusal to quit, their belief that they actually could come back from a huge deficit against one of the top teams in the nation and the fact that when presented with a chance, they seized it. They also managed to score more than everybody else except Oregon against that Narduzzi defense. There is something very different about this Purdue team.
Speaking of scoring being different from what’s happened lately, Purdue has scored over 30 points in five of their eight games this season. They scored over 30 once last year and the last time they had five games of 30 or more points in a season was 2009, Danny Hope’s first season. That year they exceed 30 exactly five times in 12 games. So if Purdue does it at least one more time – which seems like a lock – it will be the first time they’ve had six games of 30+ points since the 2007 team, led by Curtis Painter, which actually exceeded 30 nine times.
So if it feels like it’s been a while since Purdue could go up and down the field and make you feel as though scoring points wasn’t going to be an issue, it’s because it has. And why should that excite you? Well, Coach Hazell is from the Tresselball school, where you control the clock, grind out wins and play good, opportunistic defense. If he’s molding that kind of squad but also getting 30 ppg, well, that bodes well. It also might indicate that in switching to Austin Appleby, he realized that he just needs to let the gameplan be molded to the guys he currently has in the stable. As we’ve noted, Shoop’s play-calling hasn’t been the subject of many jabs lately – and how could it be with all this scoring?
Of course, when it comes to crunch time and closing out games in the second half, well, some things don’t change. Purdue got out to ten point leads a couple of times in the second half against Illinois, but each time let the Illini close the gap before finally closing it out… but we all know how nervous we were that day.
Against Iowa, Purdue held a gifted 10-0 lead but couldn’t make it hold up (and, in fact, couldn’t move the ball one bit).
Against MSU, Purdue made the impressive comeback in the fourth quarter and then the defense even did their job, forcing a punt with just a couple minutes remaining. And then Appleby made the rookie mistake of not taking a sack and tossed the pick-6 for the gut-punch.
Against Minnesota, Purdue teased us in the first half by again (similar to the Illinois game) overcoming a slow start to take a commanding 31-20 halftime lead… only to fritter away the game and kick us in the nuts again late.
The more things change… the more they stay the same. When Purdue is competitive and on the cusp of being good, these are the ways they let games slip away. Despite that, Purdue is getting noticed by some publications and even by the BTN, which sometimes doesn’t seem to know Purdue is in the conference. It feels like this history is on the cusp of changing. Purdue fans are ready for it to change and for Darrell Hazell’s signature win that announces Purdue is back.