If you read our predicto post yesterday, you saw that we had somewhat divergent opinions on how things would go down in Ross-Ade today. Well, if it was possible for us both to be right, this was the game, as the Boilers won a shootout with Marshall, 51-41.
It was, once again for the Boilers, a tale of wildly different halves. This has been something that has been an issue during the Danny Hope era and it continued today. The Boilers really could not have looked better in the first half, putting together sustained, creatively called drives and, in the second quarter, some stellar defensive play.
Marshall's hotshot soph QB Rakeem Cato looked decidedly like an underclassman, as he threw three picks, including back-to-back pick-6s to Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson. Allen's made him the Purdue record-holder with four pick-6s. Johnson's looked as though he'd been in the Marshall huddle, as he appeared to break on the ball before Cato even released it, catching it in stride and sprinting 76 yards the other way. As halftime arrived, it was 42-14 Boilermakers. My co-editor looked wise.
And then the Boilermakers had their customary, celebratory raviolis in the locker room, followed by turkey legs and mashed potatoes. Or at least that's what I assume they did, as they came out for the third quarter flatter than my 8th-grade girlfriend. The Herd had a TD drive and then blocked a punt and returned it for a TD. Suddenly, it was 42-28 and was a ballgame. The Boilers managed a FG at the end of the quarter and then, thankfully, some old friends came to the rescue.
After Coaches Keady and Tiller led the crowd in B-dowd's favorite tradition, Shout, the Boilers began to show signs of life again. Despite being outscored 27-9 in the second half, the Boilers did salt the game away late. Which brings me to this... let's look at the positives:
The Boilers built a huge lead by playing solid, creative offense, executing extremely well...as well as opportunistic, hard-nosed defense. TWO interception returns for TDs coupled with a blocked FG by Kawaan Short and an additional INT and fumble recovery says that this defense actually did come to play. Don't be overly concerned with the yardage Marshall put up -- for starters, they're one of the most prolific offenses in the country. For another, they were down four touchdowns in the second quarter, so they needed to be on the open attack for the majority of the game.
Also on the positive side was that the Boilers put a game away in a manner and at a time when good teams do just that. They'd allowed their opponent to chip away and get back into the game, as the score was 45-35 with 12 minutes to go in the fourth. Still a two-score game, but everyone was clearly getting nervous among Boilermaker supporters. Caleb TerBush came out and calmly led the Boilers on a six-minute, 13 play, 78 yard touchdown drive. That made it 51-35 with just 6:38 to go. And as B-dowd texted to me, they just did what good teams do .That is, close the door.
Another positive for me today was the play of Caleb TerBush. Robert Marve warmed up but wound up not dressing for the game. Maybe that played into it -- hard to know -- as Caleb played with a confidence and, dare I say, swagger that I've never seen from him. He looked sure of himself, he looked like a leader and he hit his targets. After a sizzling first half, he cooled off a bit, but still wound up going 27/37 for 294 yards and four TD passes, three of them to Gary Bush. For the record, those are career bests for Caleb in completions, attempts, yards (he'd only ever been over 200 yards once before, with 220 in the opener last year vs. Middle Tennessee St.) and touchdown passes (doubling his previous best of two, done three times). Understand, folks, this was a career game for Caleb TerBush and might well have been his coming out party, as they say.
Yes, we should temper excitement about the offensive output by reminding ourselves that Marshall's defense is positively atrocious. However, that said, you still have to make the plays, you still have to make the throws, and you still have to hold onto the football. The Boilers did that today and did it well.
I know a lot of people want to get Gibboney's head on the pike whenever something happens on special teams that's bad, but I don't put the punt block no the coaching. It looked to me like Marshall just sold out to bring the house and block it. I think that could happen more often than it does, but teams don't always do it because it leaves their returner unprotected if the punt is made. If you want to argue that Gibboney and company should have anticipated Marshall coming after it like that since they were losing, well, that's a legitimate point. I just think it's worth pointing out that Cody Webster has been a marksman on punts this year, dropping punt after punt deep in opposing territory, and nobody has given Gibboney credit for that.
Other guys had terrific games besides TerBush, too. Obviously, Gary Bush was a touchdown machine, hauling in three of them among his seven receptions for 83 yards. OJ Ross had a career-high nine catches, for 69 yards and Antavian Edison continued his strong play with six receptions for 99 yards and another TD. Edison now has a catch in 25 straight games and TDs in every game this season.
So what do we take from this game? The Boilers cleared 50 points for the second straight week, something they only did once last year and zero times against FBS level foes. Heck, they only put up over 40 twice all last year -- they've done it three times already this year. The Boilers also already have more 40+ yard plays this season than they had all of 2011. These are good signs and suggest that the offense is truly rounding into form.
I could sit here and try to tell you that you shouldn't get too excited since those offensive outbursts have come against inferior, non-conference foes. But hey, that's what the non-conference is for, right? And previous Danny Hope teams didn't pound non-conference opponents they way we wanted them to. So given what's been put in front of them, the Boilers have done exactly what we've all asked of them. That's a very good thing, not to mention refreshing.
The Boilers have done what we've all asked of them so far and have taken care of the team's they're supposed to take care of. Now they move into conference play against a suddenly vulnerable-looking Michigan team, followed by Wisconsin, both at Ross-Ade. Could this be the most critical start of a Big Ten football season for Purdue in more than a decade? I think so. A lot rides on these next couple of games. If the Boilers can get through their first three conference games 2-1, you are hereby allowed to begin expecting to win the division. If they fall on their faces, you're entitled to refer to them as the "same old Purdue."
First things first, though. Next up are the Wolverines at home next Saturday, with a gametime of 4 PM. So you've got plenty of time to tailgate, enjoy yourself, soak up the college football atmosphere, and then move inside Ross-Ade for a game that matters a whole lot. There will be lights, there will be a buzz and let's hope there will be a lot of Purdue fans.
The train is a-comin'. Choo-choo, muthas.