If you hadn't seen the above .gif from the Michigan game, well, there you go. MGoBlog posted it and then a commenter on EDSBS added the energy ball or whatever that is (I haven't played Street Fighter in a long time). Yes, we can laugh at ourselves, although the comments on MGoBlog about this are as douchy and predictable as you might imagine. Yes, your all-world QB is now 3-2. Bully for you.
Now the Boilers amble on to Wisconsin. And while fans of Michigan, Wisconsin and even Purdue have questioned whether or why these are "statement games" for Purdue, the fact remains -- like it or not -- that these are pretty important in the overall state and direction of Purdue football. Will they move towards relevance or will they continue the backslide towards apathy?
On to the predicto.
A lot has been written about Purdue's ability to win this sort of a game, particularly in the past week by us and others. I keep coming back to a few points that I can't shake, but I'd love for you to tell me how I can.
Point 1: Purdue simply doesn't win these games. It's kind of all-encompassing statement, I realize, and sounds like a generalization, but it's true. Purdue has not won a game that could vault them into serious conference contention since 2004, when they began the season 5-0, won on the road at Notre Dame and Penn State, and had GameDay in town prior to the infamous Wisconsin game. And while we've talked at length about that game, Purdue actually played well in it, too, leading by ten in the second half. But since then, it just simply doesn't happen. It's no more complicated than that. And I understand all the limitations on Purdue's program -- that doesn't mean you can't compete in big games anymore.
Point 2: Have the tables turned by 45+ points in one year? Purdue lost 62-17 last year in perhaps the most embarrassing defeat I can remember a Purdue team sustaining. Danny Hope has been beaten three times by Wisconsin by a combined score of 133-30 (37-0, 34-13, 62-17). What indicators are there to suggest that the differential has not only be closed, but turned around? No, Wisconsin is not as good this year as they were last year. But let's stop saying they're "a bad Wisconsin team," something I've actually seen in a few places. Just stop. They're not bad. They're 4-2, with losses at Oregon State (currently ranked #10) and at Nebraska. (Speaking of Oregon State, if you want an example of how things can turn around at a middling program, take a look at how bad the Beavers were last year and now note how they are making a run and are now a top ten team -- yes, it may be fleeting, but it's happening and can you imagine how you'd feel as a fan in their position?)
Point 3: I don't trust the coaching staff in general. This is where I've landed. I do think these players are good enough. I do think they've got the talent, drive and determination to make big things happen here. I honestly think they can run with anyone on the schedule and based on the players' talent and experience alone, I do think a division title and Rose Bowl run feel like reasonable goals. But when your leadership is as stubborn and difficult as Danny Hope has shown himself to be and your OC is as uncreative and overrated as Gary Nord has repeatedly demonstrated he is...what do you expect? The players are talented but they can't overcome bad play-calling and poor preparation from the coaches. Do I think this staff can out-coach any of the staffs on the schedule? Not really. And for those who would point out the win over Ohio State in 2009, let's remember that 2009 was due to a superhuman effort from Ryan Kerrigan. He made Terrelle Pryor look like a skittish kitten and manhandled the OSU offensive line. That was not a triumph of Danny Hope over Jim Tressell.
All of this gets put into the hopper for me and leads me to where I just can't see Purdue winning. Oh, you know I want to be wrong and as I've said again and again, I agree that Wisconsin is vulnerable (esp on the road) and that Purdue has the talent to take it to 'em. But I just don't trust the decision-making from the sidelines. Caleb TerBush will start and if he's not good, the coaches will wait until the team is down three touchdowns to put in Marve, who will then be blamed in press conferences for making too many mistakes or not being "efficient." It's all nonsense. Put the guys on the field who give you the best chance to win and then be inventive in the plays you call. Let's not make it any more complicated than that.
Purdue definitely could win...but won't.
Well, the problem of managing expectations is once-again handled. Purdue's fanbase didn't feel like we had a ton to be optimistic for, coming into the season...after harvesting some fool's gold in the first few games, some of us (read as me) thought Hope's squad was nearly ready for primetime. Late-afternoon kickoffs are not primetime...and UM is no world-beater. But they beat the crap out of my Boilers on a medium stage.
Now, things are back to manageable. UW has underwhelmed many in their fanbase this season with bad QB play and a defense that isn't what they expected either. The injection of a walk-on QB and all has been solved it seems...But, this Wisconsin team, while the favorite to go to Indy, is no where near that of '11. Does that change anything?
Wisconsin has the best set of LBs in the conference, if not the nation...that would matter if Purdue passed to the TE or across the middle of the field...so the good guys are OK there.
Wisconsin doesn't score with a ton of regularity, and they're dead-last in total offense, but their defense is in the top-3rd of the conference for points allowed...Their rushing offense isn't great by any stretch, but their defense's ability to stop the run is solid...their pass defense is just OK...but Purdue has the tendency not to test anyone with the pass. So where's this all leave us?
Well, it seems pretty clear- If Purdue's coaches actually gameplan for the team that they're playing this week, Purdue has a puncher's chance. If Marve is healthy enough to play, he can stretch the field; that seems to be what will be needed to open up the running game. All that said, Nord has to call vertical passes to make that happen...because the coaches don't like to see Marve shooting from the hip.
So here's what I see when I gaze into my murky crystal ball: a low-scoring, old school game. You've got a QB that isn't very good for UW and a coaching staff that refuses to mix things up for Purdue's offense. Sounds like a lot of 3-7 play drives to me.
A couple more question marks- Will Gaston and Russell be close to 100%? This might be the defining issue in Purdue's ability to stop the run. A healthy Gaston and Nord's play-calling from a few seasons ago versus this Wisconsin team and I'd say the good guys win homecoming going away. But with the way things are going, here's what I see:
Wouldn't that be the Danny Hope way??
Get 'em Boilers!