I began this series last week- a look at what Joe Tiller has done during his time at Purdue. Since the last time I focused on a positive, I'm going to look at something not-as-cheery: His record against historically powerful programs. So, kick back, enjoy a cup of coffee as we dive into an often painful topic during the last 12 years.
Tiller's first brush with a historic powerhouse was at home versus the hated Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The taste of the ass-kickings at the hands of the Holtz-coached Irish were fresh in the minds of the Purdue faithful. Tiller calls the 28-17 victory over Bob Davie's team the most important win of his time as HC at Purdue. I called the game unbelievable...especially in person as a recent grad back in '97.
Purdue next squared off against Penn State in the second-to-last contest of that season. The Lions clobbered the upstart Boilers who might have been tired from the track meet the week before v. Minnesota. Our Boilers lost 42-17.
This season was a flat-out horrible season versus good competition. The young Drew Brees was baptized by fire by playing in Souther Cal against USC in his first game as a starter...The good guys lost (27-17)...Then lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame (31-30) and a not-so-close one to Penn State (31-13).
After Joe's teams got broken-in softly with aOSU & UM off of the schedule in his first two seasons, both teams were on the schedule for 1999. But, before our Boilers could play them, they had to play Notre Dame. The Irish managed the clock extremely poorly in the closing seconds as Purdue hung on for a 26-22 win over the #16 Irish. A few weeks later, the No. 11 Boilers got shellacked by Michigan in Ann Arbor 38-12. This would be the first in a long line of lopsided defeats at the Big House. A week later, Purdue a blocked field goal in poor conditions kept Purdue out of overtime v. the Buckeyes as Purdue lost another 25-22. Two weeks later, Purdue lost a true classic back at Ross-Ade v. PSU as the Brees-led Boilers couldn't score with four shots at the endzone inside the ten-yard line. The final was 31-25.
The 7-win season earned Purdue the noteworthy honor of playing the first major sporting event of the new millenium. Purdue lost once again (28-25), this time to UGA in a painful seesaw game that ended with a Georgia fieldgoal in overtime.
Looking to put the painful near-wins behind them, the Senior Drew Brees-led Boilers went into 2000 with something to prove. The first game versus a historical power was, once again versus Notre Dame. This time, Purdue allowed a tight end playing QB for the Irish to beat them up in South Bend, 23-21 with the help of a last-second field goal. You may remember the game for a few other reasons- Brees only threw the ball 22 times and Travis Dorsch called an audible fake punt in Purdue territory. Stink.
Two weeks later, Purdue traveled to Nappy Valley and lost a game (22-20) that mostly the fault of extremely poor special teams play, yet again. The lousy Special Teams cause Brees to call out his teammates for the only time that I can remember while he was at Purdue.
The following week back in West Lafayette, poor kicking looked like it would do Purdue in, yet again versus Michigan. But, the shaky Travis Dorsch clinched the victory and gave the student section the finger after doing so...yes, Purdue's student section.
With a ton of momentum and a three-game winning streak, Purdue welcomed aOSU to Ross-Ade. This time, Brees himself looked like he was going to giftwrap the victory for John Cooper and Co. But, Holy Toledo, this happened instead:
And there was much rejoicing as Purdue held on to win 31-27.
Due to September 11, the UND game was moved to the end of the season. So Purdue's first game v. a powerhouse was at UM. Purdue of course lost...their first of the season, 24-10. The scheduling geniuses put together another road/road set for UM and aOSU as Purdue went to Columbus three weeks later and got pimp-slapped 35-9. The once-powerful Tiller offensive system was looked quite ordinary in 2001. On a cold, dark December night, Purdue lost to UND at home as the offense once-again could only manage one TD (but showed a little life). The final of this one was 24-18...many still blame Kelly Butler's personal foul for the loss. I'm not one of them.
This was a dark period of Tiller's Purdue career as following the 24-17 UND loss, we first heard this quote, "If we score 17 points, then our defense needs to hold them to 16. If they score 24 points, then our offense has to score 25. This is a football team, this is not an offense or a defense." The "win by one" philosophy was heard out of the mouths of Tiller, Spack and Chaney, ad nauseum. This is also a period in which Tiller used multiple starting QBs. The Kirsch v. Orton debat raged for the next two seasons among Purdue fans.
Purdue lost a close one to Michigan, 23-21 at home mid-way through the season. Then, welcomed aOSU back to RA a few weeks later. Well, Holy Toledo was replaced with Holy Buckeye as the scrappy Boilers gave OSU their toughest game of their National Championship campaign with a still-sickening 10-6 loss.
Purdue beat UND early this season at home in a relatively easy game, 23-10. Two weeks later, the Boilers welcomed another weaker-than-normal perennial powerhouse, PSU and beat them as well, on the legs of punt returner Anthony Chambers, 28-14.
Two weeks later, with a ton of momentum, Purdue headed up to Ann Arbor. Of course, Tiller thought it'd be a good time to unveil the super-soft-looking all-white unis. Purdue played as lousy as it looked and got drubbed, 31-3...I was there in person to witness this trainwreck. Three weeks later, Purdue traveled to Columbus and took the Bucks to overtime only to watch Ben Jones miss a FG that would have kept the game going. Purdue lost 16-13.
A 9-win season earned Purdue another match-up against UGA, in Florida again...this time in the Cap One Bowl. This game was different than the last one versus the Bulldogs, but the same. Purdue was down 24-0 in this game and a courageous effort by Kyle Orton and Shawn Phillips got Purdue into overtime...Purdue lost 34-27.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
Purdue started off the '04 campaign by doing something they hadn't done in 20 years- Beating UND at home...and they did it in style, 41-16.
The very next week, our Boilers headed to the state of Pennsylvania...and won a close one 20-13. After having the wind taken out of their sails by UW in the worst way possible, Purdue hosted UM...and had a chance to win. But, the young Dorien Bryant fumbled the game away while trying to get a few extra yards, the final was, 16-14. Three weeks later, Purdue welcomed a not-so-great aOSU team for a night game in RA. Purdue won 24-17 with the help of some trickeration and Dustin Keller.
This was Tiller's worst single-season record, and the big games weren't any better. Purdue got smoked by the Manatee's Irish, 49-28 and beaten soundly in Happy Valley 33-15.
'05 was lousy, and '06 wasn't much better. Sure, Purdue won 8 games, but they beat no one of note. The smartest guy in football once again beat Purdue soundly, this time in South Bend, 35-21. And then a passion-less, offense-less Purdue team lost at home to PSU 12-0. The weekend before, we saw Purdue get thrashed by UW at home...These two games had me thinking Tiller had officially worn out his welcome- The bowl game at the end of '06 didn't help change my mind.
Much like '05 and '06, Purdue didn't beat anybody they weren't supposed to, so you'd think there might not be any victories versus the historically strong programs. Not the case in '07- Purdue beat the lowly domers 33-19. The following week, they were beaten soundly on a national stage by the vest, 23-7...The week after that, Tiller headed to UM to witness his team lose 48-21. The good news was that loss would be his last in Ann Arbor. Three weeks later, Purdue was jobbed by the officials and eventually lost to the Lions, 26-19.
Tiller-coached Purdue teams are 10-26 versus the best (historically speaking) college football programs...If you add in Washington (which I think would be fair to do so), he's 11-27. Especially on the road, and almost always versus Michigan, Tiller's teams have struggled mightily versus this caliber of team. The problem is, playing against the triple-striped maize and blue helmets or all-gold helmets doesn't mean your facing Desmond Howard and Allen Pinkett...But their ghosts must haunt Tiller as he prepares for such teams.
This, to me, is really the main reason Tiller's teams have never reached the mythical and magical Next Level.