Today's bowl game seemed to be more important in the broader sense for the program than just what happened on the field. As we've said for a long time and as readers reiterated via Twitter and here, a .500 team from the B1G should beat a MAC team. Period. And while the game leaves us with a slightly-sweet taste in our mouths to savor until Spring football, it had some putrid flavors as well.
I worried about Purdue's DBs and DEs struggling against WMU's pass-happy offense...they did; to the tune of allowing WMU's Carder to pass for 439 yards and three TDs. I was concerned about stupid penalties and generally-stupid play killing my Boilers...it did. But, I was wrong about the outcome; thankfully. Purdue had a double-digit lead at the half and kept the Broncos down for most of the half by a similar margin, but after a few great plays followed by bone-headed situational awareness, Purdue put WMU in a position to win in the closing half.
First, in the third quarter, as Purdue held a commanding lead of 34-18, Gerald Gooden intercepted a WMU pass and headed up the sideline while palming the ball with his left hand like a mini basketball. Instead of putting WMU away, Gooden's lack of situational awareness gave the ball back and WMU scored minutes later making the game 34-25.
In the fourth quarter, it was de ja vu all over again as Ryan Russell picked up a fumble and ran about 30 yards before losing a fumble at around midfield. The result was WMU scored a few minutes later and made the game a 37-32 game; Purdue held onto that five point for the victory.
Our Boilers' Akeem Hunt lost the first fumble for a Purdue RB early in the game (he still averaged 9.5 yards/carry)...but Akeem Shavers ran for just under 150 yards averaging 6.8 per carry and was a workhorse on his 22 carries. Purdue forced 7 turnovers...but lost 4 fumbles.
Raheem Mostert was large on special teams returning a 99 yard kickoff for a TD...but didn't get many shots to impress on offense. I will begin the season in '12 campaigning once again for Mostert to get more opportunities to change the complexion of the game for our Boilers; he's an electric player.
If you didn't watch, yes, Purdue was +3 in the turnover margin, had a kickoff returned for a TD, recoverred TWO STRAIGHT onside kicks...and still only won by five. That is a pretty good microcosm of the season- Purdue played at a high level...at times. But they kept the game interesting by shooting themselves in the foot- 9 penalties; around the average for this team...The Purdue DBs allowed WMU's White to nearly set a bowl record for total yardage; he finished with 265 yards receiving. And on the other side of the ball, Marve and TerBush COMBINED for 177 yards passing and 2 TDs.
I'm always glad to be wrong when I predict a Purdue loss...but this game shouldn't have been as close as it was. I think it's fair to say Purdue had a lot to overcome with the loss of four starters...but like most issues with this team, they're self-inflicted for the most part.
Holland (9 tackles, 2 TFL), Gooden (2 Int & 1 Sack) and Siller (10.8 yards/carry, 44 yds receiving) all played with high effort and in a manner that showed they were aware that this was their last game in a Purdue uniform. Pegram had his first two TDs of his career. Shavers ran hard and had fresh legs in the wake of sitting out due to post-concussion symptoms at the end of the season. Gary Bush filled the shoes of OJ Ross quite well finishing with 6 receptions for 90 yards and a TD. Gibboney had his Special Teams units ready as they played nearly a flawless game (one missed FG). And at times, Hope coached as if the team had nothing to lose- two onside kicks and heavy and effective use of the wildcat and hurry-up, especially in the first half...at other times, the asinine two-QB system seemed to completely disrupt the flow of the offense...and the defense would rush three to give WMU's Carder what felt like years to pick his receiver.
In the last three years, this is what Hope teams have done- they've had some great moments and some that make you cringe and curse. A pal of mine texted me that we are all on this roller coaster for the foreseeable future with Hope's recent contract extension. Honestly, I'm OK with a bit of a roller coaster, but the big hills need to become larger and more regular while the downhills need to become less steep and frequent. But following the '11 season, Purdue is what it is.
At the end of the day, this one goes in the left hand column. At the end of the season, Purdue is 7-6, a winning season...it's not much, but that's a lot more than the program has had to build upon the last few years.