Sometimes Purdue games are very predictable. Joe Tiller teams were usually spooked in places like South Bend, Ann Arbor, Columbus, etc., for example. In recent years, Danny Hope teams have seemed to buck the predictable trend in the "micro" analysis, in that you never knew what might happen in a given game. From the "macro" perspective, though, you knew the season result would probably be 5-7 wins. So that has remained, sadly, predictable.
To avoid another typical season record, we said Purdue needed to change some of this unpredictability during the season. And what better way to stabilize a team that can beat OSU one week and lose to Northern Illinois in another? Why, to manufacture a quarterback controversy, of course! Welcome to the Danny Hope school of thought.
The Boilermakers went to Notre Dame with Caleb TerBush penciled in as the starter, a week after he was suspended for a game and Robert Marve had his best game at Purdue. TerBush actually began the game pretty well, making sound decisions and relatively crisp passes. The Boilers moved the ball well -- always good to avoid those early three-and-outs -- but the drive stalled after roughly 60 yards and the Boilers had to punt.
This wasn't unusual, as the teams combined for a dozen punts in the game. TerBush remained in the game for the bulk of the first half, but Robert Marve found himself on the field late in the second quarter and engineered the Boilers' first scoring drive of the game, ultimately finding Antavian Edison on a 3rd and 10 after Purdue called a time out and then came out of the TO looking more disheveled than most teams do right before they're forced to call a time out.
Everyone felt Marve had clearly shown more than Caleb -- even Doug Flutie said that they would stick with Marve -- but Coach Hope again bucked conventional (and even elementary) wisdom and brought the cold TerBush back off the bench for the bulk of the third quarter. TerBush committed the first Purdue turnover of the day with a pick -- what he's supposedly not going to do, as per Hope -- and the Domers got a FG out of it. Fortunately, Purdue's D -- specifically Josh Johnson -- forced and recovered a fumble later on deep in Notre Dame territory, and thus the turnover battle was essentially even (TerBush threw a Hail Mary INT at the end of the game, but that obviously doesn't matter in terms of the turnover battle).
We saw Marve get crunched on a sack late in the game, bringing TerBush back into the game yet again, and Caleb actually had one of the biggest plays of the game for the Boilers, drilling a pass to Edison on 4th and 10 with about two minutes to go for the tying score. For the first time in a while, the Boilers had hung even with the Irish in their building. Of course, with a couple minutes to go and Coach Hope with his goofy, happy-to-be-here grin on, the Boiler defense bent more than they had most of the day and allowed Tommy Rees to come off the bench for ND and -- the way the NBC announcing crew of Mike Mayock and Tom Hammond told it -- overcame having no legs or something. As a BS twitter follower noted to us, "the guy punched a cop, he's not coming back from serious adversity."
Well, let's be positive for a few moments -- what did I like?
I liked the defensive line living up to their press. They were in the ND backfield quite often and got to Everett Golson a number of times. I also liked the defense in general. They allowed 376 total yards and only 52 on the ground. It wasn't a shutdown performance but it was very much a bend-but-don't-break effort for most of the day. The Irish would move the ball between the 20s, but they were forced to punt five times themselves. Only allowed 20 total against a ranked team in their house is a quality performance. While I still worry a bit about everyone behind the D-line, today's effort against a team that rolled up 50 points last week goes a long way towards making me a believer.
I also liked what I saw out of the QBs, honestly. Let's always keep in mind that these guys are doing what the coaches tell them to do. As I said last week, Caleb TerBush is just following orders so let's not make this about him personally. And he actually did start the game well, moving the Boiler offense and as I said, making smart decisions. However, then Marve came in and showed that last weekend's performance was not a fluke, as he clearly was the better QB. Their first half numbers were similar, but the offense just clicks with Marve in there. He also makes plays that TerBush simply cannot and is actually making smarter and smarter plays. Marve took a sack that led to Purdue's field goal in the fourth quarter and when he took the sack, I immediately thought, "That would have been a pick last year," because Marve would have tried to force it in somewhere to avoid the sack and to make something magical happen. This year, he at least didn't make the bad throw. A sack isn't good, either, but it's better than turning the ball over.
As mentioned, Marve looked like he might have hurt his knee late in this one on a sack. He had to be tended to on the field, but then he got up and jogged off. I believe he's having an MRI tonight so we'll find out soon if there's anything seriously wrong. I sincerely hope not and not only because I want to see him play.
What did this game show us? It demonstrated that Purdue is not going to be afraid of teams. They did not look spooked in Notre Dame Stadium and they also didn't look overmatched in any way against these guys. Usually this game shows some gap in the depth of talent at a place like Notre Dame and a place like Purdue, but this game was as even as the score indicates. The Boilers pushed the Irish around a fair amount and that's what we like to see.
This game also showed us why people are concerned with college-level referees officiating NFL games. There were a number of missed calls that seemed fairly obvious, with perhaps the most egregious coming on Notre Dame's final drive when Tommy Rees let the play clock hit zero and yet was able to snap the ball after the :00 was showing and complete a critical third down pass for a first down. That's kind of a game-changer right there. Word is he was also trying to signal timeout right before the play but then realized ND didn't have any. Guess it's a good thing the refs helped him out and didn't allow him to call it, eh?
And speaking of trying to call time outs, Danny Hope was evidently frantically attempting to call a TO late in the first half when the Boilers took a delay of game and made their TD drive that much more difficult. Hope was ignored for whatever reason and then the Boilers scored, so it doesn't seem like it matters, but I hope that is matters to Danny and he speaks up about it. These were just two sloppy situations by the officials.
On the subject of coaches, I once again find myself thinking that this team has potential... but how much of that potential will be realized with this staff? We've said it before and we'll say it again, we like Danny Hope and think he's a very good man. However, the decision-making -- particularly around the QB situation -- does nothing but make us scratch our heads. I understand all the crap about how we're not in the locker room so we don't know what's really going on. But we do know enough about football to know that if a guy has the offense humming, that it makes sense to leave him in there. It's not that complicated. Marve not starting the second half after his very strong finish to the second quarter made absolutely no sense, as Panda alluded to in a post earlier this evening. I can't think of a reason. I assume, also as the Panda said, that this was just the Purdue coaching staff's game plan and they were going to run with it no matter what. Adjustments have clearly never been this group's strong suit and that's being put on full display right now.
Obviously, we'll need to see how Robert Marve's knee is before being able to fully assess what's to come, but assuming he is okay, there is a lot of feel good about. The Boilermakers now absolutely must focus on their game next weekend and ensure a convincing win. Then on to the Marshall game, which they must also force themselves to take as seriously as a Notre Dame game and not look ahead to the challenging start to the Big Ten season.
However, I can look ahead because I don't have to play, and I will say that even though it's just two games in and the Boilers lost one of them, I find myself feeling some optimism. Sure, I do think anything Purdue accomplishes will be in spite of the coaching, but when you see how mortal Wisconsin and Michigan look, and you see how confident and talented the Purdue D-line is...and how poised these Boilers look so far....it's easy to begin to get excited.
In the end, there were things that frustrated me today, but not nearly as much as usual, and very little on the players' part. There were no special teams breakdowns, there were no completely boneheaded mental mistakes, and there was only one bad turnover (which Coach Hope, interestingly, called a "stupid interception" by TerBush). That, folks, is a big, important step in the right direction for this program. I hope it's a portent of things to come.