Is This What Progress Looks Like?
Purdue began the second half of their season on Saturday in East Lansing and, if nothing else, the effort was there. I commented to Boilerdowd late last week that seeing Yancey and Williams commenting on their prep for the Michigan State game felt encouraging to me. It made me feel as though these guys are still quite focused and invested in their game preparation. Perhaps that’s another reason to play young guys – not only can you mold them in your image, but you know the carrot on the end of the stick is playing time in subsequent seasons when things are better.
But what do we make of a 14-0 shutout defeat at the hands of the Spartans? As zlionsfan did a nice job of pointing out, the defense did an admirable job and really did all they could. They allowed really only 7 points since one of MSU’s TDs was a sack-fumble-TD. This Spartan team rolled up 42 points, 473 yards and six offensive TDs against IU just a week earlier. Against Purdue, they had just 294 total yards and the one aforementioned offensive TD. That seems good.
Looking at it from Purdue’s side, let’s leave aside the game against Indiana State since it’s the one that isn’t like the others and shouldn’t be judged as such. Here is what Purdue’s opponents have done to the Boilers in the other six games (all losses, for those just joining us at intermission):
@ Cinci (loss 42-7): 425 yards allowed, five offensive touchdowns
vs Notre Dame (loss, 31-24): 400 yards allowed, three offensive touchdowns and a field goal
@ Wisc (loss, 41-10): 546 yards allowed, five offensive touchdowns, two field goals
vs Northern Illinois (loss, 55-24): 402 yards allowed, five offensive touchdowns, two field goals
(Interestingly, Purdue outgained NIU significantly with 524 yards of total offense and had 29 first downs to NIU’s 22. NIU’s kickoff return TD and a pick-6 put this one into the laugher category.)
vs Nebraska (loss, 44-7): 435 yards allowed, six offensive touchdowns.
@ MSU (loss, 14-0): 294 yards allowed, one offensive touchdown.
So yes, it’s by far Purdue’s best defensive effort of the season (including the ISU game, actually), so it’s hard to say it’s not progress. However, aside from his half of football against a NIU, Danny Etling has not put up very attractive numbers, perhaps proving that while NIU may be a very good MAC team, they’re still a MAC team.
The yardage allowed has been remarkably consistent, really, with a spike in yards allowed vs Wisconsin and then this past weekend’s best defensive effort to date. And as far as points allowed by the defense, the total offensive touchdowns allowed have gone like this:
In terms of total offense as of this date, Purdue’s opponents are ranked thusly:
Cinci - 49
ND - 81
Wisconsin - 14
Northern Illinois - 10
Nebraska - 28
MSU - 106
So from this we can say that yes, while the MSU game was Purdue’s best defensive performance to date, it was also against the worst offensive team they’ve played, by far. And the four utter poundings the Boilers have taken were against teams ranked in the top 50 in the country, with three of them in the top 28.
Ohio State, Purdue’s next opponent, is ranked 21 in total offense. Iowa, who you might peg as not so bueno, is still far better than Michigan State (and a touch above ND) at 76. Penn State is currently 44, Illinois is 40 and IU is 16. (Purdue is 121st on this list, by the way. Out of 125.)
So the moral is that things aren’t about to get better in terms of getting to face a sluggish offense. That day has passed and it was last Saturday. If Ohio State kicks it up just slightly and the others don’t drop much, Purdue will have played four of the top 20 offenses in terms of total yards in the nation. Sure, you can splice things many ways and weight things however you want, but we’re now more than halfway through the season, so cupcakes have been consumed and real games have begun to level out the rankings. Nobody is getting fat on weak sisters anymore (except for the SEC, whose teams randomly play non-con blowout games in November – you know, because of how tough their schedules are).
When the worst offensive team you play is 6-1 Michigan State, you know your schedule is tough.
So is this what progress looks like? I don’t know. I do know the effort was encouraging and the preparation is clearly still there. Those are things all Purdue fans demanded be improved when Danny Hope was circling the drain. It feels like baby steps are being taken, but it also looks like more lumps are coming ahead.
(Photo courtesy of Ben Fahrbach of Indy Sports Legends.)