Shades of 1993
I was a Freshman at Purdue in 1993...I can remember how angry I felt when I saw that Sports Illustrated picked my Boilers to be one of, if not the very worst team in D-IA that pre-season. They struggled on the road versus a barely-OK NC State team to start that season...then came to Ross-Ade for the home opener and beat a bad MAC team in uninspiring fashion...and from that point the season went downhill.
SI was right. Purdue was awful...and if I had any doubts that year, as the season went on I would be reminded again and again and again that the offense had no explosiveness. A couple good running backs, one of those a future hall-of-famer, couldn't help that offense find an identity. Lousy QB play plagued them, and the offensive line struggled mightily to protect either QB that played (Pike or Trefzger) and their 7th-toughest schedule in the nation didn't do them any favors.
I've done it, the media's done- compared this year's Purdue team to Tiller's first Purdue team...and from what I've seen so far, that comparison needs to be shelved. BUT, after watching this team with my own eyes, my memory took me back to the darkest season in my memory as a Purdue football fan, 1993.
Colletto's 1993 Boilers really didn't get a whole lot better as that season went on...other than they stopped playing Pike, mostly due to injury...but the QB change didn't really help those beleaguered Boilers.
Two of Purdue's best games of that season were two-plus TD losses- 17-0 v. UND, and 25-10 @ UM. Mmmmmmmm, moral victories.
The 2013 Boilers have been showing 50 shades of horrible, that are beyond concerning...and if you watched the ISU game, you know what I'm talking about. The offense isn't just vanilla, it's as flavorless as a plain rice cake...and right now, seems about as tough crack. On the other side of the ball, the defense will play well for stretches, but they have lapses and mistakes that show us that they probably can't win a game on their own (versus a B1G opponent...top or bottom of the conference).
Do I think this Purdue team will go 1-11? Hope not...that's about as much as I can say right now.
Some really bad Purdue teams have beaten the absolute stuffing out of D-IAA teams...but this year's team had to be saved by an interception in the closing moments of the game. Let's not forget that ISU was without their best offensive player...YET, they looked stronger on offense in the fourth quarter than their in-state big brother.
They wore Purdue down...on offense and defense. Let that flow over you, if it hadn't already registered with you.
Here's the hardest realization I had on Saturday- A Danny Hope-coached team would be better right now. I'm not theorizing or guessing, I'm positive of this. Is it possible that by the end of the season THIS Purdue team will be better than they'd have been if Hope had not been fired? Kind of tough to imagine from where I sit.
Now, I'm not saying that I think Hope should have stayed...even with what I've seen so far. I'm not saying Hazell isn't the right coach. I am saying that this rebuild, even if it's just one season like this, could be the most-painful season we've seen as Purdue fans in 20 years. I think that says a lot.
Football wisdom tells us that most teams improve more between week one and two than any other time during the season...if that's true...Uh oh.
The good guys got smacked around by a bad Cincinnati team in week one, and were nearly beaten by an undermanned D-IAA team in week two. Bleak is the word that comes to mind.
Have any questions been answered in the first few weeks? Sure.
1. Is Rob Henry a better passer than he used to be? Sure doesn't seem to be.
2. Is this offensive line better than we thought they'd be on paper? Nope.
3. How about those linebackers, are they gelling and is the system clicking with them? Nyet!
4. Is the defensive backfield stronger than last year? Nine!
5. Is Shoop's scheme better than detractors thought it'd be? Not even a bit.
Do I sound like Debbie Downer? I don't think so...she's unfairly negative...I'm just stating observations.
Installing new systems, philosophies and schemes takes time...no doubt about that. But I really thought a bunch of B1G players would be able to run draws, sweeps and passes to the flat while controlling the offensive trench...then on the other side, I thought the speed and athleticism of a bunch of kids from the deep South (who many Purdue fans told me were a sure-fire road to success a few years ago) could manhandle a bunch of small-timers from the fourth tier of talent from a basketball state. Guess not.
Saturday was depressing...and sadly, I don't have a Cymbalta prescription...so I'm not over it yet.
Purdue hasn't ended the season ranked since 2003...that's 10 years. It's been 11 years since our Boilers have won a bowl game NOT played in Detroit...15 since this program has won any post-season game of consequence. Perhaps the culture is just really, really broken??
These posts are supposed to be therapeutic for me...today, it isn't working. Maybe I should shift my gaze.
Is there anything that we can take away from the first two games that's positive? I actually can find a couple things.
-I really like the way Dawkins and Hunt run...both hit holes hard and seem to be faster than everyone else on the field. Unfortunately, they really haven't been put in positions to succeed.
-Next, Ben Knauff looks great so far...his quickness and swagger are awfully tough not to compare to Vinny Sutherland; all good there.
-I loved the opening kickoff return from the ISU game...once again, it showcased Hunt's speed and athleticism.
-Cody Webster is still damned good at his job...but bad teams typically have pretty good punters. Good news for Webster, he's gotta be getting some attention from NFL scouts.
-The defensive front has shown some flashes of solid play...but needs much more speed on the edge. Gaston has been the most-noteworthy player on defense; he's living up to his billing thus far.
-Penalties were down from game one to game two. Good good.
Here are a few more questions that haven't been answered:
1. Why haven't we seen Cottom carry the ball? Seems to me that if you're trying to ram it down a team's throat, which Purdue clearly was doing on Saturday, you'd bring out the biggest, baddest back in the stable.
2. Why haven't we seen Macarthy at WR? I know he had a bit of nagging injury this summer, but he said he was healthy a month ago. I still think he's a difference maker and is really tough to defend (he does need someone to accurately deliver him the ball though).
3. Why not more spread? Purdue ran a bit of true spread during the third quarter on Saturday...and it was effective...then it was quickly done away with, it seems.
4. Is notable improvement possible this season? This is the biggest question to me...and many personnel decisions should hinge on this question.
I looked at the conference stats so far...and they're even more depressing than this post. Name an offense category- Chances are, Purdue is in the cellar there. Worse than that, they don't even show up on many of the positive statistical categories. We've got a looooooong way to go, my friends before Saturdays in Ross-Ade will be anything more than a chance to enjoy a fall breeze. Coach Hazell has a real opportunity to earn his salary in the coming weeks- it only gets more difficult.
I guess the good news is I had them at 1-1 at this point...plus I got to enjoy a weekend in which Purdue won, UND lost, IU lost and the Colts won...always nice. But yeah, Purdue's win absolutely deserves an asterisk- I'm one of those guys that thinks the games versus FCS opponents should be done away with.
We're five days away from the red-faced Campbell's Soup kid leading his Irish into RA for a rare night game.