A Month In: Assessing the 2011 Season

One of the things I said at the start of this football season was that I could accept even a losing, non-bowl season as long as I saw effort and some kinds of steps forward. I also said I felt the team would be 2-2 after the non-con on their way to 4-8. And, actually, if you listen closely to my rambling on the season kick off Handsome Hour, I came up with three wins -- two in the non-con, Minnesota and.... that was it. But I decided to say 4-8 because 1) Hope's teams tend to provide  us with one surprise per season and 2) I was influenced by how much abuse we were already taking for not being more "positive."

However, when you look at the current state of affairs, I don't know how you can be anything but discouraged. Yes, the team is 2-2, which is where we thought they'd be at this point, but it's the way they've gotten here that is disturbing. They could -- and arguably should  -- be 1-3 right now. The effort Saturday night was deplorable. And what do I mean by that? Sure, a loss is a loss, but losing in that manner in front of lots of recuits and on national television is just... embarrassing.

Look at this same situaiton two years ago. Purdue was hosting a night game vs. ND and didn't play all that well, but late in the game the Boilers mounted an inspiring comeback and took the lead. And held it until Jimmy Clausen converted a late fourth down TD pass after Coach Hope's staff called a head-scratching time out to give them time to think it over. However, regardless of how pissed we were at the time, it was a nice showing. No, there are no moral victories really, but losing 24-21 on national TV and seeing how much of a out-of-their-ass, desperation win it was for ND reflected well on the direction of the Purdue football program. No, they weren't there quite yet, but they had taken Oregon to the brink in their house and nearly taken down a talented ND team. If only the play-calling got a little better, we all thought, and maybe things will be where they need to be. But that will come...right?

Here we are, two years later, and the play-calling was arguably more infuriating, the discipline was far worse, the coaching staff looked far more befuddled and the press conferences exude more confusion than confidence anymore.

If Purdue had hung with Notre Dame Saturday night -- or even hung some points on the board -- then you could have some confidence going into the meat-grinder that is the Big Ten season. But until the ND third-stringers were in on defense, the Boilers had managed a field goal the entire night. That's embarrassing. Notre Dame is good, but they're proving week after week that they're not really that good.

Let's look at some other truths we've learned thus far.

Ricardo Allen is not quite where we had hoped. RA is a good player, to be sure, and he's very athletic. But he was worn out by Michael Floyd. The Irish had no hesitation to go at Purdue's gifted corner and Floyd made the Boilers pay over and over. I did like seeing Ricardo get in Floyd's face at one point, but we needed a shutdown kind of game on Floyd and, honestly, #21 was barely noticeable out there. Please don't take this as a shot at Ricardo -- I like him a lot and I think he's undoubtedly Purdue's best cornerback. But we should probably have not expected so much of him as a sophomore. He'll have his big plays this year, I'm confident of that, but to expect him to shut guys down like he's Darrelle Revis is not fair of any of us.

Photo credit: Andy Jessop

Robert Marve should be starting. I know at least one member of the BS editorial staff is on "Team TerBush," but the senior staff members are of the opinion that Robert Marve gives this team the best chance to win games. He has a confidence that TerBush doesn't quite seem to have, he has a better arm, and he is a better decision-maker. This is nothing against Caleb TerBush -- but Marve was brought here because he is very talented and is the kind of QB that a team like Purdue needs. He deserves at least a game or two -- like TerBush has gotten -- to show his skills from start to finish. Putting him into a game like Saturday's against ND with the team already down two touchdowns is not exactly a fair shake. Let him start the game and lead the team and see where things land. I know Gary Nord said he's not healthy enough to play an entire game at this point, but that simply cannot be true. If you're not healthy enough to play a full game, you shouldn't be out there at all.

The playcalling remains questionable at best and awful at worst. Speaking of Nord, he and the rest of the coaches had two weeks to prepare for ND and we were told that they used that time to put in some different looks, etc. The Tommie Thomas trick play pass was not well-executed, and not only that, but we know for a fact that they worked on that play the week before the SEMO game. My point? That even with three weeks of practice, it didn't work. And what was the other out-of-the-norm play on Saturday? Siller lining up at QB on third down of Marve's first series and running.... the option? Sort of? What the hell was that? Did Gary Nord think that bringing in Siller was going to put ND on their heels and open up a running lane? Because I'll let everyone in on a little secret -- guys who are known to be able to pass well (i.e., Marve) are more likely to create that running opportunity.

And speaking of running, why did the Boilers not try at all to establish the running game on Saturday? I know it's difficult when you're down, but they could have still had a game plan to run the ball and control the clock. Even down 14-0, that could work, because there was plenty of time left to chip away and, really, the only way you're going to have a chance at beating that ND team is to keep their offense off the field as much as you can. But the first play from scrimmage from Purdue is a pass play that gets picked off.

Now, let me say this. If Purdue wants to go 999 and throw a bomb down the sideline on the first play of the game versus ND, I say go for it. I'm not gonna eat your lunch for that, even if it gets picked because at least we would all look at it and say, "Damn, they're going for the jugular!" But a pass over the middle, across his body....intro what looked like triple coverage? I just don't understand how that was the first play called. It makes no sense, no matter how I try to reconcile it in my head. Bolden and Shavers -- two of the brightest lights for Purdue this season -- were almost invisible Saturday night. Why?

Obviously, play-calling could be its own post -- or web site -- so I will stop there for now.

Purdue is not opportunistic. There are always intangibles in football. Things that happen that turn the tide and allow a team that is not as good on paper to win a game. Purdue does not do any of those things. Oh, sure, you could point to the two blocked FGs Purdue has thus far this year, I suppose, and that's definitely somethiung. But what about the air-mailed Tommy Rees pass that hit the Purdue DB in the numbers? What about Carson Wiggs missing his 50+ yard field goal attempt at a time when Purdue really needed points? No, it's not fair to get on Carson -- and I'm not -- for missing that. But if you're opportunistic, those things go right for you. As Boilerdowd is fond of saying, good teams make their own luck. If Tommie's pass is outside the numbers, it's a touchdown. If Floyd's fumble is fallen on by a Purdue defender, the momentum changes. Those things just don't seem to happen for this team and while I don't think you can necessarily blame anyone for that, it's definitely happening.

2010 is still in their heads. Coach Hope talks about it constantly, comparing his QB situation this year to last year, talking about being afraid of injuries like last year, etc. Last year is last year and the focus should be on what's ahead. Purdue should not be avoiding contact and tackling in practices because someone might get hurt. It's a big boy game and these things need work. And on that note...

Photo credit: Andy Jessop

 Fundamentals are what should be practiced. If you have supremely talented players, you can say you're not going to work on tackling in practice so that nobody gets hurt because you've got 4 and 5 star guys who know how to tackle with proper form. But Purdue does not have top-line talent. Purdue has medium level talent, and a lot of raw talent, and that kind of talent, my friends, is the kind that needs to be honed. Having "athletes" and "raw skills" and other buzz terms we've heard are simply other ways of saying the guys could be good but aren't. Let's not work on trick plays -- let's work on doing the things Purdue does well and do drill after drill on the fundamentals. Let's say, "We may lose games, but we're not going to lose games because we don't know how to tackle or hold on to the ball or cover a guy or play our position." Losing games to teams more talented is fine with me, frankly -- it's not even competing that makes me want to smash my head against a wall. And let's not forget -- Purdue has sloppily given away many games over the past few years that they had the talent and ability to win. When you're a mediocre team, you simply cannot give away points, yards and wins. They're too valuable a commodity.

The Big Ten season hasn't even started yet for Purdue. Let that one sink in on ya for a few minutes. If you're depressed about the season right now, just wait until Wisconsin hangs 75 on your Boilers. In truth, I don't think that will necessarily happen because I think the defense will come to play, but that is a game that is rather...concerning...and could get ugly in a hurry.

Repeating what I said after the Rice loss, the season is far from over. No matter how you feel, the Boilers are 0-0 in Big Ten play and get to begin against Minnesota this Saturday at home. This is likely Purdue's last real chance at a comfortable win and, yes, you can and should expect Purdue to beat Minnesota handily. If that does not happen, I would worry about any more wins the rest of the season.

Your thoughts on things are welcome here, as always.

Fact Fondue - Minnesota

Nearing Rock Bottom? Boilers Crushed By Domers 38-10