As J mentioned, the NIU game was lousy...in all phases-
-The offense that had been explosive and exciting looked impotent for much of the contest. With the exception of a busted play, the running game was nearly completely stifled as power formations seemed soft and the rest of the plays looked slow...and at the same time, the passing game was atrocious- no downfield plays came to fruition, Elliott was very inaccurate and the plays seemed to put receivers in the position were yards after the catch were impossible to come by.
-The defensive woes continued as pressure on the quarterback was minimal all day, the front four was manhandled by the burly Huskies and missed tackles, for the third game in a row, seemed to define the effort.
-The Special Teams once again struggled on kickoff coverage...the poor tackling was an issue, players keeping their spacing was a problem too. Those were minor though compared to everything else- Two botched punts that were lost, a roughing the kicker that was a momentum-killer and a succeeded fake punt by the Huskies really ended the game.
Players didn't execute well- they didn't look as fast as previous weeks...didn't hit very hard in any phase of the game...and weren't physically dominant in any phase either.
Coaches, by Hope's admission, didn't prepare the players correctly. Plus, play-calling left a ton to be desired as Hope specifically admitted the offense should have gone downfield more...and the defense seemingly didn't adjust to NIU's rushing attack for two quarters of the contest. From what I understand of NIU, their play-calling wasn't a big change, but Purdue simply couldn't stop Harnish and allowed BOTH of their RBs to have career best days...and both to have career-longest rushes. It was a long day.
But, now, thank goodness, the defense gets to rest against the Fighting Irish...huh?
The defensive backfield that was supposed to be a strength of Purdue's defense has been banged up...but, after returning all of the starters from last season, the unit has dropped from an upper-conference defensive backfield, to one in the lower-third.
Even without Floyd, Claussen and company will give Purdue plenty of challenges. And even though the Irish defense isn't as good as many Domers thought it would be, they're much-improved on that side of the ball as well.
As J said, this game is very important for Purdue. But we won't know what we're witnessing until this season's over. We might be at the precipice of a slippery slope that leads to disaster. It's tough to stop a tailspin when a team starts losing, it's even tougher when that team has a ton of underclassmen playing significant minutes. The younger guys might wear down quicker than a player who's been conditioning for D-1 football for three or four years, but more important than that, their immaturity might also not allow them to regroup.
Depth was a concern of mine coming into this season, and the wake of the late Oregon game showed how easily this Purdue team can be nicked up and worn out. While I didn't think there would be a hangover, it was clear that there was not 'pop' in the team on Saturday...and the 2000+ mile trip didn't just create a trap, it created a coma, of sorts.
So can Hope, his coaching staff, the players, and even the patrons of Ross-Ade knock the cobwebs loose? They'd better.
At the end of camp, Coach Hope had lots of positive things to say about his team...and in the first two games, it looked like Hope was a sage. But following the NIU game, it doesn't seem that way any longer.
So the question now is what was really happening with the Coach's statements?
-Was he trying to boost the undeveloped players to keep the team positive?
-Did he incorrectly assess these players and the situation in the program?
-Are a lot of these guys just not ready yet, but might be by later this season?
We'll know the answer at the end of the fall, but on the heels of two straight losses, we might be in the midst of the defining week of the season.