Purdue football regressed today.
There is no nicer way of saying that. Last season we gave up 31 points Toledo, just as we did this year. We only scored 20 in return this time, while we scored 52 last year. While the offense was to blame, they were far from alone in having responsibility for this one. The defense let the nation's worst offense march 85 yards on the opening drive for a score. While this unit would later play good enough later to give us a chance, that 85 yard drive gave the visiting underdog what you never want to give them: confidence.
Then there are the special teams mistakes. Yes, Carson Wiggs missed two makeable field goals. I am fine with that. Mistakes happen. What absolutely infuriates me is the continued poor kickoff coverage that once again killed us. It was exactly like teams have done against us all year when we have given up big returns. A simple sweep to the other side of the field meant the returner was wide open for a big gain.
This kind of mistake comes from a total breakdown in Special Teams discipline. That falls on the coaching staff, and one J.B. Gibboney. It is clear he needs to be fired. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now. Before we had him as a special teams coach we had one of the best kick coverage units in the nation. Now we don't even grasp the simple concept of staying in lanes to prevent a big return. The last thing we needed to do in that situation, when we had gotten the game as close as it had been all day, was give up a big return.
This was a lot like last year's game against Michigan State. In that game, we scored to take control of the game by 11 points, only to give up a huge return and shift momentum back the other way. A huge punt return nearly lost the Michigan game last year. We have already given up big kick returns in every game this season. This kind of stuff is ridiculous. There is no excuse for it.
Of course, much of the blame today lies on the offense. It seems we have now regressed to the Colletto years where there is a lack of creativity. One of the biggest plays of the day was Austin Dantin's big touchdown run. That did not happen because Dantin is an amazing physical talent with lightning speed. It happened because of an excellent play call and the Toledo offense creating misdirection to open up the play.
Misdirection was a myth with our offense, and that is what is most frustrating. I understand that we are missing our top three offensive skill players. Still, there is absolutely no attempt at deception. We're gaining yards when the blocking is good, but there is no threat whatsoever for a big play. In the entire offseason we heard about how this offense was going to be exciting and how we would have multiple options with the players available. Well, so far Justin Siller has been underutilized and Robert Marve and Keith Smith are now out.
Still, we only had success today when we had a hurry-up and wore the Rockets down. Even then, some of the play calls were ludicrous. The game was lost when we had the ball, down 24-17, 2nd and 1 on the three. The predictable fullback draw was snuffed for a loss of two, and we chose to pass on 3rd down instead of run (which was gaining five yards per play). Rob Henry threw a poor pass, and we settled for a field goal. Toledo had a big return and quickly scored a touchdown to end the game.
Now I ask you, would the Danny Hope of last year, he that called the onsides kick against Michigan in the Big House, settled for a field goal there?
YOU'RE PLAYING A FUCKING MAC TEAM!!!!!!!!!!
I cannot believe we refused to strap on the ball bag and go for it there. What's the worst that can happen? We don't get it and Toledo gets the ball back inside its own five. We still needed a touchdown regardless. We really only needed three yards, not five, as we could have earned a first down at the 2. Instead, we went with the chickenshit call of settling for the field goal. Rightfully, we were punished with the big return.
We played like the MAC team today and Toledo played like the Big Ten team. There were some good moments. I must credit the defense for creating two turnovers that gave us the opportunity to tie. The second Toledo touchdown was set up because of Marve's injury. That was a fluke because he planted, something happened to his knee, and instinct took over. He still shouldn't have fumbled, but it must have been bad if instinct took over and it made him drop the ball.
Ricardo Allen and Ryan Kerrigan had good game, but once again, the bailout pass over the middle was wide open on third and long. I don't understand why we simply refuse to see this is a weakness when it has been there since 2005. Still, the defense was the best of the three units. Two of the touchdowns were set up by short fields while a third came on a big play. It's disappointing that we couldn't do better against the nation's worst offense, but there were other circumstances at play.
This team and this season is now at a major crossroads, and the Northwestern game is the swing game of the season. We have two weeks to heal and adjust to Rob Henry as a starter. Let's face it, Marve is likely done because you don't just drop to the ground without contact unless it is serious. This team is better than what it has shown on the field, but it needs to man up and act like it. If we can come out and win the Northwestern game (and they struggled with Central Michigan today) we must then beat Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana to get to a bowl. Anything beyond those four games is a pipe dream right now.
Unfortunately, they have to prove it even to me now. When I watch other teams on TV, even non-BCS conference teams, it seems like they move effortlessly on offense at times. I feel like we have to fight and claw for every yard. We look completely different from everyone else, even the MAC.
We deserve our proper public shaming this week. Aside from Minnesota, we are currently the worst team in the Big Ten. If we played Indiana right now we would get stomped in our own stadium for the Bucket. We look frightened and weak willed. We have allowed a MAC team to come into our house and win by double digits. This was unacceptable even in the dark days of Akers/Colletto.The most frustrating thing is that when we decided to dominate the game in the third quarter, we did exactly that. We were 3 yards away from tying the game with at least three plays to gain those three yards, and we were too timid to go do it.
I am not often one to question the coaching staff, but after seeing the completely unprepared team take the field today one has to wonder. Danny Hope is now 2-2 against the MAC, while Tiller only lost to the MAC twice in 12 years. Those three yards are an example, as we went away from what had worked to get us to that point.
There is still time though. Remember, this team won four conference games a year ago and looked a lot better at the end than it did at the beginning. I do not doubt that we have the talent to still win some games and make a bowl game, but this team lacks any sort of winning edge right now. It is not hungry at all, despite the injuries. We can either cry about those injuries, or suck it up and deal.
I don't know what will happen from here, but it will take a drastic change in two weeks to pull off a win and get the season going in the right direction again.