The road trip diary has become a tradition here at Off the Tracks/Hammer & Rails. It started in 2008 When I wrote one for Michigan State. In 2009 I did one for Wisconsin and Indiana. Last season I went to Illinois, and fled the place like it was on fire in the third quarter. This year I added a new venue as I headed to Penn State for the first time, so it is good for sports betting and an NCAA wager.
As mentioned before, my road record is not good when seeing Purdue for the first time in a new venue. Counting the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame, Hawaii, and Cincinnati, Purdue is a meager 2-10 in my first visit to a place, winning only at Cincinnati in 2002 and Northwestern in 2006. The common thread in each visit since 2003 was my trusty Jeep Liberty. I bought it brand new in July 2003 with my first permanent job out of Purdue, and it served me well until this February when miles on it (132,000+) and a really good deal prompted me to trade it in and upgrade.
Therefore, this is the first Purdue Road Trip in my newer 2007 black Jeep Liberty, so here is how it went down:
3:10pm - And we're off. Trusty Lucy (my Jeep) is primed and ready to go.
3:22pm - And traffic is already bad since every single street in downtown Indianapolis is under construction, complete with two cranes on buildings under construction. This is your Super Bowl at work. Dunkin's coffee is at least procured
4:14pm - Appropriately on the first weekend of basketball practice, we pass the exit for New Castle and the Steve Alford All-American Inn. Indiana's last leader of a National championship team will, for the record, be 47 this year.
4:37pm - Now there is a town I could get behind: Richmond, with Purdue greats Chad and Woody Austin. As a result, this is needed. I'd show Alford clips, but YouTube only goes back so far.
4:41pm - Welcome to Ohio. Since I once caught one touchdown pass in intramural flag football there is a representative at the state line offering henna tattoos.
5:22pm - A rain squall around Dayton is bad enough that hail and sleet is falling on the windshield. "I don't want to see ice right now."
5:24pm - ..."You're not listening!"
5:41pm - Stopped at a rest area outside Columbus. Why do I smell tattoo ink and shame?
7:25pm - After a food stop we see a license plate that simply says: "Duxcar". Me: "Maybe it is French for Deauxcar?". Mrs. T-Mill: "Wouldn't that be Le Auto?" Ah, linguistics.
7:54pm - I wish I was making this up. Exit 193 on I-70 in Ohio is for a morally upstanding town called Quaker City. Right off the exit: A giant sign for the Lion's Den Adult Bookstore.
8:21pm - Entering West Virginia. Drive faster, I hear banjos!
8:33pm - ...and safely into Pennsylvania.
9:27pm - One final stop at a convenience store yields no bathroom. What kind of state is this? This won't be our first frustration of the weekend when looking for something basic in Pennsylvania.
9:50pm - I was unaware that Latrobe, PA is the home of Arnold Palmer, but he does have an airport named after him there.
10:57pm - Finally settled into our hotel in Johnstown, PA. No, I don't have an appreciation for flood history. It was the closest place to State College that wasn't fully booked or would cost me my first born for one night.
7:18am - Our Super 8 has a hearty breakfast spread of community peanut butter and old cream cheese. Being on the East Coast, I put out the Dunkin's symbol.
7:23am - Back in the room, The Spice Girls movie is on HBO. Did I wake up in 1999?
7:39am - Trying to work on something on the laptop, Mrs. T-Mill comes out and sees the Spice Girls movie still on (though ignored). "You know how I know you're gay?" she says.
8:37am - In search of good coffee, I find the nearest Dunkin's. You can get a special reusable mug with a JoePa theme with a dollar going to charity. The clerk comments on my Purdue jersey and we at least find a mutual respect and love for the Saints and Drew Brees.
The JoePa mug
9:06am - Off to the stadium. We'll be passing through beautiful Altoona on the way, home of the Altoona Curve: Indianapolis Indians before they're Indians.
10:20am - Off of Interstate 99 and into the morass that is gameday traffic in State College. The yellow parking pass I secured on ebay with our tickets is like a golden ticket. Bloomington could take a major lesson from game traffic management, as I should probably leave now for the Bucket game.
10:38am - From pulling off the interstate to parked at a stadium with 100,000+ people = 18 minutes. In Bloomington, I might be seeing the exit at this point from the point traffic backed on state road 37 up for a crowd of 30,000. Yeah, they need to take a lesson.
The view from our parking spot.
10:45am - We see Chris Carlino's family and give them a hearty Boiler Up!
10:51am - I have to mention this. Penn State's Adam Taliafero is signing at the Penn State welcome center. He's a great story.
11:32am - Enjoying a concession stand lunch we are welcomed by our first group of Penn State fans. This is the first group of many to welcome us to Beaver Stadium and discuss the game. They love our pilgrimage to see Purdue in all Big Ten Stadiums. They also state their case for Urban Meyer replacing JoePa.
Why is it I can see this is as from guy's dirty-minded T-shirt?
11:46am - And seated. I think this view from section NF will suffice.
All times now in game time
15:00 1st - We have a hell of a crosswind in the stadium. It will make kicking interesting. (Boy, will it ever).
14:56 1st - One play, one dumb penalty.
11:33 1st - The fans around us turn on Robert Bolden. These people were excellent, accommodating, and knowledgeable all day. I have to not this was the most welcomed I have ever felt in an opposing stadium, as multiple people welcomed us personally and even thanks us for coming with a handshake afterwards.
9:44 1st - Antavian Edison gets a big catch and run with a nice grab. We're in field goal range.
7:57 1st - Oy! Carson Wiggs misses the Figgie coming right at us. It looked like he tried to adjust too much for wind and tried to have a gust blow it in.
6:53 1st - And the defense refuses to adjust, thinking Penn State will be running up the middle all day. We're totally out of position as Bolden starts shredding us through the air. The fans around us are shocked Bolden is throwing well. I welcome them to Purdue football.
4:38 1st - Touchdown Penn State. We were never in position on the drive at all.
4:02 1st - Unhook the trailer, Justin Siller! It looks like he is running in slow motion right at us, but he flips the field at least.
1:39 1st - Wiggs nails a field goal. This was a nice answering drive after we gave up an ugly TD drive.
0:54 1st - Robert Bolden has the fans turn on him again. These guys are fun!
0:34 1st - Akeem Shavers came to play today! Big run!
14:38 2nd - Unfortunately we have almost no ability to convert on 3rd and long at all.
13:35 2nd - The fans around us cheer as Matthew McGloin enters. "He should be the guy in there," says the guy next to Mrs. T-Mill.
9:18 2nd - Only we could completely whiff and be shed off the quarterback on a blind side sack.
8:30 2nd - We hold again. We need to capitalize, as we're playing well defensively despite that one drive. I comment to the fans around us when Robert Marve comes in that he's the guy that should be in there, just as they say McGloin should be for them.
4:36 2nd - We do capitalize, as Ralph Bolden busts a 39 yard run. I can't help but wonder if he scores pre-ACL tear. It sets up a second Wiggs FG. 7-6.
1:38 2nd - And we hold again! I'll take 7-6 going into the half.
1:08 2nd - This was a major WTF play. First, we actually threw deep and Marve puts one right on the money to Gary Bush. It looks like Bush catches it, then drops it. He thinks it is incomplete, but the official rules it a fumble and Penn State picks it up for a big return. Thank God for replay, as it is ruled incomplete. Still. I love that we actually tested someone deep.
0:25 2nd - This is a good timeout Hope here and good clock management. I would absolutely take another shot.
0:14 2nd - This play happened right in front of me, and it may have been the game's biggest. Marve threw across his body and it looked like Gabe Holmes was open with room to run. Nathan Stupar read him perfectly and picks him off, returning it to the 24. If I had this play to do over I absolutely would take another shot, but Marve made a poor decision to throw across his body. I Still like him in there because he was at least trying to make something happen on this drive and looked more decisive than Caleb TerBush.
0:00 2nd - And Marve's mistake is a three point gift. 10-6 at halftime.
15:00 3rd - Interesting dynamic here. Everytime they announce Michigan losing the place erupts. When they follow it with Wisconsin over IU we erupt. As the fan next to me explains, "I hate those arrogant pricks at Michigan that talk without doing anything." These guys also despise Notre Dame. I love these fans so much I think I may change my address soon. No wonder two Purdue grads I know got their graduate degrees at Penn State. As a second thing, the Penn State students to SHOUT at the end of halftime. They stole our tradition! This is their only black eye on the day.
13:39 3rd - Penn State is playing smarter football with the quarterback sneaks on third and short. We can't stop it.
12:27 3rd - My God, a pass rush! Ryan Russell gets a sack and a fumble, but we can't recover.
9:26 3rd - Another stop, and we dodge the punt being downs at the one.
7:57 3rd - We can't take advantage and have to punt. This is where we have a special teams breakdown. Gibboney develops kickers, but his units can't cover the field for shit. Justin Brown breaks a big return and sets up a field goal. It's at this point that Greg Walker, a fan near us, makes a note of the empty seats in the stadium. As it turns out, several fans did not renew tickets because the Lion Club upped the donation-based requirements for good seats substantially, as opposed to having seats for generations. He calls it straight up greed and asks to be specifically quoted int he diary. Later we find out that for the first time in ages there was no wait list for season tickets, and there were even single game tickets on sale for this game. Happy Valley indeed, but my mind can't fathom discontent with a 100,000+ seat stadium still 98% full.
At least they have an excellent music selection in the stadium.
5:57 3rd - We hold them to an FG, 13-6. Will Hope let a quarterback get into a rhythm for us?
5:45 3rd - Who needs rhythm when Raheem Mostert busts a huge return? This is why we got him. We need to take advantage.
4:02 3rd - Touchdown O.J. Ross on a great throw from TerBush. As we celebrate, we make exaggerated pointing gestures with the 4 other Purdue fans within earshot. In a silent stadium I can be very loud. Tie game!
4:02 3rd - ...or not. Wiggs shanks the extra point. 13-12
4:02 3rd - Okay, WTF, Carson? This must have been where Boiled Sports tweeted, "Did someone note in the program that the part of Carson Wiggs will be played by Travis Dorsch. He has an ugly kick out of bounds that was clearly mental.
3:54 3rd - Piss poor tackling...
3:29 3rd - ...refusal to cover the middle of the field...
2:37 3rd - ...and more piss poor tackling = touchdown. I think this is where I am asked if we're snakebitten. Yes. Yes we are.
1:52 3rd - Not as long as we have Ralph Bolden though! Another big run gets us into scoring range.
0:12 3rd - Another pick, this time off the hands of our receiver and into the air. It is upheld on review.
13:54 4th - 3rd and 15, so of course they complete a 22 yard pass over the middle. Again, this was right in front of me. I could have made the throw. Nary a safety or linebacker to be seen.
13:17 4th - No coverage
12:46 4th - Circus catch by Justin Brown. Ballgame
12:14 4th - Maybe not! Albert Evans with a pick in the end zone and huge return. This was clear at the other end of the field, so I had no idea what was going on until I saw Evans running at us with a convoy of blockers. It looked like it could have been a 100-yard pick 6.
10:59 4th - Bolden with the first down at the 34
9:13 4th - Shavers with the catch down to the 19!
8:33 4th - Waynelle Gravesande with a shifty move to the one (even though he fumbles). First and goal!
8:03 4th - Shavers touchdown! Too bad it is a mortal lock we won't get the deuce. I am already thinking how close we'll need to get for a game-winning Figgie attempt. I'm right seconds later when we run a two-point play that has little chance of success. 20-18. For the record, we have left five points on the field and handed them three more with a bad pick.
7:45 4th - GIBBONEY!!!!!!!!! This was an epic failure on all levels. First of all, Chaz Powell faked out three guys coming at him unblocked that could have tackled him inside the 20. The rest is an exercise in terrible tackling and poor angles. Way to piss on all the momentum, Purdue.
6:29 4th - We at least hold them to a FG, which I think is good because it makes us go for a touchdown. We all saw what happened when we got conservative for a field goal at Rice.
6:18 4th - Akeem Hunt with a good return. 65 yards to go and they'll be coming right at me. This is a good sign, right?
5:21 4th - Nope. 1-2-3 kick!
4:56 4th - We get a gift with a 15 yard penalty and I know we can get a stop with their poor offense.
4:11 4th - We get a second gift of a fumble on a poor reverse, but can't get there in time to recover. It would have given us the ball at the 25.
4:48 4th - A dropped (wide open over the middle) pass on third down is our best friend. It is punt time.
2:36 4th - Of course Anthony Fera unleashes a 69-yard punt down to the two. He gets the perfect wind gust at the perfect time. This was the ballgame. The interception four plays later was pre-ordained.
So what did we learn? Despite my rantings against the coaching staff of late, I felt they managed this one well. I still think we need one quarterback and like Marve for the job because he is at least more decisive and can make plays TerBush can't. Unfortunately, we are not a good enough team to overcome a missed FG, missed extra point, missed 2-pointer conversion, and three turnovers on the road. When you add two special teams coverage breakdowns, it makes this a very frustrating loss.
And it was our coverage units that lost this game. They set up two field goals and the shank out of bounds gave them a short field for a touchdown. People have said we have a good kickoff coverage team. Well, we do when Carson boots the ball through the end zone. In the last two games now we've given up I think four kicks that were actually returned and one was taken to the house by Minnesota and the other was taken almost all the way back.
I think this now makes the Illinois game a must win, and before you call me crazy we are at least playing at home and Illinois couldn't even get a D- performance from its offense this week. We at least had a solid effort this week and played with a lot of heart to come back several times, but every time we seized the momentum we gave it right back, as you can see above. I feel like we're almost there and we need just one break, one turning point to turn everything around. Could a game against a good, ranked Fighting Illini team at home be that turning point?
At least it was a good trip. The fans at Penn State were simply incredible and the friendliest I have met in my travels. They were incredibly welcoming and they knew we were true fans for having driven 500 miles to see Purdue when we had maybe 500 other Purdue fans there total. After the game I made the short walk down to the field and applauded our guys as they walked off. Edison gave me a nod of thanks for coming all the way to see them.
Finally, the most important part of the trip was accomplished. A 12-pack of Yuengling was procured. Amazingly, it was easier to get in Ohio, a state you couldn't buy it in until a month ago, than in the state it has been brewed in for over a century. We found it at a gas station north of Mansfield on the way home. Apparently in the state of Pennsylvania only four places sell beer and you have to go through an Indiana Jones like quest to find them. Overall though, it was a good trip, and I would definitely go again.