A few weeks ago I was able to assess the football team's performance after 25% at the season. Back then, Purdue was 2-1 with a pair of blowouts and a close loss at Notre Dame. Things looked pretty good for the future. Now, three games later, the Notre Dame loss is not so much good as perplexing, and we have a defense that has given up an average of 41 points in the last three games after giving up only 42 points total in the first three games.
Even though on paper there is a lot of football to be played the 2012 season has turned south. There is almost active mutiny among fans as we have an entire coaching staff that seems to be as aware of the situation as Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf during the invasion of Baghdad in 2003. Something can still be salvaged from this season, but it would take a dramatic and completely unexpected turnaround at this point.
I am assigning this grade because we have had only a handful of games where we've gone with one quarterback the whole way at least until garbage time. For the most part the results have not been pretty.
Robert Marve himself probably deserves at least a B-. He was very good both against Notre Dame and Eastern Kentucky, but his play has been limited because of the knee injury since.
Caleb TerBush has been a D, with his best games coming against defenses that, quite frankly just weren't very good at all. Two of his six interceptions have been returned for touchdowns and he continues to throw high. Some will bail him out because they say a catchable ball is one the receiver gets his hands on, but the Michigan pick six is a prime example of how bad that logic is. Yes, Gary Bush got his hands on the ball, but it was three feet above his head! TerBush consistently throws high instead of hitting his receiver in stride, and it is costly.
Rob Henry has played the least of the three and has yet to play in a situation where the game is truly on the line. Even then, he's completed just 52% of passes for 113 yards. I'd give him a C- or maybe an incomplete grade. I would consider making him the sole starter the rest of the way just to prepare for next season.
Running Backs: B
This is a hard group to judge because the last two weeks the offensive line has done very little to help them out. Akeem Hunt is definitely a bright spot at 11.2 yards per carry. Brandon Cottom is averaging 15 per carry, but has only nine carries and one was an 87 yarder. Danny Anthrop has also shown some promise in mop-up duty.
The main guy carrying the ball has been Akeem Shavers, whose totals are dwindling each week as he has no room to run. Hunt and Shavers have also been very effective catching the ball out of the backfield.
If these guys have room to run they are dangerous, but the line is not opening holes and we're falling behind by too much to use them.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B
Again, these guys are limited by the ones getting them the football. O.J. Ross had two huge drops on Saturday and Antavian Edison, who is normally sure-handed, had a big drop of a first down too. Gary Bush is clearly a danger in space, but we're not even trying to get him the ball in space.
Dolapo Macarthy, a guy who could be a big, tall receiver on the edge we can use downfield, has not been used as such. Instead, our passing philosophy is to get three burners the ball while at a dead stop instead of in stride.
Offensive Line: D-
I don't think this group could have played worse on Saturday and they weren't much better against Michigan. The one highlight was Hunt's TD late in the Wisconsin game that only made a horrible two weeks look very slightly better statistically.
It wasn't just the running game that suffered, either. The passing blocking was full of holes that took at least three points off the board before halftime with sacks. Every time a quarterback rolled out there was an unblocked lineman in his face, thus contributing to the lack of a passing game. Much of that was on Trevor Foy, who was treated as turnstile on Saturday.
Defensive Line: D+
Through three weeks the defensive line was a massive strength. The last two weeks in particular they have been shredded. Teams have neutralized Kawann Short after his big game against Notre Dame and the pass rush on even obvious passing downs. Denard Robinson and Joel Stave aren't exactly Peyton Manning when it comes to reading defenses and blitzes, but when they needed to pass they had all the time in the world.
Of course, they didn't need to pass much when their offensive lines were blocking at will and giving Robinson, Montee Ball, and James White plenty of gaps to run through.
This was a complete and utter failure the last two weeks. The infamous open middle of the field was there whenever Wisconsin and Michigan needed it. The linebackers were totally lost in pass coverage, and on anything that remotely involved misdirection or play fakes they looked totally confused. Honestly, it was like they didn't even believe such plays were legal, so they slowed down and waited for a flag. That's how unaware the defense looked on Saturday on the simplest of play fakes and when White would come off the edge. A fast guy is coming across the backfield in motion before the snap. That might be a clue he's getting the ball!
When they did get close they were hardly sure tacklers. Sean Robinson had Ball dead to rights in the end zone for a game-changing safety, but Ball spun out for an eight yard gain. That type of play happened all day long.
There has been some good and some bad, but even if this unit was perfect it wouldn't matter with as horrible as the front seven has been the last two weeks. Still, there have been blown coverages. How else do you explain a team leading the Big Ten in interceptions not picking off the quarterback with the most interceptions thrown once?
Landon Feichter has been the one consistent player here. He leads the team with three picks and has been an effective tackler. He even has a QB hit. Josh Johnson has also played well, as he is not the one getting burned most of the time. Ricardo Allen deserves a mention for his solid tackling and leadership, but when only three guys on defense have been consistent through three games there are going to be issues.
Special Teams: C-
No area has been more hit-or-miss than here. Cody Webster is booming punts and downing them inside the 20 with reckless abandon, but even that has not helped the defense. Of course, he can only do so much when three of his punts have been blocked in six games. I can understand one, but three in six games? That is squarely on the shoulders of the special teams coach because something is not working, but it is not getting fixed.
Paul Griggs has done what he has needed to do, but two more extra points have been blocked, bringing the total of blocked kicks given up to five. That is handing points to the other team. Griggs already replaced Sam McCartney, who missed two extra points in addition to having one blocked.
Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt are dangerous weapons on kick returns, but Mostert is now out for at least a few weeks. Ricardo Allen returned his only punt for 25 yards, which is almost half our team punt return yardage. Apparently since it worked extremely well and a punt return was actually a threat it was playing outside of Gibboney's system, so we can't use it anymore.
Where do we begin? Do we talk about apparently not having a plan to defend one of the greatest running quarterbacks in Big Ten history? What about being completely shocked that Wisconsin of all teams would try a power running game? Hasn't the musical quarterbacks plan worked to perfection? What about getting speed running backs on the edge instead of pounding them directly into the line?
With as much speed and talent as we have on the offensive side of the ball we should never struggle to score 20 points against anyone. Period. Instead, trying to throw anything upfield is a challenged and is only done on broken plays where the QB is running around trying to throw on the run, which is always less accurate. The playcalling is balanced at 219 rushing attempts and 218 pass attempts, but there is absolutely no variety.
Even when Henry comes in as a "secret weapon" he is not used in this way. It would make sense to have a wildcat, power rush package with him in there, but we try to run the same package that we do for the other two quarterbacks.
Worst of all, this coaching staff seems completely incapable of overcoming even the smallest of deficits. It was 17-7 at halftime. With 30 minutes to go that is more than enough time to overcome a two-score deficit, but I know everyone in the stadium felt like it was over as soon as it became 14-7. Wisconsin even aided us by missing two first half field goals, but we in now way took advantage of them.
Then, there is the dreaded third quarter, which is another indictment of the coaching staff. Purdue has only been outscored 34-17, so the defense has done decently there. The offense, however, has produced these gems:
Eastern Kentucky: 20 plays, 129 yards, 7 first downs, 1 TD, 1 blocked punt
Notre Dame: TerBush 8 plays, 17 yards, no first downs and an interception before Marve moved us 56 yards in 8 plays for a FG on the first play of the 4th quarter.
Eastern Michigan: 13 plays, 81 yards, 2 first downs, 1 TD on a 56 yard run by Hunt
Marshall: 10 plays, 28 yards, 1 first down, 1 interception before 16 play 62 yard FG drive
Michigan: 15 plays, 69 yards, 5 first downs (TerBush was 8 plays, 17 yards, 1 first down before Marve's drive)
Wisconsin: 12 plays, -10 yards, one blocked punt, no first downs
So here are your ugly third quarter totals:
86 plays, 370 yards (a third of which came against an FCS team), 17 points, 2 blocked punts, 2 interceptions.
I have to shake my head at those numbers. Clearly something is not working as we come out of the locker room, but the solution is to keep trying the same old crap and it is only getting worse.
In the three losses we were tied at halftime (Notre Dame), down 18 (Michigan), and down 10 (Wisconsin). The worst of those was Michigan, but with improved defensive adjustments and a decent offensive plan to change up what wasn't working in the first half you can come back. I have no doubt that we have the players capable of coming back against such deficits. Instead, we have failed to score a single point in those three third quarters, have gained one first down with TerBush on the field, and have yielded an interception and a blocked punt.
Danny Hope has called it a "failure to execute". Yes, there are mistakes by the players such as poor tackling, but when plays are called on both sides of the ball that do not have the best players in a position to succeed nothing is going to work no matter how much you try to execute it. If an offensive line hasn't been blocking all day the same screen pass you've already run 10 times is not going to work the 11th time.
I really don't know what to say at this point. I am disappointed for the players who are out there fighting. They should have been able to win at least one of these last two games but instead they have seen a game plan that has given them one meaningful offensive drive when we have not been down by multiple touchdowns. The defensive staff has also failed to plan for the strengths of the opposing team.
With the players that we put on the field could Purdue win each of its next six games if you look at them individually? Absolutely! We're playing basically the same Ohio State team we beat last year that contained Braxton Miller and frustrated him all day with a now slightly more suspect defense. I fully expect to get blown out, however, because the coaching staff will fail to prepare for the Buckeyes on either side of the ball. Minnesota, Penn State, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana are all beatable as well. Win all six, get Wisconsin to lose two, and you're suddenly back in Indianapolis for the title game.
Unfortunately, I just don't see it happening because of the coaching staff because of the epic stinkbombs they have collectively dropped the last two weeks. As it stands, I expect to get blown out by Ohio State before maybe squeezing past Minnesota. We'll then come home for a loss to Penn State in the 27-10 range before heading to Iowa and losing there because it's been 20 years since we've even beaten bad Iowa teams there. We'll beat the Illinois team that is quickly quitting on its season before we hope to win a shootout for the Bucket to spend Christmas in Detroit.
I would love to be proven wrong and I 100% believe the players are capable of wining each of the next six games, but it is going to have to be a shocking turn of events to do so.