It is amazing how much better a victory makes everyone feel. When Purdue was tied 24-24 with facing 4th and three the feelings of dread were back. Purdue had never trailed all afternoon. In fact, they had significantly outgained Iowa, but the Hawkeyes were finally driving and had stayed close thanks to two turnovers that basically handed them 14 points. James Vandenberg found Zach Derby in the flat, but Taylor Richards tackled him well short of the first down.
As I tweeted then, Richards had saved the season, for now. In my experience watching Purdue football rarely, if ever, does Purdue make the one defensive play needed late for a stop. I felt sure Iowa would convert, move the ball about 20 more yards, and have Mike Meyer kick a game-winning field goal as time expired to officially pull the plug on the season.
What followed was so stunning and happened so fast I still don't believe it. Robert Marve took over with 21 seconds left (thanks to Danny Hope's earlier timeout that nearly backfired) and had a 17 yard run thanks to getting outside the pocket. He then found Antavian Edison for 20 more yards and another timeout had us in field goal range. Paul Griggs nailed a kick that looked like it was knuckling left, but held on for the win.
Once again, the season was back alive. It is still not great, but Purdue had a victory and a path to a bowl game. While not the bowl we wanted, I was not going to cheer for Purdue to lose and we might as well try for a bowl (that will be better than last season regardless) while the chance is there. Now we only have to beat a 2-8 Illinois team and an Indiana team that does not have a run defense to still go to the postseason.
It still doesn't likely change the fate of Danny Hope, who is still probably gone after the IU game. It still doesn't change the fate of Gary Nord, who proved today that he is more useless than a Kardashian. When the offense suddenly runs smoothly without as many screen passes and a running game that works while Nord is not there I think we found the weak link. You can't even play the "bad defense" card because Iowa is still 30th in the country in points allowed.
No, this one is for the players, as is any bowl game we can still qualify for. We're building for the future, one that most certainly does not include Nord and probably does not include Hope. The players deserve the reward of the postseason and the younger players need the extra practice time a bowl game brings for development. It was the players that went out and won it today. Your highlights:
Robert Marve - Marve was masterful today in throwing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. It's amazing what he can do when he has time to throw and when rolls out without someone being in his face. The 17 yard run was incredibly smart because it was there, we had the timeouts available, and he took what we could get without risking a pass. Also, I loved how he read the defense on multiple downs and waited instead of staring receivers down. Just a great game all around from him.
Ralph Bolden - When guessing who the first running back to have a 100 yard game for us in conference play would be I did not think it would be Bolden. Today he looked like the Bolden of old and his 56-yard run was part poor tackling and part fantastic balance down the sideline.
Akeem Shavers - Shavers punished defenders and finished runs. It's amazing what he can do when you give him the ball.
Crosby Wright - It seemed like every catch he had was a big one.
Gabe Holmes - Holmes had great concentration on his TD catch. It wasn't pretty, but it counted.
Landon Feichter - Feichter had himself a ballgame today with some hard hits and playing extremely well in run support. If he can bulk up this offseason we're going to have a damn fine safety on our hands. This kid needs a scholarship!
Sean Robinson - Robinson had some really good pass breakups and was in the middle of a lot of plays.
Josh Johnson - JJ continues to play as one of the best corners in the Big Ten.
Kawann Short - Welcome back, All-American level KK. We've missed you.
Jalani Phillips - He had an impressive sack in the second half that stopped a drive.
Sam McCartney - He shook off the ugly miss to end the first half and added a career long field goal.
Paul Griggs - Finally, I have to credit Griggs, who stood around doing nothing all day only to come on and nail his first career game-winner. At least McCartney had two extra points and two field goal attempts earlier. Was called on at the biggest moment of the game and delivered.
It has been a long season, but we at least still have something to play for as we head into the final two games. Both are trophy games, and keeping both The Cannon and The Bucket safe at home in the Mollenkopf assures that were headed somewhere for the postseason and the program and players can at least move forward even if the coaches do not. Purdue football can finally be fun again, so let's bring on the Illini.