With today's loss Purdue was officially eliminated from consideration for the Big Ten title game. We all know that happened weeks ago, around the time we took a 7-0 lead and Gary Nord felt it was an insurmountable deficit for Wisconsin to overcome so he packed it in on offense, but today was the day we were mathematically eliminated. Now only Wisconsin and Indiana, yes the Indiana Hoosiers, are still alive in the Leaders Division.
It is safe to say that this season is nothing less than a complete and utter disaster. When the calendar still read September Purdue was 3-1 and had a close loss to a Notre Dame team that may end up in the National Championship game because of escape after escape. Hopes were as high as they have been. Instead, our Boilermakers have played only one game even remotely close to its talent and expectations, and even then it still blew the game.
Today was more of the same. It was the same script that happened against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State for the most part. A big play on the opening drive led to an early score and a lead. Then, nothing happened. Today it happened for many of the same reasons as last week. Despite Akeem Shavers breaking a big play we completely and absolutely abandoned the running game for no reasons whatsoever. It wasn't so much that the Nittany Lions stopped it. We just stopped even trying to run the ball even when the game was more than competitive for the majority of the first half.
I'm not kidding when I say that. It was still a one possession game until the 3:47 mark of the second quarter, so for a half the lead was hardly insurmountable. A sensible offensive coordinator, knowing that a sound running game rests a defense that is playing well to that point while moving the close, would try to create a ground game with a solid lead blocker like Brandon Cottom. Shavers ran for 37 yards on the game's third play too, so it could be effective.
Nope. Only seven of the next 34 plays were attempted runs.
Now, it is often easier to run block than pass block because in run blocking the momentum of 300 pound linemen is moving forward to drive a defense back instead of backward in protection. If I remember high school physics correctly, this is beneficial for wanting to go in a specific direction. Now, when an offense is already being less effective than the Maginot Line in protecting the quarterback wouldn't it make more sense to have roughly 1,500 pounds pushing forward with Cottom also joining them as we tried to move the ball 4-5 yards at a time?
Of course, to do this, we would have to block well at all. That brings me to the biggest frustration with this team and why it is a sign that they are poorly coached. Today I saw that this team is TERRIFIED of contact. No one blocks down field. On consecutive plays Crosby Wright and Akeem Hunt didn't even attempt blocks on plays that would have been broken open had they done something as simple as a downfield block. These were far from the only examples today, or this season for that matter.
The defense has the same problem. They never try to hit someone aggressively. I watch other teams on TV and they at least go out and try to hit someone. Instead, we wait for the ballcarrier to hit us. Again, simple physics states that momentum going in a forward direction will keep going that way unless stopped. Since we wait to get hit, we're often carried for more yards instead of stepping up and applying more force to move them in the opposite direction. This happens all the time.
It's just sad to watch, really. I owe an apology to Caleb TerBush, who took much of the blame for the offensive struggles of late. Today it was clear that it does not matter who was throwing the ball, be it Robert Marve, TerBush, Rob Henry, Drew Brees, or Jesus Himself. The offense is not built for success because the offensive line is a sieve when the quarterback needs time to throw, the running game is an afterthought when it should have been a strength with two solid backs, and the calls for screens do not work because no one wants to even attempt a downfield block.
At that point any defense is going to struggle. Today our defense did pretty well until running out of gas. Then it got torched. They got no help from the offense despite helping them a ton. In the first half the defense and a good kick return by Akeem Hunt gave the offense the ball at the 50-yard line or better, four times. That means we had four chances where we needed to move half the field in order to score and keep the pressure on a Penn State team that wasn't doing a lot.
On those drives we got three points.
Sadly, we only got inside the 20 on one of those drives, which was a field goal by Sam McCartney. The rest of the time there was no attempt to go down field, no attempt to run, no attempt to protect the quarterback. It was simply screens and everything sideways instead of up field.
That is 100% on Gary Nord as the offensive coordinator. Since he is the one calling the plays it is up to him to at least try something different if it is not working. He fails miserably at that. The fact that another quarterback started today but we had the same result shows that it is his fault, not Marve's or TerBush's.
I do want to give some credit to Penn State defense, which played lights out for all but one play when the game was still competitive. They saw weaknesses and exploited them until we adjusted to stop them. We just never adjusted.
Nord needs to be fired. Now. If we're going to have ANY chance in the next three games it can only come without Gary Nord. As for Danny Hope, he only saves his job if he fires Nord tonight and Purdue wins the next three games, which is far from impossible. Iowa and Illinois are both pretty bad teams and Indiana should be beatable at home, though that is doubtful right now. Even if he does win those games I don't think it would be enough.
Hope himself is a nice guy. I have spoken with him a few times and I like him as a person. I think he is a good recruiter, a good assistant, and I like his energy. That said, in four of the last five games Purdue has not only lost, they have been blown out (three of them at home) in games where they looked completely and totally unprepared. That is on him. I can handle the losing, but getting blown out and looking terrible in the process? His time has run its course. He said this was his best team and one that could compete for a conference title. In that goal, he has failed. Now we would be lucky to replicate last season's record.
As for the rest of the season it is hard to get excited when we face three of the worst teams in the conference and I am not confident we can beat one of them. They are a combined 4-11 in league play, with two of those wins against each other (Indiana over Iowa and Illinois). They are all three winnable games, but not without a drastic turnaround that I don't think this coaching staff is capable of making.
I do believe in the players. They are in an awful situation where it is clear to everyone who has seen this team play (except the coaches) that they have talent and can win, but they are not being put in the position to win.
I still believe in them because I am a loyal Boilermaker and I will always go for Purdue, but the season is long lost and really needs to be put out of its misery at this point. I want the players to win the next three games and reach a bowl for them (which will be better than the Pizza bowl because the Big Ten won't have 8 eligible teams), but the coaches need to go.