Upsets happen all the time in college football. They often happen when the home team comes out of the locker room playing inspired football and the opponent is caught possibly overlooking them. This is what happened when Ohio State visited a 1-5 Purdue team in 2009. The Boilers were dominant on the defensive line thanks to Ryan Kerrigan, Mike Neal, and Kawann Short from the opening snap. Purdue rode that energy to a stunning 26-18 upset, and a similar effort was needed if it was going to be repeated today.
Instead, we saw the opposite of how to start a football game. On the second play from scrimmage Danny Etling stared his receiver down and the result was an interception returned for a touchdown by Doran Grant. It was the fifth defensive touchdown Purdue has given up all season, which is almost as much as the Purdue offense has generated. Not to be outdone, the Boilers went three-and-out, had an awful punt, then completely forgot to cover Jeff Heuerman for a 40-yard touchdown pass.
When I say "completely forgot to cover him" I mean it in every sense of the phrase. It was like he was an offensive lineman that wandered down field and Purdue didn't cover him because they thought he wasn't eligible. This wasn't the only play where this happened, either. Heuerman had five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown when, on the season, he had only 15 catches for 139 yards. It's not like he hadn't hurt has before, either. He caught the game-tying two-point conversion last year.
It seemed like on all five catches there wasn't a Purdue defender within 20 yards of him. This is not the first time it has happened, either. Purdue is so bad right now on both sides of the ball that it often looks as if it is playing short-handed. Despite it being 11 on 11 there are often multiple receivers with no one near them when we're on defense and when we're on offense it looks like we're going against a 17-man front. Today it meant Purdue suffered its worst home loss in the 126 year history of the program and gave up its most points ever at home, a record that was previously held by Northern Illinois five weeks ago.
All this happened in the first four minutes and the game was pretty much over from there. The rest was an exercise in a much better football team beating up on a pretty awful one. Purdue would make a mistake like the fumbled exchange between Etling and Brandon Cottom and the Buckeyes would take advantage. The lone first half highlight, maybe the sole Purdue highlight of the game, was Ricardo Allen's impressive interception of Braxton Miller.
If Ohio State wanted to run, it ran. If it wanted to pass, it passed. If they had wanted to matriculate the ball downfield by Rube Goldberg machine, a specialty at Purdue, they probably could have done that as well. Purdue often looked grossly out of position on defense and no matter who was in there, there were open receivers and running lanes on almost every play.
On offense, saying Purdue did diddle-squat would be generous. In fact, if they had done diddle-squat it would have meant they had done something. Purdue had a pathetic 116 yards of total offense and Etling was sacked six times. The Boilers have not been in the red zone since September 28 and has a grand total of 17 points in 16 quarters of Big Ten play. Purdue also became the first Big Ten team to be shut out in consecutive games since the historically inept Northwestern team in 1981.
I really don't know what else can be done at this point. Many of the same players that were more than competitive against Ohio State last year are back, but it looks as if the Boilers have only a handful of players that even belong on a college football field. I cover a lot of high school football games, usually 10 per year, and I am not seeing receivers as open as Purdue allows. The offense can't open a hole, can't protect the quarterback, and poor Etling is running for his life sometimes as soon as the snap arrives.
I don't know how this can be fixed. Coach Hazell has tried everything. A large pile of redshirts have been burned. Seniors were starting, and have now been moved to the bench in place of younger players. One of the few offensive things that has been working, the Etling to DeAngelo Yancey combo, has been figured out and stopped.
I guess the fortunate thing is that Purdue is finally though the brutal eight game opening stretch of the season. The final four games are against teams that are nowhere near as good as the previous seven FBS opponents we have played. Iowa's offense has been nearly as inept as our own. Penn State is under heavy sanctions and has been up and down. Illinois is on an 18-game Big Ten losing streak. Indiana is still Indiana on defense. If there are going to be any signs of improvement they will crop up here in the final four games.
Many people expected to be 1-7 right now and, well, we're 1-7. It has looked far worse than we originally thought. If coach Hazell is indeed the man for the job we start to see improvement now where the schedule is dramatically easier because we've already played five possible BCS bowl teams (Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Michigan State, and Ohio State). If we don't see improvement, then the program is in serious trouble.