By now you likely know the grisly details. Wisconsin rushed for 388 yards, had two running backs that were well over 100 yards rushing, and the Badgers once again cruised to an easy win over our Boilermakers. I mentioned in the preview three times that stopping the run was essential, but Purdue did not, so the result was as expected. Strangely, 388 yards given up on the ground is actually an improvement.
In last year's 38-14 win for Wisconsin in West Lafayette the Badgers rushed for 467 yards. In the 62-17 win in Madison two years ago Wisconsin ran for 264, but had 605 yards of total offense. Today they only had 546 yards of total offense, which is improvement for Purdue because we held them under 600 total yards, so huzzah!
Seriously though, there were very few positives to take from this. It looked like Purdue was going to get drilled when it fell behind 14-0, then we responded, unlike Hope's team last year. Rob Henry led a nice little nine play, 55 yard touchdown drive after Akeem Hunt returned the ball to the Purdue 45. Henry capped the drive on a 22-yard run by Henry on a broken play. Ricardo Allen then intercepted a Joel Stave pass and nearly returned it for a touchdown.
That was the last time that Purdue was competitive on this day. Henry misread the read-option and Hunt got stuffed on second down from the five. A pass to Justin Sinz was incomplete, and Paul Griggs hit a short field goal to make it 14-10. Yes, Purdue was still trailing, but it felt like a win because the Boilers survived an early punch and even responded with 10 straight points. We were only 20 minutes into the game and were down just 4 points against a team that normally kicks the crap out of us.
Unfortunately, the offense did nothing the rest of the day and defensively it was a parade of missed tackles and missed assignments. James White and Melvin Gordon had all kinds of room to run and broke tackle after tackle. When Wisconsin did choose to pass (and I say choose, because they certainly did not need to) Purdue inexplicably left Jared Abbrederis completely unguarded. He is only one of the best receivers in the Big Ten and their lone consistent receiver, but had seven catches for 94 yards.
On offense, things were even more of a mess. Purdue gained 180 yards on the day. Of that total, 100 yards came in the first 20 minutes when the game was competitive. That means Purdue gained only 80 yards from the moment it made the score 14-10. Purdue's next six drives were for -9 yards, a kneel down before halftime, 11 yards, 0 yards, 8 yards, and -5 yards. In the time it took Wisconsin to score 27 unanswered points and put the game away Purdue gained 5 yards and had a single first down.
Many people are putting that at the feet of Henry, but you don't have that amount of epic suckitude unless it is a total team effort. Henry has his own blame with inaccurate passes, but the offensive line of Trevor Foy, Robert Kugler, Devin Smith, Justin Kitchens, and Kevin Pamphile has not provide protection or opened any kind of holes for the running game. Hunt and Dalyn Dawkins are great backs, but they have no room to move. At least Brandon Cottom finally got into the action today, but it still made no difference.
We also need to question whether Henry is the best quarterback for the offense as it is designed. I like Rob Henry. I think he is a great kid and a great leader. Unfortunately, he is being asked to be a pocket quarterback with an accurate arm in a system that cannot protect him and hamstrings his strings. Henry throws best on the run, but today he was often backpedaling and trying to find underneath receivers after a 45-step drop.
Henry had success early on running the read option. He had success last year in the Nordfense running the read option out of the shotgun. After four games, it is clear he is not a pocket quarterback. We've proven we can be successful with him going strictly read-option from the Northwestern game when he was a freshman. To me, the coaches have two choices: If they want to stick with Henry, it is time to commit fully to an offense that utilizes his running ability best. Hell, out only touchdown today came with him running the ball. If they want to stick with this offense it may be time to given Austin Appleby a look.
Of course, it doesn't really matter unless the offensive line can get much better, and this is an experienced line with four seniors. That is what makes it most troubling. They should be A LOT better than what they have shown. People have clamored for Danny Etling, but Appleby outplayed him in fall ball and has a little more experience. If you're going to make a change at this point you might as well go with Appleby and save Etling's eligibility.
Going forward, we're not going to see a power run team as strong as Wisconsin the rest of the year, so that is a good thing. Unfortunately, we're a team that supposedly wants to run the ball more and we're averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground as a team. Purdue has not committed to the run game, but the blocking has not been there.
At least the players and coaches know that changes need to come:
Darrell Hazell: It's a whole team thing we've got to get fixed. #Purdue— GoldandBlack.com (@GoldandBlackcom) September 21, 2013
Rob Henry: We need to win one-on-one battles, says he was too inaccurate. #Purdue— GoldandBlack.com (@GoldandBlackcom) September 21, 2013
Point blank period, WE gotta do better. Offense. Defense. Special Teams. Me included— Cody Webster (@codywebster42) September 22, 2013
That is the faint glimmer of hope that I am hanging on to so far. There is accountability there and a process as coach Hazell tries to change everything there is about the program. When Purdue lost to Wisconsin last year Hope was adamant that Caleb TerBush was the best QB and Purdue was great in practice, so he didn't know what was wrong. Coach Hazell said it is simple: there is fight but Purdue has to get better.
We all knew this was not going to be a Big Ten championship season. Even the projections that had Purdue as a bowl eligible team had Purdue at 1-3 at this point. There is still plenty of time to get better and, from a physicality standpoint, we just got past two of the worst matchups for us. There are little glimmers with fewer penalties and dumb mistakes but Purdue has to get better in terms of strength and talent. That will take awhile.
For now, all we can do is prepare for the next two games. We get a Northern Illinois team is very good, but is not impossible to beat. It is pretty much a must-win game if anything positive in terms of a won/lost record s going to be salvaged. Yes, they played in a BCS bowl last year, but they lost to a crappy Iowa team too. Then, we get a Nebraska team that is good on offense, but a complete mess defensively. After that, we get a Michigan State team that is a mess offensively, but an excellent defensive team.
They are not easy opponents, but they are beatable opponents. They are not as daunting as the preseason looks at all three teams looked. Let's regroup and get NIU first, then go from there.
It had better be one hell of a regroup.