Northern Illinois 55, Purdue 24: Welcome To Rock Bottom

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Almost nine years after The Fumble, Purdue may have finally hit rock bottom.

There is no hiding from it:

  • The 31-point loss ties the worst ever loss for a Big Ten team to a MAC team, tying when Toledo beat Minnesota 38-7 in 2001 (which was at least AT Toledo to a team that went 10-2).
  • The 55 points scored by the Huskies is the most points a MAC team has ever scored against a Big Ten team.
  • Northern Illinois became the first MAC team ever to defeat two Big Ten teams in the same season.
  • Purdue outgained Northern Illinois 524 to 402, but lost because it had five turnovers to NIU's one and gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown.
  • Purdue's run defense even held a quarterback averaging about 150 yards on the ground to only 35 yards, but still lost by 31 points.

Folks, if this is not rock bottom I am not sure I want to see what is. Without question, Purdue is the worst team in the Big Ten right now, and may be the worst major conference team in the country. I say that even while giving all the credit in the world to Northern Illinois. The Huskies came in and won simply by not making mistakes and making Purdue pay the maximum penalty for its mistakes. The scary thing is that the NIU defense was mostly held in check when you look at their season numbers. They didn't even have to play that well today and they still won with ease.

Later this week I will do a comparison of Danny Hope's first five games to Darrell Hazell's. They are apt comparisons because they have come against similar competition and have both ended with Purdue at 1-4. Hope's teams were at least competitive in their games. Hazell has been blown out three times, barely beaten an FCS team, and inexplicably played a solid game against a team nine months from playing for a National Championship.

That is not to say I am off the Hazell bandwagon. Quite the contrary. I still strongly believe in what he is doing. It is just blatantly obvious that it is going to take a lot longer to fix things that have been in steady decline for a decade.

There are still a few promising things we can take from today. For example, let's look at the freshmen that had major contributions:

Danny Etling - The true freshman replaced Rob Henry just before halftime and had a decent performance. He had 241 yards passing and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions, including one that was returned by Jimmie Ward for a backbreaking touchdown. He also showed an unexpected mobility when the pocket broke down and had the presence to step forward into the pocket instead of retreating 15 steps like Henry.

DeAngelo Yancey - Another true freshman, Yancey emerged as a deep threat and became Purdue's first 100 yard receiver on the season with seven catches for 117 yards.

B.J. Knauf - Only a redshirt freshman, Knauf led Purdue in rushing with 43 yards and proved he is elusive as hell when he gets the football.

Dalyn Dawkins - Another true freshman, Dawkins is shifty and Purdue ever settles the troubles with the line in front of him he can be a major factor in both the running game and the passing game.

Cameron Posey - The redshirt freshman caught his first career touchdown pass and three total catches for 67 yards.

Austin Logan and Leroy Clark - They were two more freshmen that had to learn by fire today in the defensive secondary that is decimated by injuries.

Those are seven freshmen hat played big roles today and will continue to play big roles going forward. They simply lack experience and it shows at times. This doesn't even consider sophomores like Anthony Brown, Danny Anthrop, Ryan Watson, and Paul Griggs who are also playing big roles early in their careers. Andy James Garcia, Bilal Marshall, Jimmy Herman, and Dezwan Polk-Campbell also played significant time as freshmen today.

Youth can only be so much of an excuse though. In reality, it was Purdue's more experienced players that made the biggest mistakes today. Henry had two back-breaking interceptions and a fumble that not only took the potential for 21 points off the board, they led directly to 10 points for NIU. That is your 31 point difference right there, and that is even before Tommylee Lewis returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown or Etling's pick 6 (which also ended a promising drive and took Purdue points off the board).

Jordan Lynch is a good quarterback and NIU has a good offense. They rarely need help to put points on the board, but Purdue gave them 14 points on defense and special teams and still gave them four other turnovers that took our own points off the board. NIU was so efficient that it had the ball only had the ball for about five minutes of the third quarter but still outscored Purdue 21-7.

All Purdue can do right now is build for 2014. Hazell's team at Kent State struggled greatly in his first season, then broke out big time in year 2. The young guys are playing and Etling showed today that he is the better choice over Henry going forward. Henry had four and a half games to give us confidence he could move the offense without trouble. He's a good kid and I like him, but Etling was better in a little more than a half today than Henry has been all year. That is all we can do going forward. We have to take our lumps and build for the future, hoping we see some promise going forward.

It is highly unlikely that Purdue is going to win five games in the Big Ten to reach a bowl game. Even though the offense did show some promise by moving the football well today the defense still cannot stop a simple draw up the middle (which Cameron Stingily ran way too easily in the third quarter). It was so bad today that it got fooled on a play action fake from backup quarterback Matt McIntosh to Tim Semisch. When MAC backups are pulling off fakes and fooling our defense it is time for a complete overhaul. Purdue is running a completely new system on offense and still lacks the linebacker play you need at this level of football to be successful. That is going to make for a rough time, but I like what Hazell is doing off the field and the accountability he has. Let's give him some time.

All I want to see over the next seven games is improvement. Purdue is rightfully not going to be favored in any of them and, in fact, may be a double digit underdog the rest of the way. All the Boilers can do is try to improve each week and maybe put it all together for an upset somewhere along the line. I also want to win the Bucket in Bloomington because, well, we can at least take comfort then that one of our worst teams in recent memory is still better than IU. Purdue is a very long away from that, however.  At this point, it is very likely that NIU will finish with more Big Ten wins than Purdue.

All due respect to NIU, who is a very good MAC team with a legitimate shot at going undefeated, we just got trounced at home by a team from a conference the Big Ten usually owns. Today, NIU looked like a Big Ten team and was far better than Purdue, who looked like the overwhelmed MAC team.

When you're a fan of a Big Ten team it does not get worse than that.

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