The final score of 42-7 was far from pretty, but perhaps the ugliest number I remember was 88. As I sat in Nippert Stadium Saturday afternoon sweating more than Tom Crean in a tanning booth while watching a zone defense the number 88 was plastered on Purdue's side of the scoreboard for far too long. The significance? That was Purdue's total offensive yardage for far too long in the game.
With 3:53 left in the third quarter Purdue finally went over 100 yards of total offense when Gabe Holmes caught a 17 yard pass from Rob Henry for a first down. It immediately went back under when Gary Bush caught a pass and lost eight yards, then Henry fumbled a snap and lost another yard. A 16-yard pass to Dalyn Dawkins put Purdue back over 100, but for much of the day the Cincinnati defense was impressive.
Purdue had 88 yards at halftime, but was stuck there forever after going 3-and-out with three incompletions after the Bearcats scored on the first possession of the second half, then stayed there when Henyr was pick-sixed by Adrian Witty on his next pass, followed by a lost fumble by Akeem Hunt on the next offensive play.
To make matters worse, 54 of those 88 yards were earned on Purdue's opening drive that failed to put points on the board. The teams traded interceptions on the play, but it looked like Henry was going to have the offense moving by taking them from the 25 down to the Cincinnati 5 before losing 17 yards on three first and goal plays before missing a field goal. On this drive Henry was decent. He had a 27 yard pass to DeAngelo Yancey, a six yard keeper run on a first down, and an end-around handoff to B.J. Knauf for nine yards.
That was unfortunately the best drive of the day for him. Yes, he had a seven yard TD, but Henry was generally terrible. His offensive line did him no favors, but Henry was only 18 of 35 for 161 yards and two interceptions. The first was a tipped pass, but the second was an awful throw over the middle picked off by Witty and returned for a backbreaking score. Worst off all, the offense could not generate an answer and allowed the defense to wilt in the heat.
Henry's performance led many on Twitter and other fans forums to call for his benching, while Henry himself recognized that his play was awful. There was even a fan post here ate the site stating that Hazell needing to "make the tough decision NOW" and bench Henry, like he was a sickly old family pet that was throwing up on the rug.
It is still early, however. What we saw on Saturday was about the worst possible game we could have gotten from a quarterback compounded by a poor offensive line performance. Henry supporters mentioned that he is a senior leader that is in a spot on a team that has lacked discipline for years. Henry detractors use the overwhelming evidence that, well, he was awful on Saturday.
I tend to think it was a combination of things. First of all, the Cincinnati defense is really, really good. They created pressure and closed down Purdue's running game. Purdue needed to move the ball consistently on the ground and at least play a close game by pounding on Cincy's front line. Once Purdue fell behind thanks to the defensive stop that was halftime, Purdue had to drastically change its game plan and Henry had four of his worst throws of the day on the three incompletions and the pick six.
Credit to the Cincinnati defense also needs to be given. Last season they only gave up 18.5 points per game and just 135 yards per game on the ground. That was just 3.8 yards per carry, and they looked even better. They also had an experienced offense run by a dynamic quarterback that got a lot better in Munchie Legaux. Henry had Purdue in the game for a half and was derailed by a disastrous third quarter.
For now, Henry is going to be the starter and he should be. He earned it in an honest competition over the last several months and I feel only Austin Appleby, after Danny Etling struggled in fall practice, might challenge him. If Henry struggles against an FCS defense that just gave up 73 points, then we should be very concerned. This is a week for him to gain confidence again and prepare for a much better opponent in Notre Dame.
Not many people expect Purdue to beat Notre Dame anyway, so I think he hangs onto the job at least until then. If he improves, Purdue should be fine and we can chalk up the Cincinnati result as a bad game against a very good team. If he struggles these next two weeks then it is probably time to look elsewhere.