Covering the Marshall game over the weekend was great. I thought the game was very exciting and I was very happy we won. On both sides of the ball, the Boilers stepped up in many ways, but they also faced some challenges from the Thundering Herd and themselves throughout the game.
After watching the Purdue-Marshall game very closely and being able to talk to team personnel later on, a few things about our team began to look pretty clear.
First of all, our defense is awesome. Even while being faced with stopping a pass-at-all-costs offense and a marquee gun-slinging Quarterback (As a team, Marshall is #1 in the country in passing yards so far this season. In the individual passing yards category, Rakeem Cato is also #1 in the country.), the Boilermaker D looked great yesterday, coming up some big-time stops and turnovers. Oh, man, the turnovers!
We stole the football from Marshall four times, and three of those plays came in the second quarter as picks (two of which were returned for TDs).
The two interception return TDs by Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson were huge. For Allen, the pick six gave him the Purdue career record in the category with four, and he still has a season and a half left in his college career! Scary, I know.
When asked to take reporters through his interception in the post-game, Rico said, "I kinda remembered the play from watching the film so much. When he pushed inside of me, I was like 'I think he's going inside', so I was like 'let me try'. And the next thing, I look back and the ball's coming, so I was like 'let me try to make a play'. [The ball] kinda hit his [the Marshall receiver] shoulder, something like that. And I just pulled it away."
Now, for Johnson, the pick six was the first of his career, but it meant a lot to #28. Last weekend, Josh got an interception in the second straight game, which is a huge testament to how awesome of a senior campaign he is having. With it being his last year of college ball and all, Johnson has NFL scouts attending Purdue games in order to get a good look at him. And, with the way he has been playing, I can imagine that his draft stock is soaring. So, good for him!
It seems like making plays in the passing game is coming very naturally, even simply, to him. When he got his chance to share the inter-workings of his pick with reporters, Josh answered, "I jumped the route and got the pick and that's just how it went. A lot of times, they always stayed on our side and then they always stemmed inside and they ran the slant. So, they kept running it and kept running it and eventually, I kinda figured they were gonna go toward it and I just jumped it."
Another key turnover against Marshall came late in the game. With the Thundering Herd down by 10 and rallying with only a few minutes left on the clock, senior DT Kawann Short forced a fumble that was recovered by Purdue and effectively ended the game with kneel-downs.
But, that's not all Short did against Marshall. Earlier in the game he blocked a field goal, giving him three total blocked kicks through four games of the season. The blocked field goal also makes Short tied for the Purdue career record of five, set by Roosevelt Colvin.
Clearly, some of the best guys on our D came up with some of the biggest plays of the game. These types of plays seem to be pretty routine for Short and Allen.
When asked by reporters about what it feels like to be a big playmaker and the responsibilites that follow, Short responded, "I'm supposed to be that guy. I've gotta step up sometimes and make the play, you know. And a lot of people depend of me, as far as my teammates. They know, I can get back there and just get a block. You know, everyone strives off that and we get some momentum off of it."
But, what was truly the catalyst for the defense's pigskin-stealing tendencies in the second quarter was the initial pick of Rakeem Cato midday through the second.
Credit that interception and the beginning of the D's second quarter insanity to sophomore backup Safety Antoine Lewis. The pick was the first of his career, and it was definitely one of the most crucial plays of the game. Lewis snatched Cato's pass while the game was still tied at 14 and Marshall was marching down the field into Purdue territory.
In the post-game, Lewis told the press about the interception by saying, "We started doing our thing in the second quarter and it was like, I was the one, I was the liaison that got us over that bridge, so to say! [Talking about the rest of the defense] I felt like it was big on them, that play. If we had to say one play in the game that was big on them, I would say that was probably it. My D-Line did their thing, you know, the linebackers set everything up right, Coach called the right play at the right time."
This young man likes to joke, but he is so humble, giving all of the praise to everybody else. Of everything I saw and heard in the press-conference, this was probably the thing that impressed me the most.
Obviously, Antoine's pick set up quite a one-sided run that led huge Purdue lead going into halftime. The offensive drive off of the turnover led to a Purdue TD and next two Marshall drives both ended in defensive touchdowns for Purdue. I really can't stress the fact that the second quarter of the Marshall game was one of the most insane and dominant quarters of football I have ever seen.
As the game went on, Marshall began to wear down our defense. Cato eventually put up a LOT more passing yards and two more TDs through the air, but I think we can chalk that up to two facts: the first being that that is really just what Cato and Marshall seem to do to any and all defenses and the second being that by the end of the third quarter Marshall had already called 66 total plays on offense (including 49 passing plays). Therefore, it was no surprise that the D was tired and/or confused by the end of the game. They played a heck of a game and Marshall's attempts to completely wear them down were thwarted.
Something else we learned a lot about from the Marshall game was the abilities of our starting Quarterback. To be frank, Caleb TerBush played a of a football game on Saturday. Minus a bad read and a bad pass that lead to a Marshall interception at the start of the third, TerBush was basically flawless all game long.
He was on fire to start the game, going 7 for 7 in the first quarter and throwing two TD passes on the offense's first two drives of the game. And it didn't stop there. The Purdue passing game just kept banging on all cylinders, with few minor hiccups. By the end of the game, TerBush's stat line looked like this: 27 of 37 for 294 passing yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT.
I know those stats came against Marshall, but wow! TerBush looked new and improved last weekend, making smart read, accurate throws and even making some tough, intelligent plays with his feet to pick up a couple of key first downs. After such a performance, my only personal question of TerBush is "Can he play like this in every game from now on?". If the answer is yes, I...I can't even imagine what type of magic TerBush can put together.
A few guys who really helped TerBush have a great game were the three guys who caught a majority of his passes: receivers Antavian Edison, Gary Bush and O.J. Ross. Combined, our starting wideouts totaled 22 catches for 251 yards and 4 TDs (AKA most of TerBush's passing stats).
I really thought that Caleb and his receivers were completely in sink on Saturday. His guys were running the correct routes and he knew it. The four of them were all on the same page and it looked beautiful in motion: the play is called, the receivers make some moves, run the right routes, Caleb sees a guy open, makes a pretty pass, receiver makes a solid catch.
It seems really simple, but when all of those things are executed every time (which isn't very often in football) it produces serious results. Hopefully, that level of production in the passing game can continue, because it was just about perfect against Marshall.
On the other hand, one of the only things that really concerned me about the team's performance last weekend was the way the all units started the second half. It was perplexing, to be honest. After such an electric second quarter for both the O and D, I admit I was scratching my head wondering what had happened to the football team between entering and exiting the locker room for halftime.
In particular, this is what the the first three drives of the second half looked like for Purdue's offense: three and out, interception, blocked punt returned for a TD. What seemed even more confusing was the fact that within those drives, Purdue passed the ball a majority of the time...while being up 42-14.
I mean, I'm no football coach, but if I was and my team was up by 28 to start the second half, I would probably run the ball to burn up some clock time, control the football and seriously prevent a comeback. Like, seriously, it's not rocket science.
But, Danny Hope didn't decide to do any of that. Instead, he decided to pass the ball after halftime, which lead to an interception (Purdue's first turnover in the game) and a whopping 4:47 to be wiped off the clock in those three Purdue drives that didn't net a single point.
In the post-game, Coach Hope admitted, "It was a tough game for a management standpoint with all of the personnel changes and the style of offense that they run." OK, maybe that had a lot to do with it.
But, later in the interview, Hope commented on the subject again by saying, "Well, we felt like we could wear down their front and negate their ability to rush the passer. We really thought we would be able to air it out in the second half. Obviously, if we could have huddled up more and slowed the clock down, that might have been of some benefit to the team. But, we really felt like if we were to go no-huddle against them, that would minimize the pressures that they could signal in. They were a team that we didn't want to bring a inordinate amount of blitzes. They haven't blitzed that much this season, but we felt like coming into our game they would try to do some things differently. They've given up a lot of points, a lot of numbers throughout the course of this season. So, we weren't really sure what we were going to get from them today. My gut feeling was that they would come out and pressure us a bunch."
On the other side of the ball, Purdue's D didn't look much better. But, to be fair, they were most likely gassed after Marshall called 51 first half plays. However, after allowing only one Marshall TD and causing three turnovers (two for TDs) in the previous quarter, the defense gave up a Marshall touchdown pass on their first drive of the second half.
The defense redeemed themselves on the next drive by forcing Cato & Co. into a three and out. But, then that's when things started to get scary. Only a few plays later, the atrocious Purdue punt blocking team allowed another block and Marshall scooped it up and ran for a TD. Purdue answered by putting up a field goal, but on the next Marshall drive at the start of the fourth, Purdue's D allowed yet another passing TD.
To put it simply, what was a commanding 42-14 lead at the half became a puny 10 point margin, the score reading 45-35 with 12:53 left in the game. That is what scares me. Purdue continues to allow teams to get back into ball games. Marshall out scored us 21-3 in a little over a quarter.
And let's not even talk about that turnover caused by poor blocking on the punt team and the boneheadedness of our special teams coordinator (He who shall not be named!). I really am trying to block that out of memory and avoiding detailed discussion of it like the plague.
What gets me is that while Purdue did a lot of things very well on both sides of the ball on Saturday--all around, they looked sharp most of the game--they continued to make key mistakes that allowed the opponent to get back into and nearly win the game. If we think for a second that teams like Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State won't capitalize on that major flaw of ours, we are just plain stupid.
Fortunately, Purdue did put this game away. They put it away in the most impressive way too. After Marshall shortened the gap to 45-35 in the start of the fourth, TerBush led the offense on a 6 minute, 18 play play scoring drive, putting us up 51-35.
Post-game, TerBush commented on the importance of that drive by saying, "It was huge, and that's one of the things we said before we went on the field, that we had to put a good long drive together to give our defense a break. Coach made the play calls and we were able to execute here and there and keep the ball moving, keep getting first downs. And, we got points on the board."
After Marshall scored again and had possession with 1:34 left in play and a 10 point deficit to their name, Short's fumble proved to be the knife in the Herd's belly.
Hopefully we can close out games like this against conference opponents. And, hopefully we can cure our mistakes and flaws and duplicate the things we do correctly in time for B1G play. Lord knows we will have to if we really want to play in Lucas Oil in December.