A lot of people were not happy with Saturday's game. Understandably so. We essentially had a 57 point swing in just over a year against Ohio State. There is no question that the Buckeyes are the better team, but I think few people expected a worse game than last year's debacle at Madison. It was the second such game in 19 games under Danny Hope where Purdue essentially was out-physicaled by a superior opponent from the opening kickoff. When you add in a pair of MAC losses, some people are already calling for Danny Hope to be fired.
Boiled Sports touched on this subject Saturday evening, and I agree with them. We need to calm down and take a collective deep breath. This is a 4-3 team with a more than legitimate shot at a bowl game. Throwing Saturday's game and the Toledo loss aside, I agree that Hope needs some Big Ten Coach of the Year consideration. If we make a bowl game (and we need just two more wins) it will mark the following:
- It will be an improvement over last season and equal (at least) last year's Big Ten record
- We will have done it starting a 4th string true freshman at quarterback for at least one game. This is a kid that came to Purdue thinking he was redshirting, only to be thrown into his first significant action against the Big Ten's toughest defense.
- We will have done this while missing our top projected running back, a #2 guy (Al-Terek McBurse) and #3 guy (Dan Dierking) that have never been fully healthy and reliable, and a #4 guy (Keith Carlos) that missed four weeks.
- We will have done this missing our top two receivers (Keith Smith and Justin Siller) for a significant amount of time.
- As mentioned yesterday, nine true freshman have seen playing time, with many of them as starters.
- Seven more redshirt freshmen, two JUCO guys in their first season of D-1, and a former walk-on have also played a significant amount of time, making for 19 guys seeing their first career action.
So, despite all this, we need one victory in the next four games, certainly not too much to ask for, to assure that we'll be playing Indiana for a bowl bid. Two wins locks up the bowl bid and the Indiana game becomes one for positioning. I don't expect to beat Wisconsin or Michigan State, but would a win over an erratic Illinois team or Michigan's poor defense (at home) really be a huge shock?
My point is that it is way too early to pull the plug on Hope. Here is a game-by-game look at him:
Vs. Toledo (W 52-31) - Purdue looked excellent in rolling the Rockets in Hope's debut. This was a solid beginning.
At Oregon (L 36-38) - Joe Tiller would have griped about flying across the country for this game. Hope took it as a challenge, and it would have been a shocking win if we had not given up a pair of defensive touchdowns. This looks even better considering what LaMichael James and company are doing to opponents now. The Ducks didn't win so much as we handed it to them.
Vs. Northern Illinois (L 21-28) - This is the first black mark, as there really is no excuse for a Big Ten team to lose to a MAC team. Purdue did not look prepared, but still had its chances late. Considering injuries weren't an excuse like this year against Toledo, this may be his worst loss.
Vs. Notre Dame (L 21-24) - This game will always ride on the infamous timeout, where we bailed the Fighting Irish out with an indefensible timeout. Would Notre Dame have scored without it? Maybe. The point remains that a rushed play or a spike on third down, then less time to game plan on 4th down is much better than stopping the clock and essentially giving them time to plan two plays.
Vs. Northwestern (L 21-27) - Six turnovers, including three in the final minutes of the first half that gave the Wildcats 13 points were the reason for this loss. Danny Hope wasn't the one fumbling out there.
At Minnesota (L 20-35) - More turnovers and a blocked field goal for a touchdown. This was another bad loss to a bad team and it felt like we handed the game away. If this is a win the all-time series is tied with the Golden Gophers right now.
Vs. Ohio State (W 26-18) - An amazing win. Everything worked and Purdue dominated the game. This was one of the best games I have ever attended and Purdue showed exactly why Terrelle Pryor is not as good of a quarterback as others think. Basically, it was the exact opposite of what we did on Saturday.
Vs. Illinois (W 24-14) - This is the first time it felt like we took care of business. It was a dull game, but we beat a team in a game that was never in doubt. This needs to become the norm.
At Wisconsin (L 0-37) - A complete debacle from the opening kickoff. Purdue never even came close to scoring.
At Michigan (W 38-36) - The reason I have hope for this weekend. Purdue did a complete 180 in just a week and won in a place that has been a house of horrors for them for four decades. Hope shoes some watermelon balls with the onside kick that turned the game around.
Vs. Michigan State (L 37-40) - This was an entertaining shootout where dumb mistakes (a fumble six and poor kickoff coverage) cost us. We blew a double digit 4th quarter lead, but credit still needs to be given for nearly pulling out a bowl game from nothing.
At Indiana (W 38-21) - Much like the Illinois game, Purdue pulls out a game that was never really in doubt. It also sets the stage for continued mastery of the Hoosiers.
At Notre Dame (L 12-23) - I have a problem with this game because we now see how bad the Notre Dame defense is, but we were incredibly vanilla on offense even while at full strength. This is a bad loss because this Notre Dame team is worse than last year, but we still struggled.
Vs. Western Illinois (W 31-21) - We beat a 1-AA team, but lost Keith and continued to struggle offensively. Not good, but it was a win.
Vs. Ball State (W 24-13) - Robert Marve misses most of the game and more injuries mount, but Purdue's defense plays solid.
Vs. Toledo (L 20-31) - Even after Marve went down we still played terrible against an awful pass defense. Our own defense gave up way too much, but we show a surprising lack of gumption with a chance to tie. We settled for a field goal after having second and 1 at the 3, and poor special teams set up a clinching touchdown.
At Northwestern (W 20-17) - Once again, an amazing recovery. We beat a ranked team on the road for the first time in seven years and played solid defense. Belittle this win all you want, but givent he circumstances (Henry's first start, no passing game, etc.) it wasa very good win.
Vs. Minnesota (W 28-17) - See last year's game vs. Illinois
At Ohio State (L 0-49) - See last year's game at Wisconsin.
So there it is. Hope has four really bad losses (Toledo, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State), Three really good wins (Ohio State, at Michigan, at Northwestern), a series of "we were the better team" wins that were business like (Toledo, Illinois, Indiana, Western Illinois, Ball State), and some losses based on mistakes made by the players, not the coaches.
We're going to give hope at least two more years barring some kind of major scandal. By then, all the freshmen we're currently playing will be juniors and we'll see what his recruits can do. We're still in a mix of Tiller and Hope recruits, and there is little question that with so many freshmen playing we're trying to develop Hope's recruits and they may be better than those final Tiller classes. That means growing pains, all on top of an unusual rash of injuries. Let's let this season play out. If we're playing in a 13th game in December it is still a step forward, and it has to be considered a success when you consider everything.