This was not pretty.
Illinois, losers of 20 straight Big Ten games, showed exactly why they have been losers of 20 consecutive conference games. Purdue, losers of nine straight games overall, showed why that streak should have, and did, reach nine games. The Fighting Illini did everything in their power to give this game to the Boilers so we could retain the Cannon. Purdue, in their ineptitude, could not take advantage.
Just like Illinois' last victory at Ross-Ade Stadium, the visitors coughed the ball up multiple times but the Boilers could not take advantage. Back in 2001 it was five turnovers that resulted in only 10 points. Today it was four turnovers that resulted in not a single point for the Boilers. Here is what happened after each turnover:
- After Taylor Richards intercepted Nathan Scheelhaase in the first quarter Purdue had a chance to expand on an early 14-7 lead. Instead, it went 3-and-out and lost a yard before punting into the wind. Illinois tied it three plays later after getting the ball near midfield.
- Midway through the third quarter Ricardo Allen forced a fumble off of Spencer Harris, which was recovered by Bruce Gaston at the Illinois 26. Purdue moved to the Illinois 9 and had a second and five, then Danny Etling took a sack and Paul Griggs missed a field goal as the half expired.
- Allen intercepted Scheelhaase deep in Purdue territory on the first drive of the second half, but Purdue had to punt a few plays later.
- As if Illinois wasn't generous enough, V'Angelo Bentley muffed that punt and Jesse Schmitt recovered it. Purdue only gained five yards before Danny Anthrop dropped a sure first down and Cody Webster's fake resulted in him falling down six yards from the line to gain.
- It wasn't a turnover, but Richards returned Purdue's first punt for a touchdown in four years, only to have it negated by an illegal block by Anthony Brown. It might as well have been a turnover, as it was a huge mistake that likely cost Purdue the game and came away from the play.
That drop by Anthrop ended up being the play of the game. Anthrop had the first down if he makes the wide open catch and possibly even scores. Instead, it lead to one of the worst executed fake field goals I have ever seen.
I knew Purdue had a bad football team. It was no secret. But before today I had hoped that the offense had been held in check because it had played five of the ten best defenses in America and a few other good defenses. After gaining 150 yards on the first two drives in the first quarter Purdue somehow turned the awful Illinois defense into the 1985 Bears. Jonathan Brown played like the best defensive player alive and Purdue somehow did not have an answer for one standout player.
How bad was it? After 150 yards on those first two drives Purdue gained only 133 yards the rest of the game. Of those, 42 yards came on Purdue's final drive where they reached the Illinois 30 before a terrible sequence of plays ended the game.
That breaks down to 91 yards of offense for the majority of three quarters of play, at home, against one of the nation's worst defenses. The Illini were giving up nearly 260 yards per game on the ground and Purdue still could not run aside from the touchdown by Akeem Hunt and a nice run by Brandon Cottom. Purdue finished with 120 rushing yards, double its average at least, but only 11 first downs. Purdue gained only three first downs between its last TD drive and the final drive.
Folks, that is not just bad. Purdue would have to improve to be bad. This was an embarrassing effort and a collective failure of every single facet of the Purdue football program from Morgan Burke on down to the backup walk-on long snapper. It is one thing to struggle against Ohio State, Michigan State, Cincinnati, and even Northern Illinois, who are a combined 41-3 this season. It something completely different to struggle mightily against one of the worst defenses in the nation and a team on a historical run of loses in Big Ten play, especially when Purdue actually played and started well against them!
I have been a Hazell supporter all season, but the coaching staff has to at least be called into question on a day of flat out bizarre decisions. After blocking well and having success on the ground in the first quarter Purdue stopped picking at the glaring weakness that was the outside run. The fake field goal was not only an odd decision, it was very poorly executed. The final four offensive plays of a run into the line, a pass broken up in the end zone, a trick play sniffed out by the aforementioned Brown, and the old broken condom offensive line was a terribly called series. Purdue never tried to run to the edges, Bentley made a nice play on Anthrop in the end zone, and the final two plays never had any chance of succeeding as called.
At this point you can't help but question everything with the program. Danny Hope and the much-mocked Gary Nord at least squeezed six wins out of much of the same roster last year. This year the offensive line had regressed to the point that it might as well not even be on the field and Purdue cannot execute the most basic of plays.
Purdue now has one game left, against an Indiana team with just as bad of a defense and an offense that is struggling, but is far better than what Illinois has. When Purdue proved today it cannot execute against a terrible defense and it was continually out of position on defense (again) I have very little faith in a happy ending next week. Purdue cannot even grasp the very simple concept of, "Steve Hull is their best receiver, already has two touchdowns, and has been killing us all day. Instead of covering him let's give him a 10-yard cushion on 3rd and 7."
It is basic, simple things like this that Purdue cannot do right now. It is not getting better and the mantra of "Hazell needs time with his players" is not building confidence when the returning players for next season look worse every week. There is no great recruiting class of saviors on the way, either. Purdue has to turn this around with players that are seeing the vast majority of playing time right now. Only Cody Webster and Ricardo Allen are departing players giving valuable playing time right now. Almost everyone else to a man is coming back, and they aren't setting the world on fire, either.
So where are the solutions? The offensive line cannot perform even the most basic of blocking maneuvers, as I saw a lineman actually dive at a defender's feet today and completely miss on a block when said defender was coming right at him. Then you have the defense, which cannot get pressure, cannot stop the run, and looks woefully out of position on almost every play. Yes, the players have to execute, but this coaching staff has already lost every bit of goodwill it earned in the offseason because the same very basic mistakes are being made.
I wish I had answers. I wish I could say we had a number of stud recruits coming to save the day. I wish I could say I was seeing signs that the coaching staff is at least teaching and grooming younger players. The truth is that we just lost to a team that had lost 20 consecutive Big Ten games and I heard their fans complain that they were embarrassed they only won by four points. If it gets worse than that I don't want to see it.