I was not alone in having a very positive attitude going into today's game. All of the players were saying the right things and the new coaching regime had installed a new attitude. Yesterday's large gathering on Monument Circle made me feel even better about today. I thought we would have a very pleasant surprise, and for about 10 minutes we were right.
Purdue only gained 88 yards in the first two and a half quarters, but 54 of those 88 came in the first 10 minutes. B.J. Knauf gave Purdue a different look with an end-around run and the Boilers gained a fist down before Nick Temple intercepted a Rob Henry pass. We didn't have long to feel bad, as the very next play Ryan Isaac got his first career interception on a Munchie Legaux pass that was tipped at the line. The march continued from the same spot and Purdue got all the way down to the five. After Rob Henry sneak.
This is the first major thing that went wrong. Things were going well and on a hot afternoon Purdue kept the Bearcats' defense on the field for 10 minutes of game time. Unfortunately, a stuffed run, a penalty, a sack by Silberry Mouhon, and another negative play pushed Purdue back 17 yards Paul Griggs missed a field goal, and Purdue's 10 minute possession around the interceptions got zero points.
It was a microcosm of how the day would go offensively. One good thing would be followed by three bad things. After this opening 10 minute sequence Purdue would struggle to move the ball the rest of the day until down several scores. There would be false starts, fumbled snaps, missed routes, and overthrown passes that all contributed to a struggle to move even 10 yards.
At least things were promising though to start. Then Cincinnati's offense got its first full possession, which was a 14 play march where they converted three straight third down opportunities. Things stayed even for a few possessions before Cody Webster's booming 73 yard punt was muffed and about 27 different guys had a chance to recovery it for each side. Jesse Schmitt, the long snapper, hustled downfield and eventually recovered it, setting up Purdue's only score on a nice read by Henry.
Unfortunately, this would be the highlight of the day. Legaux burned Purdue for a 32 yard run as a 7 play, 75 yard drive gave Cincy a 14-7 lead when Blake Annen caught a Legaux pass from 15 yards out with 17 seconds left in the half. This was doubly painful because the Bearcats were able to use halftime like a defensive stop.
Down only seven at the half was a good position even if it could have been tied or down four based on Purdue first empty possession. Purdue needed a stop and the key play of the game came on 3rd and 9 at the Cincy 44. Legaux was able to scan the field and found Max Morrison over the middle for a 40 yard gain. If Purdue stops this play, the entire game may be different. It prevents Cincinnati from scoring on its opening possession of the half and maybe Purdue can settle in with the power run game coach Hazell wants.
Instead, RD Abernathy scored five plays later. It was 21-7 and Purdue had the football for all of one play after tying it at 7-7. Now all the momentum was in Cincinnati's favor and Purdue was going to have to come from behind against a defense that was playing extremely well. Purdue went three-and-out, got a stop, then Henry was pick-sixed by Adrian Witty on an awful throw. Just two plays after that Akeem Hunt fumbled, only to be bailed out by a Frankie Williams interception.
At that point there was only 3:53 left in the third quarter. It was 28-7 and Purdue had only 88 yards of offense. The game was pretty much over because Purdue was both out of sync entirely and the Cincy D was stopping everything. Henry looked awful as he was missing badly on throws and fumbling multiple snaps.
The two fourth quarter touchdowns did nothing but make the final score look worse. In reality, it was over when that 3d and nine was converted by the Bearcats. Up until then Purdue hadn't played well, but it was at least in the hunt. When you look at the box score Purdue only lost the turnover battle by one, but it allowed Cincinnati to convert 60% of its third downs and Henry did most of his work long after the game was decided. Purdue's running game was also pretty bad. Akeem Hunt never had a chance to show what he can do, but part of that was due to a really good Cincinnati run defense.
So are there positives that we can take away from this? It pretty much was the worst case scenario. Henry himself was disgusted with his play:
I apologize to all my family, teammates, friends and fans. My performance today was unacceptable. Never played that bad in my life— Rob Henry (@RobHenry15) August 31, 2013
There was accountability, however, from top to bottom:
Darrell Hazell: We didn't execute, players and coaches. #Purdue— GoldandBlack.com (@GoldandBlackcom) August 31, 2013
This is why I have to look forward. We never saw that from the old regime. We only heard about how wonderful practice was. Hope's teams often quit too, but Purdue was at least in the game to start the second half and kept fighting. They just dug a hole against a better team today. If Purdue scores on that opening drive or gets that key 3rd and nine stop who knows how that changes things.
Those things went against Purdue, however, and all we can do is move forward now. We will beat Indiana State quite easily and the next chance at serious redemption will come against Notre Dame in two weeks. The Boilers have to get a lot better in that time, but if things get in sync offensively that will allow things to go a long way. I believe the defense wilted in the heat today, mostly because the offense did nothing to move the ball and keep them on the sideline resting.
Still, there were missed assignments and the linebackers were once again a deficiency. Purdue's best defense might honestly be a strong running game that melts the clock and keeps the ball away from opponents. That running game never got going today and Cincinnati was too good by making Purdue pay for its defensive miscues.
I did like what I saw from several freshmen today. Knauf looks shifty in space. Dalyn Dawkins had the look of being a very promising player. DeAngelo Yancey had a nice 27 yard catch.
I would also be remiss if I did not give proper credit to Cincinnati as a team and its fans. they played a great game and have a very solid defense, which played a large role on Purdue's struggles. The fans were also extremely friendly and welcoming. Unfortunately, that does little to erase Purdue worst non-conference, non-Notre Dame loss since losing at the Miami Hurricanes 35-0 in 1983.
Unfortunately, the two main players that Purdue needs to click on offense, Henry and Hunt, were pretty bad. Hunt had only eight touches and 26 yards when he averaged over 10 yards per touch in his career. Henry probably could not have played worse with his struggles on exchanges and poor throws. He is our guy going forward, however, and he earned the starting job. Today may have simply been a very bad day.
We'll know more next week. Indiana State is likely without Shakir Bell and because of that, they lost their best shot of pulling the upset. They also gave up 73 points to Indiana. I don't expect to score 73, but I do expect a comfortable win where Purdue works some things out and executes what did not work this week. From there, we simply get better. This is just the first step and it shows we have a longer way to go than we thought.
Remember: The road to the 2000 Rose Bowl started with an ugly 1997 opening loss at a MAC school.