Purdue was a three-touchdown underdog in its home stadium today to a team that is now 20-2 in its last 22 games. Said team has a legitimate chance to reach the College Football Playoff. They also led comfortably at 38-17 and were driving early in the fourth quarter, within range of a score that would make it a four possession game, and a predictable blowout, with about 10 minutes left.
Then Frankie Williams made a play.
It did not seem like much. He broke on a predictable Connor Cook pass and collected his third interception of the season. His return gave the ball to Purdue near midfield and it looked like the Boilers might be able to get a face-saving TD as a result.
Purdue got that and more. Akeem Hunt broke a big TD run, Michigan State ran one of the most ridiculous fake punts in the history of football, and Hunt scored again before Purdue was able to get one of its rare defensive stops on the day.
With 12 minutes left Michigan State had the ball, Purdue had 4 yards of offense in the entire second half, and the Spartans were about to expand on a 21 point lead. Nine minutes later Purdue had the ball, was down only seven, and had an actual chance to tie or win the game.
Perhaps coach Hazell was right. He said we were going to love this team, and today was the first day I can say I really love this team. There have been some rough spots. The Central Michigan game was the bottom of the abyss after last season and the offensive struggles against Iowa were not fun, but today this team fought like mad bastards. That is a phrase I generally use to describe the basketball team, but it definitely applies to football today.
Less than 20 minutes in Purdue was down 21-3 when Josiah Price caught a pass in the back of the north end zone. The Boilers still got within 7 at halftime. Michigan State adjusted to shut own Purdue's offense for a quarter and the defense gave up two more scoring drives, but a game that was "over" was most certainly not over until Austin Appleby threw an ill-advised pass that was easily picked off and returned for a touchdown by Darien Harris for the clinching score.
That's why I fell in love with this team today. On more than one occasion they could have folded for the predictable 55-10 blowout loss, but they did not. They fought so hard that even after the pick six I was thinking, "okay, if we get a quick score and recover an onside..."
This was a far larger step forward than the win at Illinois last week. The Illini suck and any team worth its salt should run at will on them. We took a top 10 team and refused to die today despite every haymaker they threw at us. Credit for that goes to the coaching staff for installing the proper attitude into a very young team.
Today Purdue took the absolute best shot of a team that was much better in almost every phase of the game. It responded and still had a chance in the closing phase of the game. I hate moral victories because they are still a polite way to describe a loss, but even the neutral observer would say today was a step forward.
It means nothing if you don't build on it, however. Purdue has an excellent chance to show they are building something by going to Minnesota this week. The Gophers are good, but they are a one-dimensional team that cannot pass with any consistency whatsoever. It is time to go and win a game we probably should not win on paper. Eventually, moral victories must become actual victories or they mean nothing. Beating the Gophers is not outside the realm of possibility, so make it happen.