Greetings from South Florida, where I was able to see a team that, much like Purdue, is getting better every week and is coming together under a coach that has had to face a lot in rebuilding a program. Like Purdue, Miami has yet to notch a marquee win, but continues to make strides and impress those who watch the game closely. Unlike Purdue, Miami has a ton of raw talent that can take advantage of an opponent's mistakes.
Once again, there were encouraging signs from a Boilermaker squad that was completely over-matched. The defense, for the most part, played well, giving up less than 300 yards and paving the way for an offense that out-gained the Cornhuskers 340-297. It is what Nebraska did with those yards, however. The Cornhuskers had touchdown drives of 17, 65, 56, 45, and 7 yards. On three of their five touchdown drives they began with the ball already in Purdue territory.
In the meantime, Purdue could not take full advantage of the miscues that should have made a huge difference. Most importantly, the best running back in the nation gained a single yard on six touches. For most of the game Ameer Abdullah was sidelined with a minor injury that ended his day early. While Purdue briefly took advantage to tie the game at 7, it could not handle this fortuitous circumstance. On four drives Purdue turned the ball over in Nebraska territory without scoring points. Perhaps the biggest was just before halftime, when Austin Appleby threw into double coverage and was intercepted by Nate Gerry.
Nebraska had just scored on a 4th and four where Tommy Armstrong Jr. broke free of a tackle in the backfield. That made it 21-7 and Purdue was poised to score just before the half. Instead, Purdue got nothing and fell behind 28-7 before scoring again. A pair of Landon Feichter interceptions (and a near third pick) gave the Boilers some life, but Purdue never pushed tempo when down two scores and was unable to take advantage.
In all this, Nebraska was never great, but showed that they were a better team with more talent. They worse Purdue down. They played great pass coverage and never let the ground game get totally rolling. They took advantage of tons of drops by Purdue receivers like Cameron Posey, Dan Monteroso, DeAngelo Yancey, and Gabe Holmes. Instead of taking the game Purdue, they waited for a younger Purdue team to make mistakes. Once Danny Anthrop went down with his injury, There wasn't a lot Purdue could do offensively. Austin Appleby had to throw to receivers that kept dropping passes, was too far behind to run the ball, and Appleby was running from a defensive line that could bring pressure late.
That was the biggest difference today. Neither team played well, but Nebraska can afford to not play well at times and win. Purdue is not to the point where it cannot play well and still win. Multiple players alluded to getting everything firing at the same time and that's true. In the last two weeks the offense performed well, but the defense let them down. Today the defense played well, but the passing game was plagued by drops and the special teams, especially the punting unit, was atrocious.
The Boilers are still right there. The record may read 3-6, but one of the commentators praised us for being a "bowl worthy team" that "was significantly better than last year. He is not far off, either. Before the season started we would have been elated with competitive game after competitive game. Now that we are nine games in, greed has crept in. We see how thereof the losses (Central Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota) easily could have been wins with a change here and there.
That's the next step for this program, and it was again apparent today. We continue to prove that we have grown into a competitive football team. We have yet to prove we can go out and win a game like this.
That's what the last three weeks are about. Wisconsin is the last chance to pull off an unexpected victory because few people will give us a chance against the Badgers. Merely being competitive again is good, but frustrating. If Purdue doesn't go out and win it will have to wait until next season to prove it can beat a good football team (though the Western Michigan win is looking surprisingly good at the moment). Northwestern and Indiana are teams getting worse, so Purdue has to beat both now. While we would have absolutely taken 5-7 at the beginning of the year, we're starting to see where it could have been more.
A lot of that comes from this team's refusal to quit fighting. Purdue easily could have been down 21-0 in the first quarter. The Boilers easily could have folded down 28-7 in the fourth quarter. Instead, There was still some fear for Nebraska fans when the Boilers got the ball back after Feichter's second pick. Purdue had the ball, down just 14, in Nebraska territory with plenty of time left. Despite everything, Purdue had. Not. Quit. It wanted more and as a team was at least in a position to pull something out simply on sheer guts.
That more is a good thing as long as that promise is finally realized. As much as we want it now and for it to come against Wisconsin it is likely that it will have to wait until next year. The talent and experience just is not there. Purdue is still a handful of players away such as a second consistent wide receiver, consistent pass rusher, and another run-stopping linebacker. The Boilers are getting close though, so we have to keep being patient for no because we have seen a lot of good signs.