The last time Northwestern came to Ross-Ade Stadium Purdue turned the ball over six times, including three times in the final two minutes of the first half that basically handed the Wildcats 13 points. That was five years ago. Today the players and coaching staffs for Purdue were different, but the first half was pretty much the same.
Purdue got a fortuitous beginning when Danny Ezechukwu intercepted Trevor Seimian on the second play from scrimmage. That was basically the highlight of the day. Despite starting with the ball deep in Northwestern territory Purdue couldn't capitalize. An Austin Appleby pass went off of the helmet of David Hedelin and was easily intercepted by Jimmy Hall. Treyvon Green busted a 44 yard run and Dan Vitale caught a 25-yard touchdown pass, and Purdue proceeded to completely and utterly fall apart from there.
This was a lot like the Central Michigan game in that everything that could go wrong, did. The offense did nothing until the final drive of the first half when Akeem Hunt scored on a nice screen play. The defense allowed Justin Jackson to run with very little resistance. That means I fear what Tevin Coleman will do next week. The special teams had a massive breakdown when Tony Jones returned a punt 64 yards for a score.
It wasn't really that Northwestern even played well. It was that Purdue reverted to 2013 Purdue in that the offense couldn't move, it committed four turnovers, and the defense this time did no favors. Northwestern then stood there and was like, "okay, if you're going to keep screwing up I guess we'll win." The team came out completely listless against an opponent it could beat and when actually challenged on the early interception it folded like a cheap tent.
Kids, this was a major, major step back for the entire program. We were facing a team that has struggled all year long and even had its backup quarterback(s) in for most of the game, but we looked worse than we have all season. Instead of fighting as we did against Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State (teams far better than Northwestern) we were callow. I know injuries to Danny Anthrop and B.J. Knauf were given as reasons for the offensive struggles, but that is BS. The top three receivers from last year are all back, but Cameron Posey and DeAngelo Yancey have regressed. At least Posey has the excuse of tearing his ACL and he is fighting to come back. Yancey wears defensive backs like a GPS monitor and drops more passes than Dre drops phat beats.
It is clear that Purdue has a lot of problems now. Coach Hazell is a good guy and I still support him. But he is facing a monumental task. As a program we have fallen from even the ranks of the mediocre. He has guys fighting hard, but there is often less talent than the opponent we are facing and there is no consistency whatsoever. That is why we see wild fluctuations in results. That is why we can play extremely well and lose by a point at Minnesota (your possible Big Ten champ) and look like absolute crap against Northwestern and Central Michigan. When a game kicksoff you don't know if you're getting everyone's best or their worst, and we don't have neatly enough talent to win in this league unless we're getting everyone's best.
I do not envy coach Hazell. I know he has the guys motivated. He says and does the right things. He teaches the right things. When the talent and consistency is not there is does not matter. This is before you address the issues of small crowds and an athletic department that does about as much as it can to not have success in football.
There are no immediate answers, either. The 2015 recruiting class is full of good kids, but it is still evaluated at the bottom of the Big Ten. Unless there are about 7 Dustin Kellers or Ryan Kerrigans (guys who blossom into first round NFL picks from low ratings) the cavalry isn't coming. The crowd at Ross-Ade today was at an Akers-Colletto level and apathy has set in. We suck, and no one cares. From my seats in section 127 people were either silent, brooding, or talking about going to Morgantown to drink away the rest of the game. And this was in a section where I was lucky to be sitting close enough to someone else to hear what they were saying.
After the game Mrs. T-Mill and I went to Harry's and while having a drink we ran into Jeff Zgonina. In addition to being an extremely nice guy (and he is still built like a brick shit house) he is still passionate about the state of the program. I won't say exactly what was said because while I introduced myself as the site manager here, I never initiated a formal interview to get him on record. The general tone of the conversation was one of frustration with everything going on with the program. Jeff is a true Boiler that pretty much worked his ass off to go from a good player from a dismal program to one that busted his ass to be in the NFL for 17 years. His opinions were strong and he feels pretty much like all other Purdue fans.
Unfortunately, we have to preach patience, still. Coach Hazell signed on to tear everything down and rebuild from the bottom. Overall, there has been improvement over last season. If we beat Indiana, who is the worst team in the Big Ten this year, it will be a positive finish to the year. Coach Hazell is going to be back next year because 1. He has not done anything worthy of being fired after two years, and 2. Who is really going to come in and save the day when we fire coaches after two years, have almost no fan support, and little raw talent? The big step has to be taken next year when the freshmen and sophomores we have played these past two seasons at least have more experience. Next year has to be a bowl season.
Of course, that is very little comfort on days like today.