One of the safest bets in college football before the season was that Purdue would not make a bowl game. Thinking the Boilers could win six games and even reach Detroit was considered laughable, but before today, there was still a chance. In fact, arguments could be made that Purdue over-achieved in still being alive, but underachieved because games against Central Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota got away from them. That's how strange this season has been.
Today it became official. After a 34-16 win by Wisconsin the Badgers stayed alive to win the Big Ten and the Boilers were the first team in the conference to be officially eliminated from bowl consideration. Even in that, it was a strange day.
Purdue gave up 34 points and almost 500 yards, but at times made huge defensive plays. The Boilers trailed by 18 at halftime and lost by 18, but still made Wisconsin work for it. Again, the Boilers lost by 18, but given the recent history of the Purdue-Wisconsin series, it was by far our best game against the Badgers since The Fumble.
Like almost every game during the Big Ten season Purdue lost by double digits, but the fact that they never quit (even though I thought they quit with the punt before halftime instead of a Hail Mary) left me feeling encouraged. We're seeing a team that at least has the heart and desire back in the right place. We only need the talent and experience (the two hardest parts of that quartet) to match.
Some of today's positives:
Landon Feichter - I have told the story before of how Feichter himself contacted me after I made his very first "Countdown to Purdue Football" profile and chastised me for discounting walk-ons. Boy, was I wrong. This kid has the heart of a warrior and had a third quarter to remember with a fumble recovery to set up a field goal, a 4th down stop that led to the Akeem Hunt touchdown, and an interception. He probably won't win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, but he certainly deserves it. He is one of the seniors I feel for the most because he came to Purdue as a walk-on and will now leave with 10 career interceptions (maybe more) and a possible all-Big Ten season. He represents what it means to be a Boilermaker.If he doesn't go the the NFL (and he is likely a longshot) we should keep him on as a coach.
Paul Griggs - Griggs, however, might be the Special Teams Player of the Week after twice hitting on 52 yard field goals and having about as good of a day as you can have as a kicker. This is another kid who has worked hard. As a freshman he splipt time with Sam McCartney and struggled as a sophomore, but he could end this year as the all-Big Ten kicker since he is 13 of 15 on field goals.
Trae Hart - In his first extensive action he returned kicks and had a couple of nice catches to have 90 all-purpose yards today. As a true freshman he has been quiet, but with Danny Anthrop out he has two more games to audition for a major role next year.
Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of other positives. The bigger story of the day is that Wisconsin is still a much better team. They have more depth, better players, and when they needed to make a play, they had little trouble doing so. Our secondary got beaten up early on by a very poor passing offense because almost everyone was hurt and then Melvin Gordon did what Melvin Gordon does. Even then, this was not the typical Wisconsin-Purdue game. Normally a 24-6 halftime lead in this series balloons into a 55-13 blowout. Instead, Purdue opened the second half with a 10-point surge and had the ball with a chance to tie before the Badgers' defensive line finally asserted itself. Once they started breaking through and sacking Austin Appleby it was over, but for the first time in ages Purdue actually had an answer and made Wisconsin sweat in the second half.
I don't think that can be underestimated. The Badgers have long been a team that flat out beat us up from the opening whistle until the end. Today was the first time in ages where the Boilers took a few punches and were able to land a few back. Yes, we still lost by three scores, but when things have been as lopsided as they have been for 10 years a day like today is huge progress.
So Purdue stands at 3-7 going into its last by week. The record is not good, but with two very, very winnable games against offensively challenged teams there is still work left to do. All we really lose out on is some extra practice and a glorified exhibition in Detroit. Northwestern and Indiana were both playing at home today against bad teams and managed a total of 16 points. If we really, truly are going to turn a corner we find a way to win both of these games and go into next season with momentum.
That's probably the most important thing now. There is no question Purdue has greatly improved from last season. It is time to win these last two games, finish on a positive note, and make next year a bigger step forward.