It doesn't matter that Western Michigan was 1-11 a year ago.
It doesn't matter that the Broncos were playing a ton of freshmen.
It doesn't matter that it was painfully obvious that Purdue still has a lot to work on.
For the first time since November 24, 2012 Purdue scored more points than a BCS level football team. After a losing streak that was longer than anything we have seen in a century, our Boilers came out and won a football game today, erasing the second-longest losing streak in the nation.
That's the most important take away from today. This was the type of game Purdue loses if it is last season. Sure, it was far from pretty and we let an opponent that is clearly building for 2016 hang around for far too long, but the important thing is that we won. At the end of today Purdue had scored more points than the other team. That's a gigantic step forward for a program coming off of probably the worst year in school history.
There were some actual positive moments today:
Purdue rushed for 226 yards as a team - This almost quadrupled the per-game output of a season ago. As a team Purdue rushed for a pathetic net of 805 yards for the entire 12 game season in 2013. This was while facing some very bad run defenses in Indiana, Illinois, Northern Illinois, and Indiana State. We had six rushing touchdowns in all of 2013 versus three today. Aside from a few plays, there was a real, live running game.
Raheem Mostert - Raheem was the biggest beneficiary of the running game. In the first half he had two runs of 30+ yards, which was longer than any run we had in any of the first 10 games in 2013. The key here is that we couldn't even run on bad defenses last year. Now we can. Mostert's first game as a featured back was a huge success with 146 yards and a score. With only 298 more yards he would be last season's leading rusher.
Frankie Williams - How about his play today? William had a game-changing interception hat set up the go-ahead touchdown before halftime and two punt returns for a total of 63 yards. He also had seven tackles and three passes defensed to be the defensive MVP on the day.
B.J. Knauf - Knauf had no less than the play of the day. Purdue led 37-34, but faced a 3rd and 10 at its own 25 with about six minutes to play. The defense had given up two straight very easy scoring drives to that point, so punting it back to the Broncos was dangerous. Knauf fought off a defender down field for a critical 20-yard catch to keep the drive alive. Five plays later Akeem Hunt iced the game with a 38 yard TD run.
Knauf's catch was hopefully a turning point for the entire program. The game, and maybe the season (if we lost to Western Michigan) was hanging in the balance. He was one-on-one locked up with a defender and won the battle. For once, Purdue had someone go out and make a play in our favor. It may not seem like much, but if he doesn't make that catch Purdue punts the ball back to a hot offense after a three-and-out up only three and the chance for a loss is very strong.
Justin Sinz - Need a safety valve? Look no further than Sinz, who had a solid day as Purdue's most reliable receiver. Danny Etling went to Sinz and fellow TE Gabe Holmes for 9 of his 19 completions and 80 of his 181 yards. He also relied on them for both touchdowns. Etling didn't have the best game, especially since he thought that DeAngelo Yancey was 8'4" on every throw, but his TEs were solid.
Akeem Hunt - Hunt did a very good job of being the change of pace back and even got 78 yards and a score for himself. Those numbers were highlight-worthy last season.
Paul Griggs - Considering that we did not know the kicking position was settled until he or Ian MacDougall trotted out for the first extra point Griggs had a very good day. He was 3-for-3 on field goals, hit a career long 51-yarder, and if not for a missed extra point, would have been perfect. Speaking of MacDougall, he was excellent on kickoffs.
Of course, there was a lot to work on:
Run Defense - Ugh.
Well, our linebackers still suck, even if Ja'Whaun Bentley had a nice five tackle debut. I have a lot of respect for Jarvion Franklin, who had 163 yards rushing and three TDs, but he is Jarvion Franklin. He is a freshman that has never played college football before today and we made him look like one of the best running backs in the history of the game. What is Ameer Abdullah or Melvin Gordon going to do to us?
Etling - I probably have to give him a C for the day. He wasn't great, but he wasn't awful. He had some really good throws, but there was also the aforementioned problem of throwing to Yancey. His receivers had some drops, but sometimes the drops were the result of poorly placed throws. I am encouraged that there was more of a down field threat than in the past. He did at least perform better than most games last year.
Offensive Line - Officially, we gave up seven negative plays and only earned one with our own defense. The first series nearly gave me PTSD in the way it looked like many of last year's drives. The line couldn't protect for large portions of the day, but at least Etling handled in. In fact, I think some of Etling's struggles came from having that short internal clock because of the line issues. Even when he had protection he looked like he feared a hit at any second.
In truth, I don't think we have a lot to complain about. It was clear that we still have a long way to go to be a respectable team, but we're also a lot better than we were at any time last year. Today we scored 43 points, which is more than we scored in any single game last season. We didn't score our 43rd point last year until midway through the Notre Dame game, which was the third game of the year. If anything, Purdue just looked more like a real football team, as opposed to last year, when it often was confused out there.
We actually won a football game. I cannot stress that enough. Yes, Western Michigan is not very good, but considering it would have been a struggle to beat Lafayette Central Catholic High School last year (and they were 9-2 after a 58-1 run),that's progress. Last year, Purdue loses this game. Once Franklin scores to give WMU a 14-10 lead last year's Purdue would fold. Instead, we responded with three straight scoring drives to close the quarter.
Now we get a better Central Michigan team at home that is still a game we should win if we're a real Big Ten team. I agree that there is much to work on, but at least now we know that winning a football game is at least possible.