At one point today Purdue led 28-3. Yes, it was an FCS team. Yes, most Big Ten teams should lead FCS teams 28-3. For this Purdue team, however, it was a big step forward. In last season's FCS game Purdue faced Indiana State, who would go on to finish 1-11. The Boilers struggled offensively all day and barely won 20-14 despite leading 17-0 at one point. That was against a bad FCS team.
Today they played a legitimately good FCS team and did what they were supposed to do in these types of games. Purdue came out and asserted itself early. It built a 17-0 lead again (last year it took until deep into the third quarter) and the Salukis never seriously threatened after that. We didn't need Ricardo Allen to make a game-saving interception in the final minute. Even though the offense was largely inactive in the second half after leading 28-3 the game was never really in doubt.
That's a major step forward right now. For once, Purdue went out and actually played like the better team by never giving the other side hope. It was like the complete opposite of two weeks ago when we couldn't get out of our own way in getting thrashed by Central Michigan. That looks even worse now after CMU got drilled by Syracuse and lost to freakin' Kansas today. The Purdue of two weeks lost because it made large error after large error. Today there were still errors, but they were smaller. The positives were much bigger, too.
Keyante Green - Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt weren't able to get it done between the tackles, but the redshirt came in today with his first career action and was very impressive. He gained some tough yards with 71 total, all in the fourth quarter. He didn't score, but with Purdue up only 15 and SIU needing a stop to possibly get back in it Green churned out yard after yard on a clock-killing 8 minute drive. It did not result in a score, but it effectively ended the game because it took up so much time.
As for the end of the drive I have mixed feelings. I feel like we should have kicked to make it a 3-score game, but I also understand the desire of going for it. You want to prove you can get in the end zone and it presented a rare in-game situation for practice. I am not sure what the play was because it was ruined when Danny Etling tripped, but in the end it didn't matter. Purdue got the needed TD later on with the Austin Appleby run.
Danny Anthrop - It was a big day for Anthrop, as he topped 100 yards receiving, had a TD, and was a legit deep threat for Etling. If I recall, all five of his catches were in the first half. Purdue ended up not throwing a whole lot in the second half, but Anthrop was a big reason the passing game was successful to start.
Ryan Watson - Watson got two more sacks and has been a nice surprise with a team-high four this year. Last season Purdue did not have a single player with more than three sacks.
Landon Feichter - Feichter was very strong in the secondary and was rewarded with his fifth career interception in addition to 10 tackles.
Run Defense - After we struggled against Western and Central Michigan I was very concerned when facing a pretty good back in Malcolm Agnew. I knew that 200 yards and 3 TDs were a strong possibility, but Purdue kept in check to just 31 yards on 11 carries. This is a guy who was averaging about 7 yards a carry coming into today. As a team SIU had only 81 yards rushing. That's a win for our defense even if it is against an FCS team.
Sean Robinson - The much-maligned Robinson played a decent ballgame. He earned a sack and had a very important pass break-up on third down inside the 15 in the fourth quarter. As he did all day, MyCole Pruitt was running uncovered over the middle on third down, but Robinson made a play and held SIU to a field goal. That made it 28-13 and the "Keyante Green kills the clock" drive got going afterward.
Pruitt - My goodness, what did this guy have to do to get us to cover him. He came in as an FCS All-American and their leading receiver. Of their 24 completions, he had 10 of them for 136 yards. I counted four times where he was wide open on third down for an easy conversion. It wasn't that he was making plays in coverage. It was that no one was often near him when he made the catch.
This is something I cannot understand. I am not a football coach and I never played a down of competitive football in my life. Even I know that after this guy burned us a few times we needed to make an adjustment, but even on the play made by Robinson above he was wandering wide open over the middle. It's not just this coaching staff, either. It has been a glaring omission in Purdue's defense going back to Tiller's final year. I am more terrified of a 3rd and 15 than a 3rd and 1 because I know on 3rd and 15 the middle of the field will be wide open. What does it take for someone to see this and fix it?
I continue to temper my enthusiasm and expectations because after last year, something like today feels like a major step forward. Still, this was a game that had me genuinely concerned. I really felt that SIU had the ability to hang around and push us, but Purdue came out and finally looked like a living, breathing Big Ten football team. It was a night and day better performance than two weeks ago against Central Michigan.
In the end, the non-conference season was a disappointment, mostly because of that Central Michigan game. Most realistic hopes of a bowl game rode on winning that one, going 3-1, and scraping out three conference games to head back to Detroit (and we OWN Detroit). Now we're looking at a 4-4 record being necessary for the postseason.
That is unlikely, but given the growth we have seen in the last two weeks and the struggles of everyone else in the Big Ten it is possible. I think we can throw out any realistic chance of winning against Wisconsin, Michigan State, or Nebraska, but the other five games we certainly have a shot:
Iowa - The Hawkeyes are either the worst or luckiest 3-1 team in the country. They very easily could be 4-0 or 0-4. What scares me about Iowa is that they have figured out a way to win in the fourth quarter three times this year, but they also have kept everyone in it.
Illinois - It seems like everything I said about Iowa is doubly true for Illinois. The Illini are also 3-1, but damn lucky to not be 0-4. They're beatable, but you have to make sure they don't win the final quarter, which they have done three times.
Minnesota - They cannot pass. They have an excellent running game and decent defense, but they cannot pass. Of the five "winnable" games this is the least likely win.
Northwestern - They look like hot buttered ass. We have to win this one.
Indiana - I officially cannot figure the Hoosiers out. Tevin Coleman is one hell of a running back and today they miraculously found a defense, but they are like a random number generator. They could beat Ohio State or lose to North Texas. Neither would surprise me at this point. The Bucket game could easily feature two 5-6 teams where the winner gets a bowl and the loser is eliminated.
So that is where we are. It is not the perfect situation and there is still a lot of work to do, but there has at least been progress and the cow catcher won't have one lonely hat on it this season.