Last week I posited that the game with Marshall to open the season was a crossroads game. While it was not a victory, it was probably one of the better played games under Darrell Hazell. Purdue had the game in hand and was in control, but was unable to finish. You can only say that about one other game during the Hazell era, and that was the single-point loss at Minnesota last year.
Naturally, frustration has spilled over. The negative side sees it as little improvement because a loss is a loss, and they are right. The positive sign sees a strong running game and several big plays as improvement, and they are right.
So we're probably somewhere in the middle. We're not as bad as people think and there is plenty of time to change things. This team can still win games and perhaps it was simply a bad day for Austin Appleby. We also aren't as good as we think because the running game came against an undersized defense the likes of which we will not see much the rest of the year.
We likely won't learn a whole lot this week, either. Barring an absolute disaster Purdue is going to win. It has never lost to an FCS team, with the closest call coming against Indiana State two seasons ago when Purdue fielded perhaps the worst team in its history. Indiana State is much better going into this year, but we saw enough on Sunday to know that Purdue clearly is better. FBS level teams, especially in the Big Ten, have so many inherent advantages that any win, or even close call, is pretty much a monumental upset. I am fully confident in saying that the Trees winning on Saturday would fall in that category as well.
Indiana State Sycamores
2014 Record: 8-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley Conference
Bowl Result: Lost to Chattanooga 35-14 in Second Round of FCS playoffs
Blog Representation: Sycamore Pride
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 4-0
Last Purdue win: 9/7/2013 20-14 at Purdue
2015 Record: 1-0, 0-0 (ranked No. 21 in the FCS poll)
The Sycamores So Far:
Yes, even FCS teams have paycheck games. Butler plays at the FCS level, but at pretty much the bottom level as they play in the scholarship-free Pioneer Football League. While this conference has had an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs since 2013 when the field went from 16 to 24 teams, They are 0-2 in said playoffs with Butler losing 31-0 to Tennessee State in 2013 and San Diego losing 52-14 to Montana last year.
It is no surprise, then, that the Trees rolled Butler 52-17 in Terre Haute. The offense had 496 total yards and the defense gave up only 10 first downs. Indiana State even played three quarterbacks to give everyone a bit of experience.
The Trees are currently ranked 21st in the FCS polls, just ahead of Richmond who lost this past week to Big Ten member Maryland. For more comparison, Southern Illinois was ranked 16th in last season's FCS poll and Purdue still won easily.
Who to Watch on Offense
LeMonte Booker - RB - Booker rushed for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns on only 11 carries against the Bulldogs. His biggest run was a 76 yard TD in the second quarter and he later had a 25 yard run. The The 137 yards rushing was a career best. He added a fourth touchdown to complete his Bundy on a 24-yard reception.
Gary Owens - WR - Owens also had a career day against Butler with 133 yards on five receptions and a touchdown. The TD came on a 53-yard pass just after halftime as Indiana State was ahead 31-10 at the time. Owens is a small receiver at only 5'9" and 185 pounds, but comes from the same home town as Trae Hart.
Matt Adam - QB - The sophomore quarterback from California didn't do a whole lot in his first career start, but he did have 164 yards and two TDs to go with 46 yards rushing and a 37-yard TD run. Butler sacked him three times, however, and I can guarantee Butler's defensive line is not nearly as good as Purdue's.
Roland Genesy - RB - He rushed for 53 yards on nine carries as Indiana State finished with 327 yards rushing on 34 carries as a team.
Who to Watch on Defense
Lonnell Brown - DB - The junior defensive back led the Trees with nine tackles, three of which came for loss. He is only 5'7", however, so Purdue's big receivers should have a huge advantage.
Jameer Thurman - LB - Thurman intercepted two passes from his linebacker position and forced three fumbles in 2014. In 2013 he was second for MVFC Freshman of the Year. He is an active linebacker that can also get after the quarterback, but as with many FCS linebackers, is much smaller than his counterparts for us.
Conlan Cassidy - DL - Cassidy had one of the three sacks the Sycamores had of Butler quarterbacks.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Mark Sewell - PR - Sewell returned three punts for 13 yards, but one was a 10 yard return.
Osborn Umeh - P - Umeh punted six times, but for an impressive average of 44 yards. He had a long of 54 and downed two of his six punts inside the 20.
Yes, Indiana State is a good FCS team, but Purdue plays football in the Big Ten. It would be an absolute embarrassment if Purdue even had a close call like Indiana had against Southern Illinois, and honestly a similar result should raise the first serious questions about what Darrell Hazell and Co. is doing. Purdue bought this game and is writing Indiana State a large check for the purpose of a blowout victory. That is exactly what should happen. Purdue was worse last year, played an objectively better, Southern Illinois team, and still won 35-13.
Ideally, the Boilers get a big lead early and the backups get some play. I'd like to see David Blough play if only to get him some live experience just in case. More importantly, I want to see Austin Appleby shake off his disastrous week 1 performance and come out with a solid game. Purdue is not going to make any in season improvement unless Appleby gets better. We have seen glimpses, like the Illinois-Michigan State-Minnesota run last year, but Sunday was a pretty bad performance all around. He cannot be interception prone. This is a week for him to fix it or Purdue needs to move on.
Defensively I want to see Purdue continue to shape things up. It did very well against Marshall as long as it was being aggressive. Of their 41 points 21 came either on pick sixes or against the ridiculously stupid prevent defense. There were moments where Purdue was actually able to pressure the quarterback and even get the elusive third down stop. Purdue was 7 of 11 in stopping Marshall on third down, which is fantastic improvement.
The difference, though, was Appleby. You're not going to beat anyone when your quarterback throws four interceptions and two are returned for touchdowns. That's nine interceptions against only three TDs in Appleby's last three games. Purdue is only going to be as good as he is.