Today was all about heart for Purdue. For five weeks they had gotten off to solid starts only to fade in the end. Today they got off to the best start possible, as Markus Bailey had an early interception hat set up a Markell Jones touchdown inside the first minute of the game. Purdue led 7-0 before many had even settled into their seats. What followed was a gritty contest between a mediocre Indiana team that often played to its level of competition and a Purdue team that was short on talent in 10 of 12 games this season.
It wasn’t pretty. Both teams made a load of mistakes. Zander Diamont and Richard Lagow combined to throw four interceptions, but Purdue only got points off of the first one when it took over inside the one yard line. Purdue left at least 10 points on the field by failing to get a TD from 2nd and goal at the 1, having a blocked extra point that led to Purdue going for 2 and failing later on, and from the terrible penalty by Jason King.
And make no mistake, it was a dumb penalty that cost Purdue dearly and likely factored heavily in the game. King is a 5th year senior and one of the longest tenured starters on the team. His unsportsmanlike conduct (allegedly a punch) came on a play where David Blough had gained a first down to the Indiana 15. Purdue was leading 22-17 at the time, and a touchdown gives them a critical two possession lead. The penalty wiped out a first down and Purdue later punted from the Indiana 40.
That was just one of many missed chances for Purdue. They punted from the Indiana 33 and 40, with the punt from the 33 coming due to a delay of game penalty on a field goal attempt from the 28. That was potentially three more points off the board. Then again, Indiana gave us plenty of chances. They had a lot of key penalties that kept drives alive in the second half. They had turnover issues. They were completely one-dimensional on offense, with Lagow doing very little through the air after an early TD pass and only Diamont and Devine Redding moving the ball just enough on the ground. Even then, Diamont fumbled at the goal line and was able to recover it just before the winning score.
This was a game where neither team was particularly good. Both kept the other in it. In the end, Indiana made two plays it needed to to win: The sack of Blough by Tegray Scales to force 4th and 14 and the interception in the end zone a play alter by Jonathan Crawford.
This team still fought hard though. It blew chance after chance, but still was leading inside the last 10 minutes. It still had a chance to win insdie the last two minutes. For much of the day it stymied a powerful Indiana offense and played well above its abilities. They played their hearts out today. It just wasn’t enough.
So that is it. We’re in a golden era of Indiana football where they finally matched their longest winning streak in the series. They only needed 3 home games, a Purdue team that went a combined 9-39, and a pair of glorious 6-6 bowl bids to do it, too. I know that is snarky, but right now the Hoosiers are better than Purdue. It is a fact that can’t be argued. They have gotten just enough better to compete for Detroit bowls, while Purdue has gotten infinitely worse.
It also closes the book on the reign of error that was Morgan Burke and Darrell Hazell. Burke did most of the work by refusing to invest in the program for a decade, and Hazell finished the job with four years of terrible coaching and poor recruiting. They have combined to destroy a program that was at least once pretty good. It was at least respectable from 1997-2007 with 10 bowl games in 11 seasons. Now that seems so far away thanks to the efforts of two men.
I do want to thank Gerad Parker, however. He took a thankless job and got a lot of fight out of this team in six games. Under Hazell, Purdue mostly got its ass kicked from the start. In all six games under Parker, against overwhelming odds and short on talent due to recruiting and injuries, Parker at least had this team competitive for a half. It isn’t much, but it is far better than Hazell ever did.
And then there is Burke. He will get credit for the Football Performance Facility, but it is at least 5 years too late if not 10. He buried this program with his inactivity, and it is pretty clear that in two months Mike Bobinski has done more for Purdue football in terms of convincing the Board fo Trustees to commit necessary resources than Burke did in 10 years. With that, the name of Morgan Burke will never be mentioned here by me again. His reign of error is over. If Bobinski makes the right hire (something we may not know for 3 years) he will do even more.
As of right now, we are starting over. I don’t know if it will be P.J. Fleck, Les Miles, or someone else, but there is a multi-year rebuild in order. There are some nice pieces to build around. Markell Jones will be healthy next year. Markus Bailey and Ja’Whaun Bentley are both really good linebackers. David Blough led the Big Ten in passing yards this season and if he can get a line to protect him could have two really good years left. He has at least settled the quarterback position. Navon Mosley, Brian Lankford-Johnson, and a few other freshmen had some good moments this year.
Still, any rebuild will be done in recruiting, and the new coach has a few months to salvage some sort of recruiting class and piece together a team that is still going to be pretty short on talent in 2017. I look at next year’s schedule and have a hard time seeing a bowl game. The opening slate of Louisville-Ohio-Missouri-Michigan is brutal and if we come out of that 2-2 I will be doing backflips. Purdue should at least have a chance against Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana at home. A game at Rutgers looks winnable. Outside of that? A win anywhere else would be a major surprise.
But that is for later. For now, the Bucket continues to be in exile and Purdue has a very long road ahead of it. May today be day 1 on the way back.