I am going to utter a phrase that has never been uttered here at Hammer & Rails:
I was impressed with the way Darrell Hazell and his staff coached today.
Sure, if you read our first half tweets and such we were far from pleased with the way things were going, but I have to give Hazell and his staff credit. This was a game where Purdue faced a ton of adversity. First, it was facing a strong running team and it actually shut it down. Second, the Boilers finished -4 in the turnover ratio, where two of them set up Nevada’s touchdowns. Third, two of the turnovers also came inside the Nevada 5 yard line, virtually erasing 14 Purdue points. Fourth, they came up with a critical defensive stop when Nevada had 1st and goal at the Purdue 3 inside the last 6 minutes.
Before today, any one of those factors would have been enough to derail Purdue under Hazell, let alone all four. Today we saw Purdue get better when it mattered most. Forget about the caliber of opponent. Purdue has struggled to beat anyone at the FBS level of football, so a win today can’t be overlooked because we can’t be picky. When you combine all of the factors above, it was actually quite impressive to see.
There were a handful of areas where we would normally see Purdue go off the rails today:
· On Purdue’s first drive the Boilers jumped off of a long Brian Lankford-Johnson return to midfield. It was methodical, getting down to the Nevada 4 before David Blough was intercepted by Jaden Sawyer. It was a really, really bad throw by Blough. Sawyer read it perfectly and we’re damn lucky that he didn’t return it 100 yards for a score. It also came after Brycen Hopkins dropped a sure touchdown pass. Nevada got the ball near midfield and scored 10 plays later to jump ahead 7-0, so it was really a 14 point shift.
· Asauni Rufus recovered a fumble by Markell Jones at the Purdue 20 and Nevada quickly scored to make it 14-3. It looked like the rout was on, especially after Jones fumbled again on the next offensive play. Nevada got the ball at the Purdue 49 with an 11-point lead and an offense that had just scored twice in its last three drives. In the past, this is where Purdue has a complete meltdown and gets blown out. Instead, the defense got better and forced a punt from the Purdue 33. That in itself was a surprising decision by the Wolf Pack, but we’ll take it. Purdue responded with an 80 yard TD drive and trailed 14-10 at halftime.
· Purdue forced a punt defensively and responded yet again with a 49 yard TD drive after Malik Kimbrough returned it to midfield. Suddenly, despite playing mostly like crap, Purdue was ahead 17-14.
· The Boilers had a chance to build on the lead until Lankford-Johnson fumbled inside the 5 and it took more points off the board.
· Clinging to a 17-14 lead in the 4th quarter it looked for all the world like we were in for a typical Purdue late failure. Nevada was going to score with about 5 minutes left, Purdue would drive to try and get the lead back, and there would be the back-breaking interception. Nevada got all the way to the Purdue 3 with a first and goal. It looked bleak. Instead, Tyler Stewart was forced into an incompletion, Da’Wan Hunte had a HUGE tackle for loss as Purdue strung out the second down play, and James Butler was hit for a loss of five. Brent Zuzo then did us a favor by shanking the living crap out of the game-tying 27 yard field goal.
· Finally, needing only a few first downs to clinch the game, Purdue went for the kill. Purdue got the ball to midfield and, needing a first down to clinch the game on 3rd and 7, a pretty misdirection play allowed Hopkins to redeem himself with a 51-yard TD that was one of the most well-designed plays I have seen a Purdue offense run in years.
It was incredibly nice to see from a team that has been very fragile for years. Normally an 11-point deficit is enough to call a game over for Purdue. Not today.
There is still a long way to go. Beating Nevada is not like knocking off Ohio State. It is not even in the same ballpark. My point is that I was pleasantly surprised by the Boilers today. It looked like we were done in every sense of the word, but instead, we got better when it mattered most.