Purdue played a football game today. We only get 12 of those per year, and 13 if we’re lucky.
Purdue scored more points than the opposition. That is a much more rare event, as it happened for only the 7th time in the last 37 games.
Let’s take away all the negatives from the Hazell era for a moment. Let’s take away the vitriol of Morgan Burke’s legacy in the lowest attendance for a home opener since the Eisenhower administration. The object of the day was to enjoy a perfect late summer afternoon, watch some football, and see a Purdue victory.
The alternative to the day was the unthinkable. A loss to an FCS team is just about the only way Purdue could get any lower. If a power 5 conference team loses to an FCS team they become a national laughingstock. Virginia certainly does not feel good today after losing by 17 at home to FCS Richmond. As I write this Iowa State is losing at home to Northern Iowa and Eastern Washington is up on Washington State. All FCS games for Power five schools are paycheck games designed to be glorified scrimmages. After less than five minutes on Saturday, that is mostly what this one turned into.
The first drive was a thing of beauty. Purdue practically walked down the field, mixing the run and the pass including a great designed running back dump off to Tario Fuller. Markell Jones finished the drive, then Leroy Clark picked off Maty Mauk to get the Boilers back in business again. David Blough would cap this drive with a short run and before the 10-minute mark of the first quarter Purdue was ahead 14-0.
Let’s not get picky here. Purdue had not even led a football game against anyone since the Nebraska game last Halloween. The Boilers went 0-for-November last year without even holding a lead for a single second in four straight games. A double-digit lead, one that Purdue would hold throughout, is a big deal against anyone.
Gelen Robinson’s Piesman Trophy audition made it 21-0 and it looked like a blowout was in order with a little over three minutes left in the first. That’s when things got a little dicey. Purdue only got a 35-yard TD pass from Blough to DeAngelo Yancey and the defense really struggled int he second quarter. After taking the 21-0 lead Eastern Kentucky scored 18 points in 16 minutes, making it look like we would have a game. The Colonels racked up over 280 yards of offense and a gassed defense was forced back onto the field against hot EKU team just before halftime.
The old demons were there. Purdue led 28-18, but EKU had the ball and you could just see them marching down the field, scoring to make it 28-25, then taking the second half kickoff and scoring again to take the lead.
What happened next was unexpected. EKU did pretty much nothing for seven straight drives. It was a shocking development for many reasons. First, they had been marching up and down the field at will. Second, Purdue always struggles defensively in the third quarter. Third, it appeared that the Purdue coaching staff made some actual, factual halftime adjustments. After cutting the lead to 10 EKU had drives of the following yardage: -9, 20, 5, 9, 9, 5, 0 (interception).
Yes, I know it was Eastern Kentucky, but remember how an atrocious rushing team in Illinois ran all over us last season. This is a positive step even against the competition. The Colonels did nothing until very late in the game when Purdue’s second string was in and the contest was already decided.
So aside from the second quarter we really couldn’t ask for much more. The Colonels never got closer than 10 points after the opening five minutes and we even got to see some new guys play a bit. Elijah Sindelar completed his first career pass. Josh Hayes had a really nice interception. Brian Lankford-Johnson showed why it was worth burning his redshirt when he found a small hole and took off for a 48 yards TD. Purdue barely gave up 100 yards in the second half, and the vast majority came on a late drive against the second string.
All-in-all, it was a good day. Purdue got the win, but more importantly, it got a comfortable win with very little drama. You can’t ask for too much more.
Now the Boilers have a week to prepare for a Cincinnati game that most fans of the program agree is a critical one not only for this season’s success, but for the future of Darrell Hazell. What Purdue does next week will be very, very telling.