This one was for Coach Tiller.
I say that for many reasons. Obviously, on the day he was honored it was important to send the home crowd happy, but when you look at the game from a larger perspective it means so much more. Coach Tiller changed the entire perception of Purdue Aside from a brief 3-year clip under Jim Young from 1978-80 Purdue was a vast wasteland of nothing for almost 30 years after Jack Mollenkopf retired. Tiller changed the culture. He made us believe again. He made us think Purdue had a chance any Saturday.
Appropriately, that is what Jeff Brohm is doing. Today Purdue was ugly in the first half. It had four turnovers, A pair of ugly interceptions thrown by David Blough was turned into 14 points by the Gophers. Purdue first fruitless trip into the red zone on the season not only took at least 3 points off the board with the second pick, but the Gophers drove 80 yards the other way and went up 14-6.
This is where Brohm is like Tiller. He is different. He is making us believe again. Under Hazell there is little doubt that those turnovers would have turned an early, promising 6-0 lead into a 45-14 blowout. You know why? Because we saw this exact game two years ago. Against the Gophers on October 10, 2015 Purdue led early after a first drive touchdown and missed extra point. Minnesota went ahead 10-6 by halftime and, facing the smallest amount of adversity, Purdue completely collapsed. Shannon Brooks started the second half with a pinballing 71-yard TD run and it was over.
Today was different though. Purdue traileds only 14-6 at the half, but it felt different. I met up with GoAUpher from The Daily Gopher at halftime in Morgantown and even though his team was leading, he admitted that he felt nervous. He knew that Minnesota should have gotten more than 14 points off of four turnovers. They even had their own costly turnover when Conor Rhoda fumbled on first and goal from the Purdue 8 and Navon Mosley recovered it.
That play might have been the biggest of the game. Minnesota was driving to go into halftime up 21-6 and with 21 points off of turnovers. Instead, Purdue got a stop and was able to take the second half kickoff and drive 52 yards for a score. D.J. Knox started it with a good kickoff return and ended it with a 22 yard TD reception.
Then, incredibly, the Purdue defense came to play, which is another hallmark of Brohm and defensive coordinator Nick Holt. They sat on Minnesota and gave Purdue every chance to get the offense going. The Boilers still struggled down 14-13, but kept plugging along. Spencer Evans missed a long field goal in the swirling winds, but when the 1997 team captains came on and turned SHOUT over to coach Tiller from when he last led it, things started to turn. Jackson Anthrop had a nice catch and run, and J.D. Dellinger just beat the storm with a 19-yard field goal that made it 16-14 with 10 minutes left.
Then we waited.
What happened after delay was incredible. Minnesota went on a march where it converted a pair of 4th downs and looked like it was going to drain the clock before kicking a winning field goal. The Gophers used 17 plays and looked unstoppable with a series of sweeps at critical times. Emmit Carpenter made it look like the missed extra point would be critical with a field goal to make it 17-16.
Again, this is where old Purdue would have folded. Instead, we needed 69 seconds and four plays to score. Anthony Mahoungou got us into field goal range, then Markell Jones closed it with his first TD of the year. For good measure the defense answered too. Minnesota got close, but on a fourth down play Ja’Whaun Bentley got a critical interception and instead of going down to seal the game returned it 76 yards untouched for a score. Why? Because he could.
Again, this was for Joe. Brohm is changing everything just like he did 20 years ago. He has this team believing again. Needing a drive down a point with 2:26 left we practically raced down the field. Needing a defensive play to seal it we not only got said play, we returned it and handed the ball saying, “oh, you wanted this? Well, we’re done with it now.” Turning the ball over 4 times didn’t phase Purdue. It got better, and it is a welcome sight in West Lafayette.
And now with 7 games left the once improbable seems probable. A bowl game in year one, something that was a wild dream just 6 weeks ago, now seems likely. Coach Brohm is doing what Joe did.
Let’s keep doing it for Joe.