What can we say about Purdue football? Today came without high expectations. Ohio State, a team that might be 2 weeks from winning the Big Ten and reaching the college football playoff, went to Iowa just two weeks ago and received an unmerciful beating. Purdue is a beaten up football team, missing a large number of starters on offense. It was facing a stingy defense, cold and windy weather, and its own offensive demons. If Ohio State couldn’t win in Iowa City, what chance did Purdue have?
Yet we prevailed.
We prevailed because Elijah Sindelar threw for a smart 229 yards and 3 touchdowns, most of which came with the wind at his back. We prevailed because Anthony Mahoungou, a player that has struggled with drops all year, yet has persevered through a lot, came up with a career day with 7 catches for 135 yards and 2 scores. We prevailed because the Purdue defense was pretty much awesome all day, giving up a touchdown against a short field and a touchdown in desperation time. We prevailed because Navon Mosley made a circus interception and Antonio Blackmon fell on a fumbled punt. WE prevailed because the running game did just enough, including Markell Jones breaking a 32 yard run on the penultimate play to put the game away (and double our yardage on the ground. We prevailed because a beleaguered receiver corps came through.
I have to say this is probably the program’s largest win since beating Ohio State in 2009. That came out of nowhere and lives in the lore as “Purdue Harbor” ultimately, it did not signal that Purdue was a program on the rise. It ended up being one of those random upset that college football gives us now and then.
This, however, feels like a step forward. Iowa looked like the better team, but Purdue went to their place and controlled the game. Purdue, a team with no reason to have much confidence, played with all the confidence in the world from the opening kick.
This was a complete team victory. Just look throughout the states. Antoine Miles had a monster day with two sacks, four tackles for loss, and multiple pressures. This is a player that Darrell Hazell felt was not good enough to play a single snap last year (and yes, what Hazell did to him should qualify as a crime). That is a crime, because he has had an excellent senior season. Jacob Thieneman, the walk-on, was all over the place. T.J. McCollum, Gelen Robinson, Markus Bailey, Ja’Whaun Bentley… all had a big day by playing dominant defensive football. Conservative Kirk Ferentz played right into Purdue’s hands and the result was only 258 yards and the bulk of the third down conversions after Purdue was ahead 15.
Yes, it was a far from perfect performance, but it was a win. It was improvement, and now Purdue has a trio of Big Ten victories with a chance at a huge step forward in seven days.
I managed to catch most of today’s game on the radio while doing errands and driving up for the basketball game. There is something great about listening to your team’s radio announcers because they are complete homers. Pete Quinn, Rob Blackmon, and Kelly Kitchel are unapologetic in their cheering for Purdue, but they have had to travel and watch a lot of horrid football of late. They are enjoying this resurgence. They made multiple references to the energy on the Purdue sideline and how it made a difference. These guys have been through a lot, and now there is a payoff waiting.
So what we have now is simple: Win the Bucket and we get a bowl game. Yes, a 6-6 season with a mediocre bowl game is not great, but after the last four years it is a huge step forward. That is what we are about now: taking steps forward, and even now, the season feels like a success. Yes, we should have beaten Nebraska and Rutgers before now, but it would somehow feel empty to go 7-5, but lose the Bucket, as opposed to going 6-6 now and getting it back.
More than the chance to continue the season, getting the extra bowl practices would be huge towards the development of this team. There is also that nasty fact that the Bucket has been in exile for 1,449 days and counting. Another Indiana win and it will be the longest period that the Bucket has been away from West Lafayette ever.
It is going to be a tense week. Next week is going to be a tense game because both teams have so much to play for. Indiana is riding the highest point of its entire program for the last 25 years, while Purdue is trying to crawl out of an abyss. It should be fun.