Was that a completely relaxed 4th quarter? Did we really just put a team away with a second half shutout and two clinching touchdowns when it mattered most? Did we really break a number of streaks today?
I know it is bizarre to ask these questions, but for the first time in ages we are in November and we have some momentum. Today broke a 17-game November losing streak. 17 games. The last time we won a November game my son was in utero, and now he is on the brink of kindergarten. We also have now won more than 4 games in a season for the first time since 2012, won more than one Big Ten game in a season for the first time since 2012, and Jeff Brohm has won more Big Ten home games in one season than Darrell Hazell did in four years.
Sure, it was just Illinois. The Illini are really struggling this year and have made a lot of teams look good, but it was nice to enjoy an afternoon where Purdue was the better team and played like it. Sure, there were costly moments. It sure looks like David Blough was lost for the season. We made Cam Thomas look great as he threw for 159 yards when he had 77 yards and only 4 completions coming into the game. A win is still a win.
That’s the biggest thing we can take from this. Purdue was expected to win by two touchdowns and won by three. The defense was still strong, as it would not have given up a touchdown if not for a very questionable pass interference call. The offense struggled at first, but did not commit a turnover and was able to close it out by exerting its will in the fourth quarter.
Think about that. When is the last time you could say that Purdue exerted its will on someone? That’s what happened though. The three-headed running back game of D.J. Knox, Markell Jones, and Richie Worship produced 161 yards and two touchdowns. Jared Sparks added another 40 yards on 5 carries as he played the “Wild Sparks” package early on. Worship also added 43 yards on a team high 5 receptions.
How that Wild Sparks position plays out over the last three games will be interesting. Elijah Sindelar came in and completed both of his passes for 32 yards and a touchdown, but it certainly looks like he will be “the man” going forward with Blough’s injury. Suddenly, Purdue goes from “Deep with two good options at QB” to “We’re a single hit away from little experience at the position.” Just when it looked like Sparks would have a permanent move to wide receiver he is now likely in the backup QB role for the rest of the season, as I doubt we would pull the redshirt off of Nicholas Sipe or Griffin Alstott unless it was an absolute emergency. If Sindelar gets hurt it is pretty much Sparks or bust, and he has yet to attempt a pass. Jackson Anthrop has more passing attempts, and so does walk-on Aaron Banks.
There is a lot of other good to look at though. Jacob Theineman was the defensive MVP with an interception, four tackles, and a sack that came at a critical juncture. The sack came on a blitz on 3rd and 4 at the Purdue 35. Purdue led only 16-10 at that point and a conversion can change the game. Theineman times his blitz perfectly, dropped Thomas for an 11 yard loss, and the Illini had to punt. Purdue then scored a TD on its next possession and controlled the rest of the game.
That is what this game was about. Purdue had answers at nearly every turn. After giving up a field goal drive to tie it at 10-10 with about a minute before halftime the Boilers drove to get a 42-yard field goal from Spencer Evans. That 13-10 lead at the half was good for Purdue’s psyche. We traded punts for a while, but it felt more like Purdue was going to break out offensively and we did so. Illinois didn’t really have a serious scoring threat in the second half except for on the drive with the Theineman sack, and Purdue was able to make its offense work.
And we didn’t have to be absolutely perfect to have a chance to win. We were ugly for most of the game and won by 19. Can we really complain about that?
The Boilers can now play the rest of the season with found money. We need to win the Bucket back no matter what happens in the next two weeks, but if we can steal a road game we would be playing for a bowl game too. Northwestern is on a run right now where they have won three straight games in five total overtimes and Iowa just beat the living crap out of Ohio State. Winning either game will be very difficult for sure. We’re also missing our top passer (Blough) and both Tario Fuller and T.J. McCollum were our top rusher and tackler, respectively, when they went down.
They may or may not be back. Grant Hermanns, our left tackle, is likely done for the season. A team with little depth to start with has been stretched to near breaking. That’s where coach Brohm is making it work though. He is adjusting and finding a way. He is keeping Purdue competitive with a roster that, when fully healthy, was getting blown out last season. We’ve got a shot each of the next two weeks. Even 5-7 with the Bucket back where it belongs would be a successful season.
It is fun to watch Purdue football again. We had a relatively dull and uneventful win (!) over a Big Ten opponent.
I’ll take it.