On August 31, 2013 I drove to Cincinnati to watch Purdue take on the Bearcats. After Darrell Hazell came to Purdue with much fanfare and a party on the Circle in Indianapolis the Boilers wilted in the second half. Down 14-7 in a close game, they eventually lost 42-7. We thought it only meant that the rebuild would take a little longer than expected, but instead it was merely a sign of things to come.
Yesterday there was another party on the Circle. Once again, Purdue was starting under a new head coach with an era that was supposed to be better than the previous one. Hazell had inherited a team that had made two consecutive bowls, while Jeff Brohm had inherited a team that had done far less.
The result was night and day different, however.
As a Purdue fan for my entire life I have seen a lot. I have seen nearly every iteration and conjugation of the verb “to Purdue”. We are familiar with it. We live with it. We last saw it in an opener at Marshall two seasons ago. I am conditioned to think that once it starts to go wrong, there is nothing to stop it.
Tonight, the moment of Purdueing came with 3:18 left in the third quarter. After Louisville had driven down and scored a touchdown that was fumbled out of the end zone, yet was still a touchdown (after two other questionable at best calls, too) Purdue still led 21-19. Unfortunately, David Blough made a bad read and was intercepted by Stacy Thomas, who returned it 61 yards for a go-ahead score. Purdue then got the ball back and Blough threw a second interception for good measure.
This was it. This is where the Purdueing was going to happen. It was time for the Lamar Jackson avalanche to take over and, after fighting the good fight for nearly three quarters, the Louisville Cardinals would pull away to a three or four score lead. The Purdue fans in attendance, a small crowd as the game where nowhere near sold out, but a loud and loyal group, could be forgiven if they had given up there. Hell, I had done that plenty of time in the past.
Instead, I was burning. I was furious from the calls that had benefitted Louisville during their fortuitous TD drive that made it 21-19. I was furious that a collapse was happening again. I was fed up with taking these beatings, and all I could think of was tweeting one thing:
We ar still winning this game.— Hammer & Rails (@HammerAndRails) September 3, 2017
I got the expected responses: that we were losing. That it was slipping away. That we were Purdueing. Can you blame us? It was ingrained in our culture.
Well, I had had enough. I have no idea of directing positive energy can change things or if it all bullshit, but for once I was signing on. I was falling in line with coach Brohm even as a fan and not quitting. Not only did I say we were winning the game, I genuinely felt it.
And Purdue responded. Just 8 plays and 67 yards later Jackson Anthrop scored his second TD of the night on a pass form Elijah Sindelar. With 10:48 left Purdue had done something in football that it had not done in ages: It had taken a series of punches, but got off the mat and delivered a stunning blow. We were not going to go down easy, and with just under 11 minutes left we had a lead on the No. 16 team in the nation 28-25. The game was not only in doubt, but the Cards were actually in trouble.
Of course, Louisville is really good for a reason and Jackson is Jackson. They came down and scored on the next drive, needing only six plays. They then added a field goal to make it a 7 point lead, but Purdue wouldn’t die. Not only did it get a decent drive down the field, but even after a Sindelar interception it still forced a punt to get one last chance with a minute left. It faltered, but Purdue made Louisville earn the game down to the final play. I have no idea if coach Brohm would have gone for two and the win had Purdue scored on either of its final two chances, but I really believe he would have gone for the win because you should ALWAYS take the one chance to win with a single play if you’re the underdog.
Now… that’s where the next step comes. This is all great, but only if Purdue builds on it. That’s the thing with a moral victory: it means nothing if real victories don’t follow. There is a lot to like here. Coach Brohm took a flaming pile of crap left by Hazell and in a few months challenged a team that legitimately could play in the College Football Playoff later this year. He not only challenged them, he put the fear of God in their fans. I heard it from Louisville fans as I walked back to my car. They couldn’t believe that Purdue pushed them like that. They were scared for their own team. They thought maybe, just maybe, they weren’t as good as they hoped.
But maybe Purdue is just that much better.
There is a lot to do. We need to settle on a quarterback. We need more of a running game (51 yards on 21 carries from what was supposed to be a strength). We need to strengthen the pass defense. We need to cut down on turnovers. We’re still a very flawed team in need of talent. Winning the Big Ten, or even the Big Ten West, is a very long stretch. Even making a bowl game will take quite an effort, but there is hope. If this team builds on things here, it can pull out of the nosedive the program has been in for a while now.
As I left Lucas Oil Stadium I was encouraged. I was angry we had the three calls go against us. At the same time, I knew we had the faint glimmers of a turnaround. It is now that Coach Brohm will earn the $3 million we are paying him, because these moral victories mean nothing unless you build on them.
Finally, we have gotten a brick higher.