Talent can do so much in college football. Alabama would be favored by double digits over all but a handful of teams because they have a wealth of raw talent. Ohio State rules the Big Ten year in and year out because it has more raw talent than everyone else. As we showed last week, talent is not the end-all be-all when it comes to college football. Today we found out that it does help a lot, however.
Michigan State entered today with Rocky Lombardi making his first career start. He was without many of his offensive linemen and without his top two receivers. His top running back was limited, too. Imagine if Purdue was without Rondale Moore, Isaac Zico, David Blough, Dennis Edwards, Grant Hermanns, AND DJ Knox. In our current incarnation we would be screwed.
As it turns out, Michigan State can survive in those circumstances. It is true: Purdue did not play well today. Blough had three interceptions (one was not on him). We had a field goal blocked. Blough wasn’t sharp and the defense was strangely soft on coverage. After Joe Schopper dropped a 74 yard punt and pinned the Spartans deep just before halftime we strangely left cushions for their receivers all the way down the field. The result was an 87 yard drive for a touchdown that was simply pitch and catch.
I think today was the result of Purdue regressing to its mean after a lights out game against Ohio State. I also thin Michigan State, especially their defense, played extremely well. Their defense applied constant pressure to Blough and he was off. Our receivers, aside from Moore, also struggled to gain separation. When the Spartans were on offense we rarely got pressure on a quarterback making his first start and we were ridiculously soft in coverage. They took what we gave them and we gave them an awful lot. We also had next to nothing in the run game aside from one play by Knox.
Through all this, Purdue still had its chances. We trailed just 16-13 entering the fourth quarter and had three possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead. On one we turned it over on downs in Michigan State territory. On a second Knox was brought down by the last man before breaking an 80 yard TD run, then Brycen Hopkins was leveled inside the 15 resulting in an interception. On the third, Michigan State blocked a long field goal attempt. That’s three really good chances, all missed. If Purdue get a touchdown on any of them it probably wins. It didn’t work though.
The truth is that Purdue just does not have the talent yet to win against teams like Michigan State when it is not at its best. Clearly, Purdue was not at its best today. It was still almost good enough. If Mike Panasiuk doesn’t block Spencer Evans’ late field goal we might have pulled it out. If Blough hits a wide open Moore in the end zone in the first quarter we probably pull it out.
There is little question that today was frustrating. I think the difference is that it did not decide the season. Yes, winning the West Division is even more of a longshot not, but after today it was probably a longshot anyway even if we win. After the 0-3 start the season can be a success just by making a bowl game. That can still be accomplished with wins over Minnesota and Indiana, games where we will likely be favored. We can still beat Wisconsin and Iowa at home, too.
I have felt like this season was about treading water until the excellent 2019 recruiting class gets here. We have many young defenders gaining experience and we’re only going to get more talent going forward. One of our readers said it best: today was disappointing, but we’re not despairing. Better days are ahead. At this time next week we could have a third win over a ranked team and still be excited for the future.
Today was only a minor setback, and really, when was the last time we had setbacks that were only minor?