This weekend I drove more than 500 miles to watch two college football games in a 12 hour span. I headed to Toledo on Friday, took in the Miami-Toledo game at noon Saturday, then headed 216 miles across U.S. 24 to make it to West Lafayette just in time for kickoff of Missouri-Purdue. It was a long day. On one end I saw a talented Miami team toy with a pretty good MAC team before laying the smack down in the fourth quarter. On the other end I saw a Purdue team that laccks talent in many areas battle and nearly pull off a second straight upset of an SEC team.
By the time I left Ross-Ade Stadium I still had a long way to go to get home to Indianapolis even though it was an hour away, just as Purdue has a long way to go despite being 0-3 by eight total points.
In just 16 days the 2018 Purdue football season has gone from “Hey, we might win nine games” to “Will we win any?”. We have lost all three games by slim margins for a variety of reasons. Jared Sparks continues to be the hard luck receiver, as he is literally two inches from having Purdue at 2-1 with last week’s barely out of bounds catch and this week’s overturned touchdown. We have made penalties, turned the ball over, missed field goals, and had a pourous defense. There are clear flaws with this team, but it keeps fighting.
Last night was a prime example of the fight in this team. At one point Purdue trailed 27-10 and Drew Lock was looking unstoppable. He finished 26 of 43 for 375 yards, 3 TDs and a pick, but the Missouri offense as a whole was practically sprinting down the field. Overall they went for it on fourth down three times and converted all three. Receivers were uncovered all over the place with Jalen Knox scoring on the longest play, a 59 yard catch.
Down 27-10 with seven minutes left in the first half, Purdue could have rolled over. Instead, they drove down for a touchdown, got a fortuitous blocked field goal, and David Blough orchestrated an excellent drive of 68 yards in 23 seconds for a score to Brycen Hopkins with 9 seconds left.
Now down 27-24, Purdue used halftime as a free defensive stop and went on a time-consuming field goal drive to tie it. I had hoped that the lengthy rest for the defense would help, but Missouri needed 1:39 to go 75 yards and retake the lead. Missouri would push it back to 10, but Purdue tied it yet again with a TD pass to Rondale Moore and a field goal after Sparks’ TD was overturned.
Of course, the overturned TD was not the only play of inches on this drive. Earlier in the drive Moore was tackled in the open field by a shoelace. He gained 42 yards on the play, but if not for barely getting tripped up it is a 90 yard TD.
Missouri had its own moments, showing these teams were pretty even. Purdue missed a 50 yard field goal, but Missouri had a long field goal blocked. Purdue had the shoelace tackle of Moore, but Missouti has a dropped sure TD on its first drive. Through 57 minutes Purdue matched Missouri with wild swings and Blough had a record breaking 572 yards through the air. On its final drive Purdue was twice inches from a go-ahead touchdown, but it would still need a defensive stop.
Unfortuantely, it likely wouldn’t have mattered. Even had Purdue led by four the Tigers were in great position to get the winning TD. Instead, they settled for the game winning field goal as Purdue just could not stop them. Larry Rountree III gashed us for 168 yards on the ground and kept ripping off big gain after big gain. He gave them the balance offensively to keep our defense guessing, while Blough simply went mad bomber and we all but abandoned the running game.
The play where I have to give Lock the most credit was the second play of the game winning drive. It was one of hte rare times Purdue got him under pressure and he was able to duck out of it, buy time, and dump off to Tyler Badie for 20 yards. That got their drive going and instead of facing third and long inside its own 25 Missouri was rolling already at midfield.
The Tigers were as good as we thought and threw up massive offensive numbers. With much of the same team as last year they scored 40 points and you feel like they left some on the field. Last season we held them to three points and they were lucky to get that. It really shows what Purdue lost defensively. Yes, Ja’Whaun Bentley was the only draft pick, but the likes of Danny Ezechukwu, Da’Wan Hunte, Josh Okonye, T.J. McCollum, Gelen Robinson, Eddy Wilson, and others were critical too.
At many positions, especially on defense, Purdue is playing inexperienced freshmen or guys that were career backups to those above for a reason. There is little question that Brohm and Nick Holt got last year’s group to overachieve, but now we’re starting to see what years of poor recruiting have done. You only need to look at our final rankings via Rivals over the last decade to see it:
63 (2008, Tiller’s Final year)
74 (2009, Hope)
54 (2010, Hope)
93 (2011, Hope)
33 (2012, Hope)
56 (2013, started by Hope, finished by Hazell)
71 (2014, Hazell)
68 (2015, Hazell)
73 (2016, Hazell)
68 (2017, started by Hazell, finished by Brohm)
49 (2018, Brohm)
23 (2019, Brohm pending)
And the overall rankings for as far back as Rivals goes:
The current true freshmen are better than any class save one in the last decade. The 2014 class, which is composed of our current 5th year guys, had only Blough, D.J. Knox, Kirk Barron, and Cole Herdman as regular contributors. Keiwan Jones and Tim Cason contribute defensively, but are getting passed over by younger guys. The 2015 class is similar with three starters and two specialists.
It is a simple, sad fact: The top two classes lack talent compared to most of our opponents. There have been some coaching questions to be sure (like where was that passing game vs. EMU?) but as I saw in our mentions last night, some are already turning on Brohm. The thing is, this year the defensive line (recruited by Hazell) is a glaring weakness. Brohm already has three top level commits on the defensive line that could probably start right now. He sees a weakness and is addressing it. It just sucks those guys aren’t here. Yet.
Brohm is clearly not Hazell. By the 16 game mark Hazell was 3-13 with multiple blowout losses. Brohm is 7-9 with five of those losses by 11 points total. He has at least made Purdue competitive (Hazell’s team gets blasted something like 52-10 last night) and the talent is ucoming. Next season’s recruiting class is about 2 months from signing and when it signs it will be our best in more than a decade. That will give Brohm two classes better than any his two predecessors will have, with time for a third. It is a glaring weakness, and he already has a monstrous defensive line class for next year to address it.
I think we got impatient because last season was such as surprise. Purdue overachieved, and now we’re starting to see how much it overachieved. Hazell constantly said we were “this close” to turning a corner in blowout loss after blowout loss. Now we actually are close and Brohm gives the impression that he is furious we haven’t already turned said corner.
The Eastern Michigan loss was certainly bad. I can’t explain it still. The Northwestern loss is looking worse after they lost ot Akron, but we beat ourselves. Missouri fans are worried about themselves after how hard we pushed them. Yes, we’re 0-3 by only 8 points total, but 0-3 is still 0-3.
There is no time to rest, either. Boston College is coming and they very well could be in the top 25 when they arrive Saturday. We’ve shown we can play with anyone, but also lose to anyone. It is a combination of a lack of talent, silly mistakes, the opposition making plays, and bad luck like Sparks’ two non-catches. The talk of any bowl game is likely over, but each week we need to go out and show improvement. Brohm is building something for 2019 and beyond. While I appreciate the seniors this season, there will likely soon come a time where the young guns will take over.
This coming Saturday is another chance though. It is a chance to grow and should Purdue upset Boston College it might ignite another spark before we face what looks to be a weaker Big Ten than we thought. Last night we showed we can play with a good team like BC. Now we need to get over the hump and actually beat one, because otherwise we may not win a home game all season. This has been a frustrating season so far, but we actually are close. The breakthrough will come and I trust Brohm because, with last year, he has actually produced some results unlike his predecessors.