Purdue simply could not afford to start the season 0-4, not with four straight home games. An 0-4 start would be pretty much disastrous. All summer we thought that 1-3 to start would be a worst-case scenario because no one expected to lose to Eastern Michigan. Well, we did, so we needed today to keep any small bowl hopes alive.
I had a good feeling all week, as I mentioned my pick for the game. I was encouraged with the way the offense played last week. I felt if we got into a shootout with a high-octane team we would have a chance. I was rewarded almost immediately after walking into the stadium and seeing no line at the north end zone beer stand. I immediately procured the new Boiler Black from People’s Brewing (very tasty. It was smooth and much like a Guinness) and headed to my seats. It was clear early on the defense came to play by forcing a three and out. David Blough then marched us down the field, going 62 yards in 12 plays. DJ Knox then capped the drive with a TD and it was 7-0 after pretty much the perfect first seven minutes.
Boston College then took advantage of an ill Spencer Evans with a big kickoff return. Evans was vomiting on the sidelines and it led to a few short kickoffs and a missed extra point before he was replaced by Myles Homan on kickoffs and J.D. Dellinger on placements. Michael Walker returned the kickoff 60 yards and after Purdue gave up a touchdown on 3rd and 14 I really thought we were in trouble. It looked like the expected shootout was coming and the third down defense that had been such an issue the last two weeks would rear its head.
Then a funny thing happened. Purdue’s defense played angry. It gave up 45 yards and a touchdown on the first two drives, then had four consecutive three and outs before an interception by Kai Higgins on a tipped pass from Anthony Watts set up a field goal just before halftime. On five straight drives the Eagles actually lost a total of 18 yards. Rondale Moore added a pair of touchdowns. This included one where he shrugged off a big hit, barely kept his knee off the ground, then took off for 70 yards. The freshman now has four 100 yard games (the school record is 14 such games) and five career touchdowns (the school record is 54). He’s phenomenal.
But this day belonged to the defense. The Eagles were averaging more than 50 points per game and 500 yards of offense. AJ Dillon was a stud back that was close to 150 yards per game. The Boiler defense was night and day better with everyone chipping in. Higgins, Watts, Antonio Blackmon, and Kenneth Major each had interceptions. Markus Bailey, who had been mostly quiet so far, had 10 tackles, 2 for loss, a sack, and a pass breakup. Derrick Barnes had two sacks. Jacob Thieneman had a sack. Anthony Brown entered the game with no interceptions and handed out four. Dillon was held in check all day.
The thing is, Boston College made it look easy. They lined up a lot of simple sets and Purdue was more than ready for them. They were below 100 yards of total offense until deep into the fourth quarter and Purdue collected three straight turnovers in the second half. When you consider that Missouri and BC had similar offenses in terms of raw production it was an astounding turnaround.
Purdue’s offense really could have done better, too. We left points on the field with a missed short field goal, missed extra point, and two fumbles. If anything, it was a lot like last year’s win at Missouri. We got up big and sat on their heads for much of the second half. Blough still had nearly 300 yards and 3 scores. The running game could have done more, but it wasn’t terrible.
To be honest, it was a relief to see Purdue finally play up to its potential in all phases. We knew we had this type of game in us, but self-inflicted wounds had us at 0-3 coming in. Today had the potential to be bad but Purdue answered while BC regressed. It was about time we got some luck there.
Purdue now has new life to its season. Nebraska looks bad and Illinois is inconsistent, so recovering to 3-3 is a real possibility before Ohio State comes to town. After everything that happened in the first three weeks and recovery to 3-3 would be gigantic and set the stage for a solid finish to the year. We also ended a number of streaks today. We broke an 18-game losing streak against top 25 teams dating back to 2011. It was our first win over a non-conference top 25 team since at Wake Forest in 2003 and our first home win over a non-conference ranked team since beating #16 Notre Dame in 1999.
To make a bowl game we’re going to likely need a second top 25 team. Even if we hold serve against Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana we would need one over Iowa (close to the top 25), Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Michigan State. Now we know we can do it.
More importantly, Purdue’s defense grew up this week. If it can stay at this level the rest of the season will be fun.