Even though Purdue was only 7-6 last season, a lot was made about the momentum it had going into this year. Purdue won three straight, including a bowl game, and during the summer Jeff Brohm started locking in our best recruiting class by far in well over a decade. When the season kicked off last Thursday the hope was that momentum would carry over into a fast start. We had four straight winnable home games and a hot start would mean even more for a program that had lacked excitement for a while.
That momentum is now gone, and we have to spend the next week figuring out a way to regain it.
Make no mistake, this was a really, really bad loss. For years, Eastern Michigan has been the laughing stock of even the MAC. They have gotten much better under Chris Creighton, however. After a successful run at Wabash College down the road from West Lafayette he ended up in Ypsilanti in one of the most uneviable jobs in college football. Two season ago he got them to 7-6 and their second bowl appearance, first since 1987. Last season they were 5-7, but lost three games in overtime, another three by less than a touchdown, and they won their first game ever over a Big Ten foe at Rutgers. It is safe to say this is a much better program the last three years.
Still, this was a game Purdue absolutely should have won.
I have to give credit to the Eagles. They played mostly mistake free football and we paid for it. They had a pair of fumbles that they were able to recover. Their only huge mistake was the interception by Kai Higgins off of a tipped pass from Giovanni Reviere. Even then, Purdue didn’t score off of it, so no loss. Tyler Wiegers was sacked six times, but he was still 20 of 28 for 312 yards and a touchdown. Matthew Sexton made a big play on his 75 yard touchdown catch and at the end of both halves they made impressive drives for scores.
Purdue... was not so mistake free.
All day long the Boilermakers were making big mistakes and it ended up being just enough for the Eagles to capitalize. We did it in every phase of the game, too.
Offensively, Purdue rushed for an impressive 341 yards. D.J. Knox had 152 yards and a touchdown and Markell Jones had 109 yards rushing and a touchdown receiving. It is the first time Purdue has had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since Brandon Jones and Joey Harris did it against Indiana way back in 2002. That should be more than enough to win any game, especially against the likes of Eastern Michigan.
Unfortunately, Purdue managed just 19 points, which is, quite honestly, pathetic for that high of an offensive output. Jones had two fumbles, but the one he did not recover came at the Eastern Michigan 37 as Purdue was driving. Rondale Moore also lost a fumble at the EMU 11. This killed a pair of potential scoring drives and took at least a few points off the board.
Purdue’s inability to score after the interception was also costly. This is the prefect time to work Jones and Knox, who were gashing the Eagles at this point. We tried to do that, as Knox gained 6, then lost 7. On third down Jared Sparks nearly made an impressive catch at the goal line. His foot was just barely on the out of bounds line, however. That half an inch or so could end up costing Purdue its season. Spencer Evans was forced to try a 38 yard field goal in sloppy conditions and missed.
It was not Evans’ first miss on the day, either. He missed an extra point just before halftime after Jones’ touchdown, and that was the difference in the game. Purdue was set to regain it with a two-point attempt after Knox’s touchdown, but an absurd celebration penalty cost us 15 yards and we elected to kick. We still probably should have gone for two there, but needing 17 yards in one play is a tougher proposition than just two yards.
There were other, smaller mistakes that later had bigger consequences. For example, On the 53-yard run by Moore it looked like he was going to score, but he got tangled with Sparks and brought down. Instead of getting an early touchdown Purdue had to settle for a field goal. After gaining a ton of yards on the ground by srpeading things out Purdue was stopped on 4th and 1 near midfield because it ran directly into a stacked box. Like last year at Rutgers, Purdue excellent at racking up yards, but could not finish drives.
Then there were the defensive mistakes. In any game where we give up only 20 points and less than 70 yards on the ground we should win. We generated a pass rush (at times) to the tune of six sacks and Cornel Jones had nine tackles and 2.5 sacks. The defense kept Purdue in the game while the offense flailed, but when it made mistakes, they were huge.
Tim Cason was completely turned around and misplayed the ball on the long touchdown. Giving up a 65 yard drive for a field goal in less than a minute when the opposition has no timeouts is simply inexcuseable. One of the only long runs EMU had all day was a 16 yarder from Shaq Vann to start that drive, and if he is stopped for the usual 2-3 yards there is a very good chance the Eagles just run out the clock and go into halftime. Instead, it gave them a push and led to a field goal.
Then there was the final drive. 15 plays and almost 5 minutes as EMU drove for the win. Jones had a big 3rd down sack, but his roughing penalty (at first I thought he was just trying to get up in his excitement, but upon review, it was dumb mistake) gave them new life. Even then, We had them at 4th and 15 needing a single play to win the game, but Wiegers found a wide open Arthur Jackson III for 23 yards and a backbreaking first down. We blitzed, but their line held and Wiegers made us pay. Dedrick Mackey then had a costly pass interference and from there it was easy to set up their field goal.
Eastern Michigan deserved this win. Purdue did not. Last season we had some experienced seniors on both sides of the ball plus a couple of key grad transfers that made a big difference. Everyone bought in and we pulled off a near miracle. What we’re seeing this year is a lack of discipline and a ton of inexperience defensively rearing its ugly head at the worst times. Also, the offense has bogged down way too many times and neither quarterback is looking great.
This is a very frustrating loss because it shouldn’t have happened. We thought we were past games like this under Brohm, but we were not. It was a perfect storm of poor weather conditions, inexperience, a lack of discipline, and an Eastern Michigan team playing with poise that led to this loss.
We’re also seeing what four years of poor recruiting under Hazell has done. We’re working with classes rated 71 (2014), 68 (2015), 73 (2016), 68 (2017) and 49 (2018). The class Brohm has lined up for next season (and he WILL sign most of it as it stands, plus he has made inroads on a few more 4-stars) is 23rd. The future is bright, but this might be more of a gap year as the leaders of last season are gone and we wait for an influx of talent. It still should be enough to beat Eastern Michigan though.
Obviously this season has not started as we expected it to. It is frustrating as fans because this is the one game no one imagined losing. The players and coaching staff are frustrated too, but I have to trust Brohm will find a fix. Unlike Hazell, he has actually proven he can do something and find a fix. He did not mince words today when he called it an embarrassing loss. We do have a history showing he can achieve better results, however.
It is still early and we have lost two games by 5 points total despite a large number of very correctable mistakes. Today you could argue we were half an inch from a win on Sparks’ non-catch. Yes, it should have not been that close, but despite everything, if he finds a way to get his foot down a split second faster we’re talking about a close win. Last week it was turnovers, dumb defensive penalties, and a couple of non-pass intereference calls.
There is a lot of football yet to be played and Purdue can still win a lot of games. It starts next week against a Missouri team that is better than EMU, but we still dominated them a year ago. Purdue can absolutely win that game. Pick a quarterback (I think I would go with Elijah Sindelar), play with better defensive discipline, cut down on turnovers, and it is a winnable game. These are things we can do.
Of the remaining 10 games only three (Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State) would totally shock me if we won (and Michigan State was shaky last week). It is not going to be easy, but when this team lost to Rutgers and Nebaska by 3 total points in consecutive weeks last season it looked lost. They are similar losses to Northwestern and Eastern Michigan here. Purdue then won four of its next five.
For now, don’t worry about a bowl. If it happens, it will happen. To reach a bowl I felt we needed to win two of our three non-conference games and beat Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. We can still do that. This sucks, but we can either whine and complain about it or work at fixing it.
After last year I trust Brohm to work on fixing it. I think next week we get an angry team at home against Missouri, and angry is good.