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Indiana 44, Purdue 41: Hope is a Good Thing

Yes, Purdue was 4-8, but there is actual hope, still.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s first game of the season was a loss where the Boilermakers never trailed until the final snap.

The final game of the season was lost on the final snap.

In between, it was a season of disappointment. Arguably, Purdue was about two plays from the postseason. If the Kenneth Major pass break up is ruled an interception Purdue has a win in Reno. Today, if J.D. Dellinger converts on a late first half field goal or if Milton Wright hangs on to a late 4th down pass to get Purdue in field goal range, Purdue wins. Like last year, it was a season of close calls. In the last 13 games in Ross-Ade Stadium Purdue has lost on the final play of the game four times now (Eastern michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana).

Of course, there are other factors in there as well. The bombed in late field goal at Nevada is meaningless if Purdue doesn’t blow a 17 point lead. Today Purdue threw an interception in the end zone, lost a fumble, and twice failed on fourth down in addition to missing a field goal. It is also a lot harder to win when you’re down 18 points deep into the third quarter.

That’s not to say Prudue didn’t try. Xander Horvath had a career day, breaking runs like the Alstott of old as Purdue had a running game for the first time all season. Aidan O’Connell continued his amazing run of play by throwing for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns. If Wright doesn’t drop the 4th down pass with 7 seconds left Dellinger at least gets a chance to give O’Connell a third game-winning drive in the final two minutes in four games.

Brycen Hopkins and David Bell were excellent as well. Hopkins saved his best for last and showed why he will be playing on Sundays next season. Bell finished the season with over 1,000 yards and, with a healthy Rondale Moore next season, will headline an explosive offense. O’Connell has made his case as the starter next season by throwing for almost 1,000 yards in the last four games. Much of that depends on if Elijah Sindelar returns, but would anyone be shocked or even disappointed if O’Connell starts at Nebraska to begin next season.

Unfortuantely, all that was not enough. Purdue’s defense played well in spurts. it was enough to get back into the game, but not close it out. In both overtimes the Hoosiers converted a third and long to either score a touchdown or set one up. They had several other plays on the day too. In what was perhaps the best offensive output of the season for Purdue the defense struggled to get stops and did not force a single turnover. In fact, had Logan Justus not missed three field goals after not missing one all season Indiana likely wins going away. Purdue forced only three punts and gave up 11 of 19 third downs.

It only capped off a disappointing year. In August we had dreams of 8 wins. Instead we have eight losses and the Bucket is back in exile. It doesn’t matter that it happened against the best Indiana team in a quarter century (and Indiana is legitimately good), Purdue failed to get it done and it stings. It stings evenw ith freshmen playing all over the field and arguably the team’s best four players (Sindelar, Moore, Markus Bailey, and Lorenzo Neal) all not playing a single down in the final eight games.

We have to hope this was a minor setback before a big leap forward next year. Through everything, Purdue fought hard all season. It was completely overmatched at Penn State, but played a respectable final three quarters. It fought back for wins against Northwstern and Nebraska. It fought back from down 18 against a pretty good Indiana team and at least had a chance late.

It won’t get any easier next year. A trip to Nebraska in week 1 will be tough. Memphis in the home opener looks scary. Triple Option fun against Air Force followed by a trip to Boston College won’t be easy. Purdue also has to go to Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana as the Hoosiers have dramatically improved and will be tough. If Purdue returns to the postseason with 6-7 wins it sets the stage for what could be an excellent 2021 season. If not, it is time to question Jeff Brohm a little. The avalanche of injuries this season was staggering and Purdue still persevered. 4-8 next season won’t cut it, however.

The good news is that is nine months away, and the Boilers lose less than a dozen players off the roster. Many of the seniors that walked for senior day today missed most of the season anyway. The wounds of this year will heal and Purdue will be tough next season. Nick Holt has a lot ot improve on defense, but the offense could be positively lethal.

Even then, the Bucket is gone, and for the first time in over 1,000 days Purdue has a loss to Indiana in men’s basketball or football.