I hate the phrase “They fought hard” for a fooball team. I have been covering high school football in Indiana since 1999. I have heard “they fought hard” tons of times when I am standing in the mud of a high school football field trying to get a quote from coach in a 6 touchdown blowout. It is the standby in any football game. Last year I covered Kokomo losing 77-0 at New Palestine and what did the coach say? “They fought hard.”
As much as I hate to say it, Purdue fought hard today.
What else can you really say? Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore, perhaps the two best offensive players on the entire team, left the game on the same play. The scuttlebutt I heard (and I want to clarify THAT IN NO WAY IS THIS AN IRONCLAD INJURY REPORT) is that Sindelar broke his collarbone. That is a “missing the rest of the season” type of injury. As for Rondale, we saw the magician collapse to the turf on a play where the ball was nowhere near him and we were playing Minnesota. You can take from that what you will.
Those injuries came with Purdue trailing 14-3 in the second quarter. Jack Plummer came in and completed the drive with a 14 yard for a first down and a TD pass to Zander Horvath. Eventually Purdue would trail 38-17, but a touchdown-recover onside kick-touchdown sequence made it 38-31 in the closing minutes and the Gophers were bailed out by a very questionable pass interference on third and 6. You never want to put the game in the hands of the officials, but Purdue at least fought back to have a chance in a game it had every reason to get blown out in.
And that is with a ton of young player playing. Let’s be honest: Purdue’s secondary, especially its safteies, got smoked today. Tanner Morgan threw for 396 yards, but was an astounding 21 of 22 for 4 TDs. Chris Autman-Bell caught a slant and raced 70 yards for a TD. Rashod Bateman got lost behind the defense for a 40 yard TD. Bateman later caught a 47 yard TD where the safeties bit hard on the playaction. Jalen Graham has a lot to learn at his position, but he will. Those three plays ended up being the difference, even with Rodney Smith rushing for 115 and a score.
Offensively, I have to site Plummer and King Doeure. Doerue came in and at least gave Purdue a modicum of a running game. The true freshman finished with 94 yards rushing, 32 yards receiving, and three TDs. David Bell also clearly showed he has a nice rapport with Plummer by catching 8 passes for 114 yards. TJ Sheffield, who appeared destined for a redshirt this year before Rondale went down, had a couple catches and kick returns.
Let’s give Plummer some credit, too. He looked a lot better than he did two weeks ago. He was more poised and his two picks were on tipped passes. He still had 245 yards and 2 TDs with the element of running the ball at 29 yards rushing. Assuming Sindelar is out for a while, seeing Plummer’s play today was encouraging.
Obviously we have a lot of growth to go. Losing DJ Washington on the offensive line hurts, but we’re a team that will learn a lot this year. Making a bowl is likely a longshot, but we saw a lot of growth since the TCU game. I have no delusions of a win next week in Happy Valley, but can Purdue beat Maryland? Nebraska? Illinois? Northwestern? Indiana? I think so. Another hated mantra is the “one game at a time” mantra, but we need that now. Beat Maryland, then worry about Illinois. Beat Illinois and worry about Nebraska. You get the drift.
I hate to say that we’re going to punt on a game, but given how good the Nittany Lions look right now let’s just see what happens in a likely loss. Among the 22 starters on offense and defense today we had 5 players (Matt McCann, Brycen Hopkins, Kai Higgins, Ben Holt, and Navon Mosley) that will be gone next year. Jeff Brohm is building for 2020 and 2021 right now, and the improvement from two weeks ago was significant. This year is a step back for a leap forward next year.
At least we should hope so. If not, we’re totally and utterly screwed because this year’s team is mostly next year’s team.