It has been a long five days since the collapse in Reno. My expectations for the rest of the 2019 season have been all over the place as a result. Purdue lost mostly because two fourth quarter errors in the punt return game handed the Wolf Pack 10 points. Take those away and the boilers have a 24-point lead with 10 minutes left instead of a 14-point lead and the Boilers likely cruise to victory.
It is terribly frustrating because yes, it happened again. Purdue blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead and ended up with a loss. It happened in 2017 against Nebraska, last year against Wisconsin, and almost happened against Iowa. Through 27 games of the Brohm era it is a disturbing trend that we have blown a double-digit fourth quarter lead four times. This is without mentioning fourth quarter leads against Louisville (Loss), Arizona (win), and Eastern Michigan (loss).
I know Purdue is still an extremely young team and that depth needs to develop. I know that our young players are among the most talented we have had come through West Lafayette. Maybe in time these issues will go away, but for now, they are a concern to be sure. Friday night was a huge dampener after a summer of expectation.
Most Purdue fans expected to enter Saturday with a 1-0 start and the hope that three straight home games could deliver the early jump to 2020 and 2021. Instead, it is no possibly a must-win if we want to make a bowl this year. I thought a reasonable expectation for the first three games before the season started was 2-1, but in that 2-1 I was counting Nevada as a win, as I am sure most others were. Now, it is like last season when we expected Eastern Michigan as a win if we were going to make it to 6-6. The margin for error is now slimmer, especially when all four remaining road games are against preseason top 25 teams.
The good news is that the next three games are at home and I can see Purdue winning each game individually. It all starts on Saturday, when Vanderbilt comes to town for a game that Purdue desperately needs to win and where it is once again a favorite by a touchdown.
2018 Record: 6-7, 3-5 SEC East
Bowl Result: Lost to Baylor 45-38 in Texas Bowl
Blog Representation: Anchor of Gold
Series with Purdue: Vanderbilt leads 2-0
Last Purdue win: None
Last Vanderbilt win: 26-0 at Vanderbilt on 10/3/1942
Head Coach: Derek Mason (24-29 in 6th season at Vanderbilt)
2019 so far for Vanderbilt
The Commodores had a tough opener last week. They hosted No. 3 Georgia and fell behind 21-0 less than 10 minutes in. The Bulldogs then put it on cruise control and walked to a 30-6 win. That is the luxury of being No. 3 in the nation with a wealth of talent. They basically just sat on Vanderbilt’s head for three quarters and gave up only a pair of field goals. Vanderbilt had only 225 yards of offense and gave up 330 yards rushing. Considering how much trouble Purdue had running the ball last week that could be a good sign.
Who to Watch on Offense
Ke’Shawn Vaughn – RB – Vaughn is a very familiar name to Purdue fans. During the 2015 recruiting cycle Darrell Hazell went after him big time, but he eventually chose Illinois over Purdue. As a true freshman in 2015 he then rushed for 723 yards and 6 TDs for the Illini, but it was a 180-yard, 2 TD game against Purdue in a 48-14 rout that year that was pretty much the death knell for the Hazell era. Vaughn transferred to Vanderbilt after the 2016 season and rushed for 1,244 yards and 14 total touchdowns last year. He had 73 yards last week, but is still considered to be one of the top rushers in the nation.
Riley Neal – QB – Neal had a rough week last week, going 14 of 25 with just 85 yards passing, but Georgia’s defense is a touch better than Purdue’s. Neal is a grad transfer from Ball State that was a three-year starter who amassed close to 7,000 yards passing and 46 touchdown passes. He is pretty much the opposite of Carson Strong last week in that he is incredibly experienced. He is also playing back in his home state since he is from Yorktown, Indiana. We’ll have to watch Neal on the ground too, as at Ball State, as he rushed for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career in Muncie.
Jared Pinkney – TE – There was not a lot in the passing game for Vanderbilt last week, but Pinkney is a four-year player that had 774 yards and 7 TDs last year as a tight end. He only had 2 receptions for 11 yards last week, but he is a big target at 6’4” and 260 pounds.
Who to Watch on Defense
Dashaun Jerkins – S – The redshirt freshman was one of the few stars defensively for Vanderbilt last week. He finished with 14 total tackles against the Bulldogs. That was a solid debut for a player that saw action in two games a year ago.
Feleti Afemui – LB – Afemui was another relative newcomer that had a solid debut last week. After only having two tackles in 2018 he finished with 8 last week.
Dimitri Moore – LB – Moore had only two tackles last week, but he was second on the team last season with 84. Before the year started he was expected to be the key to the defense, but last season Vanderbilt was only 13thout of 14 teams in the SEC defensively.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Ryley Guay – K – Guay provided the only offense for Vanderbilt last week with a pair of second quarter field goals, hitting from a long of 46 yards. He was 13 of 22 last season, so he is off to a good start already.
Harrison Smith – P – Let’s face it: Purdue’s work facing punt returns last week was disastrous at best. Now we’re facing a punter that averaged more than 47 yards per kick on 7 attempts last week. Smith had a long of 54 and at least did his job of trying to keep Vanderbilt in the game.
Vanderbilt was expected to have a pretty dynamic offense coming into this year, but was held in check last week. How much of that was the struggle of breaking in a new quarterback and how much was it playing Georgia? I tend to believe it was mostly the latter. The Georgia defense is light years better than Purdue. We were pretty good last week but collapsed late because of substitution issues, fatigue, altitude, and simple bad luck (I still think that was a Kenneth Major interception in the corner of the end zone).
Offensively, I liked what Purdue was able to do last week until the fourth quarter, but there was no running game. Overall, Elijah Sindelar wasn’t bad. He played well enough to win and got burned by a couple of tipped pass interceptions, dropped passes, and no ability to kill the clock because of a lack of a running game.
Let’s be honest: Purdue beat itself last week. With no running game and five turnovers it is hard to beat anyone. Even with that, Purdue is still in overtime without a true freshman walk-on kicker bombing in a kick from Area 51 or if the replay official sees Major’s near interception a little differently. The first three quarters last week were more than enough to win on most days, and it will only take a little clean up in critical areas to turn things around.
Vanderbilt is better than Nevada, however. They crushed Nevada 41-10 last season and will make Purdue pay for its mistakes. I still like Purdue at home in this one, but as we saw last week, nothing is automatic.