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Nebraska 37, Purdue 27: A Lost Season

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The final two games are about building for 2021.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Can Purdue recover from that call and start to turn a corner here in the next two? They feel like critical, must have games not just for this year, but for Brohm going forward. I still have confidence in him. I think it is a slower build than we had hoped after that 7-6 first year, but there is little questions that things are better overall than they have been in quite some time. I feel like 5-3 after the “Champions Week” game is a good mark for this year. The Northwestern loss isn’t bad. We should have beaten Minnesota but Iowa has looked really good the last three games and could have easily been a loss. Getting to 5-3 with only a loss at Indiana (and we’re losing to Indiana. Sorry) in a year of strangeness is progress, but dropping either of the next two will raise my level of concern for Brohm going forward.

I wrote that paragraph on November 24th in a lengthy post about the current state of the Jeff Brohm era. Purdue was in a tough spot. It had just lost a game through no faults of its own at Minnesota, but was coming home to play against two teams it was favored against. It was an opportunity to shake off a frustrating loss and show that the Brohm era was still moving forward.

Purdue failed at that opportunity.

Jeff Brohm still has the exact same record as Danny Hope through 44 games. Unfortunately, all of the goodwill is gone after the last eight quarters of football. It wasn’t so much that Purdue lost today. It was the way it lost.

  • It handed the Cornhuskers seven points on a blocked where freshman Brendan Cropsey, making the first punt of his career, had absolutely no chance at getting off a successful punt due to a breakdown in front of him.
  • It handed them seven more points when Cam Taylor-Britt broke a 27 yard return and got 15 more yards for a penalty I have never even heard of: 15 yard sideline interference during the play. How on earth does that happen?
  • As usual, the Bob Diaco defense had absolutely no answers on third and long. None. I was stunned to see the Cornhuskers were only 6 of 15 on 3rd downs, but they still kicked three field goals after three of those failed attempts, so that doesn’t exactly help. They converted a 3rd and 8 for 25 yards that set up a field goal, a 3rd and 10 that set up a touchdown after Purdue had cut it to 20-10 in the first half, and perhaps one of the easiest conversions I have ever seen. Early in the second half Nebraska was facing a 3rd and 1 at the Purdue 48. They emptied the backfield for Taylor Martinez, a quarterback well known as a runner, yet all four Purdue linebackers were backing up at the snap. Martinez ran easily for 15 yards.
  • Purdue had dumb penalty after dumb penalty after dumb penalty. There were holds that erased big gains and killed drives. There were penalties that kept Nebraska drives alive. There were special teams penalties that aided returns.
  • Purdue went for it on fourth and less than a foot but decided to run into the teeth of the defense from 7 yards in the backfield instead of sneak it.

Through all this, Purdue somehow still had a chance. After Payne Durham and David Bell had scored touchdowns around the rare defensive stop Purdue had forced a 3rd and 21 for Nebraska inside the Purdue 20, only for Dedrick Mackey to commit one of the stupidest penalties I have ever seen. Martinez’s throw on 2nd an 21 was well over the head of Zavier Betts, but for some idiotic reason Mackey felt compelled to lower his shoulder and hit him for an unnecessary roughness. All he had to do was hold up and maybe bump him gently, but he went for a hit he knew was unnecessary. Had Purdue faced a 3rd and 21 there is a good chance, even with our defense, Nebraska goes conservative and we get the ball back near midfield down seven.

I think that last point hurts the most. Purdue was mostly awful all day long. It still had a chance if Mackey doesn’t go for that hit. If we get the ball back down seven with about nine minutes to go and with an offense in sync finally who knows what happens. We would even have time and space to run the ball from midfield. Instead, Nebraska got a first down and drove for a critical field goal.

While we still have two games left (assuming the Champions Week thing still happens) there is nothing to play for this season, and that is frustrating when you consider how the year started and who we have played. Through the first seven quarters of the season Purdue looked pretty good. It earned a very nice win over an Iowa team that is now 5-2 and in the top 20. It was sloppy, but up three touchdowns on the road at Illinois entering the fourth quarter.

Since the fourth quarter of the Illinois game started, however, holy shit have we been bad. We almost completely collapsed with that three touchdown lead and needed a red zone stop in the final 4 minutes to hold on there. We couldn’t run against Northwestern and failed to tie with two fourth quarter chances. The defense struggled against Minnesota, we had special teams errors, and a terrible call cost us. Then you have the last two weeks.

That is what is so frustrating. There are a myriad of issues right now and if even half of them were fixed we could be 6-0 or, at worst, 5-1 right now.

We have an offensive line that struggles to consistently protect the quarterback and open holes in the run game.

We have playcalling that is forcing the ball to Rondale Moore even though teams are bracketing him well.

We have a team making stupid penalties.

We have a defense that cannot get pressure on opposing quarterbacks at all, allowing them to pick us apart and find wide open receivers at will.

We have a defense that cannot consistently stop plays for less than 5-7 yards on first and second downs.

We have special teams coverage that is making poor plays and giving up yards.

We can’t punt.

We have a team that cannot take advantage of another team’s mistakes, as Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska gave us plenty of chances.

We cannot force turnovers because we haven’t gotten one since the Northwestern game.

We are running a defense where players are grossly out of position on nearly every play and no one is playing to their strengths.

THROUGH ALL THAT... Purdue has still somehow had chances to win each of the last four games.

Indiana is going to beat us next week. It is going to be bad. They can both score a ton of points and they have an excellent defense. If Purdue stays within four touchdowns of them it will be a mercy. We might as well go out guns blazing with trick plays and balls to the wall like in 2017. Then we have the bizarre Champions week, probably against Michigan State, Michigan, Maryland, or Penn State. Purdue could beat any of those four, but don’t count on it.

I still believe in Brohm overall, but he needs to sit down with Painter and have a chat about recognizing what needs to be changed about his style and actually implementing said changes. Brohm right now is in a similar position to Painter entering 2014-15: Coming off of two subpar years and the questions are getting very loud, but Painter had the cushion of at least two more years due to the contract situation.

Brohm has at least two more years. Can he respond? Last year was the injury year and this year is a bizarre COVID year that is hard on pretty much everyone. Go ahead and toss both away, but things are not trending well because everyone is facing the same adversity this year and instead of being at minimum 5-1 we’re 2-4 and trending downward.

Next year is absolutely critical for Brohm. The goodwill of 2017 and 2018 is lost and it is time to put up or shut up with what we are paying him. At most he will have 10 guys recruited by Hazell still around (I am counting any seniors that opt in for their free ride, plus Mark Stickford and Dedrick Mackey who committed in 2016 while Hazell was still coach). It will be his team and the talent is there with his first recruiting classes, which were really good, coming of age. There won’t be any excuses anymore.