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Purdue 31, Maryland 29: Learning Tenacity

This team is different.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Brohm was in the wilderness after the 2020 season. For as much as he is being paid by Purdue, today marks the first time he has had an overall record over .500 since the end of the 2018 regular season. After losing to Auburn in that bloodletting of a Music City Bowl he was 13-13, and then proceeded to go 6-12 over the next 18 games. The 2019 season was lost to a spate of injuries. The 2020 season is basically a complete wash due to COVID.

A corner seems to have been turned, however, and today was just the latest example. Since the start of 2021 Purdue is an impressive 13-6, and of the six losses, three were games Purdue could easily have won in the final minute. Even this year is a microcosm of that growth. Purdue lost late leads against Penn State and Syracuse. The last two weeks against Minnesota and Maryland it showed improvement and made the plays it needed to make in order to win.

Today was just more of a wild ride. Since it is fall break this coming week the family and I headed to Gatlinburg to have a nice trip. It was a beautiful drive through northern Kentucky on a perfect fall day as I listened to the game, but I was glad that we stopped for gas at Buc-ee’s in Richmond, Kentucky. Just as I was putting the gas nozzle in my car Payne Durham was making is 56 yard catch and run down to the two as Purdue was nursing a 1 point lead.

The next 98 seconds of game time is why Purdue fans have a mental complex.

Purdue couldn’t run out the clock entirely, but wanted to score. Maryland knew we wanted to score, but they wanted time on the clock. It became a strange bargaining session where Maryland knew they were very likely to surrender 3-7 points before getting the ball back, while Purdue wanted to take as much time and as many time outs as they could from the Terrapins. It was almost like seeing an MLB trade deadline deal in real life. In the end, Purdue exchanged 52 seconds and Maryland’s last two timeouts for 7 points and the football.

Even then it felt like Purdue could have done more. If Devin Mockobee simply falls down short of the end zone there Purdue likely kicks a field goal and gives Maryland the ball back with a 4 point lead and around 40 seconds left and no timeouts. Of course, Maryland’s TD drive took just 37 seconds because of Charmin soft coverage and pressure, so I guess it worked out.

Even as it became blatantly obvious the Terps were going to score a TD we still had the ace of one play to either tie it or seal the game. Regardless of how fast Maryland scored, they needed to go for 2 and convert. Even that was fraught. They converted at first, only to have it waved off because a lineman blocked too far down field. Purdue pressured Tagovailoa into a bad throw, then Tyrone Tracy recovered a harrowing onside kick for the win.

And yes, I was well aware Chad Ryland was waiting on the other sideline to beat Purdue at the horn for a second time in his career if the Terps recovered the onside kick.

We’re Purdue. We nearly fumbled a kneel down against FAU away. Of course I was nervous with the clock running with 10 seconds left and the teams shaking hands because we didn’t need to snap it again.

Contributor emeritus Juan Crespo said it best today: Purdue could be 6-0 right now or 1-5. The only game so far that was not in doubt with five minutes left was Indiana State. As I was watching those critical 98 seconds today from inside a Buc-ee’s I am sure people thought I was a lunatic pacing the store and watching on my phone. When my wife and son found me in the store they asked what was wrong because they said it looked like I had been running a 5K.

No, I am just a Purdue fan. This is my default setting in close games.

At least we have seen Purdue get better the last two weeks. they have made the plays necessary when it has mattered most. Last week it was a clutch drive for a field goal, a 3 and out, and a big run by Mockobee. Today it was a blocked extra point, a big drive after doing very little offensively, a three and out, and another chunk play.

Two weeks ago after barely surviving Florida Atlantic I wondered if this team was going to fall apart and struggled to make a bowl. Now I am thinking “We could legitimately win out and have a one game shot in Indy at the Rose Bowl.” That’s just being a Purdue fan. It is a wild swing of emotions. Right now I am convinced we’re never making a Final Four again, but the moment we win our next NCAA Tournament game I will begin imagining the path towards our eventual national title.

This team is different. They have a tenacious defense that can make big plays and cover up an offense that stalls a little too much. Yes, Jeff Brohm has struggled in close games. but the last two weeks it was the better team in the final minutes. The Purdue fan in me is guarded because every time it feels like we turn a corner we run into a brick wall. but we do have a chance to accomplish something pretty special this year. We had two tough road games where our opponent had a lot of the media hyping them up, only to have us win. We’re halfway through the year and we’re 4-2, just like last season. The next six games can be very big, because a runt hat leads to Indy means consecutive nine win (or better?) seasons for the first time in a quarter century. Jeff Brohm is no longer a new coach, but he is in a prime spot to become an established coach.

It’s a good place to be, especially when people are already talking up a Nebraska team that “has put it all together” after beating two crappy teams.

Let’s keep this run going.