Purdue had Penn State on the ropes, and just flat out gave it away down the stretch. Thanks to unsound play, poor decisions and timely plays by the Nittany Lions, Purdue dropped their season opener 35-31 at the hands of Penn State.
It looked like Purdue fans would be celebrating all night in West Lafayette. Aidan O’Connell and the high powered offense had the ball, up 31-28 with a little over 6 minutes left. They proceeded to punt the ball just 1 minute and 37 seconds after getting it. Then, Penn State gave it right back and the Boilermaker faithful let out a sigh of relief just to cough it right back a little over 2 minutes later.
Sean Clifford and the Penn State offense put the final nail in the coffin when they marched down the field with ease to score the game winning touchdown, leaving the Boilermakers with less than a minute to score a touchdown.
You can say what you want about Purdue getting in that position up to that point, but this decided the game. A lot is going to be made of Jeff Brohm’s time management and play calling decisions down the stretch. Many fans were in disbelief on social media with the lack of running attempts when you have a lead. Purdue only ran the ball 1 time during the two series they held the advantage in the fourth quarter.
Now, does Purdue have that vintage Wisconsin run game? No, but King Doerue had a solid game out of the backfield with 57 yards on a 3.8 per rush average. That will suffice when you only need a few first downs to ice the game. Jeff Brohm outsmarted himself once again.
Not only did he call essentially all passing plays, but they were fairly deep routes that had to develop. Of course, Aidan O’Connell missed a few throws by just enough to where his receivers couldn’t make plays on them. Regardless, screen plays, traditional runs, sweeps and other creative ways to get the ball in your playmakers’ hands were ignored.
On top of that, Purdue simply played undisciplined down the stretch. Big plays got wiped away from bonehead mistakes, such as the chop block early in the fourth quarter that negated a huge catch by Payne Durham.
This is not all on the offense however. Purdue’s defense had a hard time making tackles, two plays in particular that issue came back to hurt the Boilermakers in a big way. The first was the 67 yard touchdown by the Nittany Lions at the end of the first half, which gave them an 11 point lead going into the break.
The next turned out to be the final blow. Clifford connected on a 10 yard touchdown to basically ice the game, and the whole drive was a mess for the defense. They had played well for most of the game, but either ran out of gas or weren’t locked in and tried to coast to a victory.
Not being able to capitalize on teams’ mistakes has been an achilles heel for Purdue under Jeff Brohm in the last few years. That is what the great teams do. Penn State goes three and out, you march down the field and steal any momentum they thought they had. It felt like Purdue was just begging for Penn State to climb back into it every time they were down for the count.
It was not all bad for the Boilermakers, as several players had great games. Possibly nobody more than Charlie Jones who exploded for 12 catches, 153 yards and a touchdown in his Purdue debut. Chuck Sizzle as Gus Johnson dubbed him, showed why receivers are flocking to Purdue to play in Jeff Brohm’s offense. He appears to be O’Connell’s favorite target and will be Purdue’s primary weapon on offense moving forward.
O’Connell did a good job for the most part spreading the ball around with five receivers catching three or more passes. TJ Sheffield and Mershawn Rice in particular had some big plays in key situations that kept Purdue moving down the field. Purdue’s signal caller also had the 9th 300-yard game of his career, which is good for 5th in program history.
Purdue decided not to make this one easy and it came back to bite them in a big way. You just cannot look past that fourth quarter performance when analyzing this game. That will be something this team is going to need to prove they can do, not only in the next few non-conference games, but when they play Big Ten opponents that are more familiar with them.
Had the Boilermakers converted just a few more first downs and stayed more disciplined, we would be having a much different conversation tonight. It’s a long season and one quarter will not be indicative of their potential future performances, but this leaves a bad taste in this team’s mouth for the next week and a half. They will look to rebound next week at home against Indiana State, which should provide them an opportunity to iron our the kinks they had tonight before another tough game against Syracuse in a couple weeks.