Saturdays’ win over Minnesota left me with mixed emotions. On one hand, that was the most complete game Purdue has played all season. The offense moved the ball on the ground at will, and Hudson Card was efficient in the passing game and decisive when it was time to tuck the ball and run. The defense shut down the Gopher run game, forcing them into an inefficient passing attack. Instead of Minnesota grinding down Purdue’s defense and holding the ball for the majority of the game, they were 4-14 on third down. On top of that, the Boilermakers avoided catastrophic mistakes. Card didn’t throw a pick, Mockobee didn’t fumble, and Purdue won the game going away.
I know Graham Harrell isn’t the most popular coach on campus at the moment, but he put together one heck of a pragmatic game plan on the fly. I know everyone wants “the air strike” offense, including Coach Walters, but when you have to play your backup center at left tackle and your right tackle was holding it down at Indiana Wesleyan last season, running is the safest option. Run blocking is significantly easier than pass blocking, especially in a zone scheme. Coach Harrell and Coach Johnson let their guys mash on the Minnesota front 7, and they won the game for Purdue.
Once Purdue established the run, it tamped down the Gopher pass rush and helped out the two emergency tackles. For the first time this season, Card was able to work from a consistently clean pocket and he delivered 250 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 68% of his passes. That version of Hudson Card can win, and win big, at Purdue. One game isn’t enough to solidify the job heading into spring, but a strong end to the season would be huge for Purdue’s starting signal caller heading into the offseason. If Card can show he’s the man moving forward, things get much easier for Purdue moving forward.
I won’t bore you with another game summary on a Wednesday; that’s not the point of this article (or is it a post? I never know what to call these things). While I’m thrilled with the results from last Saturday, it’s hard not to feel like this team has been cheated. This team, as flawed as it is, should be going to a bowl game, but Purdue’s ridiculous schedule (currently listed as the top SOS in the nation by Sports Reference) will cut things short.
I don’t get it.
I think some people misunderstand the argument. It’s not that Fresno State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Indiana (weird to think of them as a non-conference opponent, but that’s essentially Purdue’s 4th non-conference game) are a murderers’ row. It’s that they all have the potential to beat Purdue. I also write about Clemson and Kansas State, and while neither is having the season they anticipated, it’s not because of the schedule.
Before I get too far into things, I do want to acknowledge that some of the issues with the schedule stem from the past. Morgan Burke signed a home-and-home series with Virginia Tech in 2013. Purdue’s home game was in 2015, and Tech’s was this year. That’s a big gap for a series, and made things more difficult for Bobinski and Brohm.
What I don’t understand is the home-and-home with Syracuse Bobinski signed in 2018. I understand Jeff Brohm wanting a solid road test on the 2022 schedule, but he sold out the 2023 team to make it happen.
In order to get Syracuse on the 2022 schedule, they had to shoehorn them into the 2023 schedule. This, of course, is all Notre Dame’s fault because Purdue had an anchor non-conference game to build around every year when that series was up and running, but I digress. The Fighting Irish made things difficult, and Burke may have made things impossible with the weird Virginia Tech contract, but you’ve got to find a way to schedule an extra win, and you don’t do that by playing Fresno State.
It’s not like Fresno wasn’t good when Purdue scheduled them in 2019. They finished 2018 at 12-2 and ranked 21st. Purdue paid a good team 1.3 million dollars to come to West Lafayette and play football and I’ll never understand it. I get why Brohm wanted Syracuse and was willing to bite the bullet and play Virginia Tech and Syracuse in 2023, but adding Fresno State was mind-boggling. Out of all the local teams that would eat up a payday like that in exchange for providing Purdue with a win, Bobinski decided to schedule a random game with one of the most consistent programs on the west coast. Fresno State has more 10-win seasons in the last decade than Purdue has in the history of the program. They’re consistently good and consistently talented, thriving on 4-Star bounce-back guys out of California looking for a fresh start, and JuCo guys looking to prove a point. Jeff Tedford is considering one of the best offensive coaching minds in the nation. It’s tough to beat Fresno State when you can’t overwhelm them with talent.
This schedule was dumb even if Brohm was Purdue’s coach in 2023; it’s death for Ryan Walters. The narrative around this Purdue team doesn’t fit the reality. This isn’t a bad team. I’ve said that over and over again. This is a team with little room for error and can be overwhelmed by uber-talented teams like Ohio State and Michigan, but I’ve seen bad teams, and they don’t handle a team like Minnesota the way Purdue did on Saturday. I’m not saying the Gophers are good, but they’re not a bad, and Purdue made them look bad. You can say the same about the Illinois win for Purdue. Bad teams don’t win conference games 44-19.
What’s frustrating is Purdue is clearly better than both Illinois and Minnesota, but the Illini and Gophers are both 1 game away from bowl eligibility with 2 games remaining, meanwhile Purdue is already eliminated from playing a bonus exhibition game and giving their young roster an additional season (bowl season) of practices.
Toledo - W
Kansas - L
Florida Atlantic - W
Eastern Michigan - W
North Carolina - L
Louisiana - W
If Purdue plays either of these non-conference schedules, they’re sitting at 4-6 with Northwestern and Indiana left on the schedule. That looks a lot like the 2017 Purdue team in Jeff Brohm’s first year that needed to beat Iowa and Indiana to make it to 6 wins. It’s wild that scheduling will play an inordinate role in the fan evaluation of Walters’s first season, but it doesn’t stop there. 2024 is even worse. Granted, at least Coach Walters gets one cupcake in Indiana State, but then gets Notre Dame at home before flying out to Corvallis to play Oregon State.
I would say Purdue is scheduling like a consistent top 10 program, except consistent top 10 programs don’t schedule like this. That’s probably why they’re top 10 programs. For example, in 2024 Clemson opens with Georgia in what I would have considered a toss-up before this year, but then evens things out with two teams they hold a significant talent advantage over in Appalachian State and The Citadel. Ohio State plays a murderers’ row of Southern Miss, Western Michigan, and Marshall. Michigan has a tough non-conference with Fresno State, Texas, and Arkansas State, but the gap in talent between Fresno State and Michigan is vastly different than the talent gap (if there is one) between Purdue and Fresno State. Alabama has Western Kentucky, USF, and Mercer. The mighty Georgia Bulldogs play Clemson followed by Tennessee Tech and UMass. I wasn’t even aware Tennessee Tech had a team. The general scheduling idea is to schedule two cupcakes and one marquee game (unless you’re Ohio State) if you plan on contending for anything.
What’s frustrating about Purdue’s schedule this season is there is no marquee game or cupcake, just 3 teams that Purdue will normally play close. I’d rather play Georgia and two cupcakes than the teams Purdue had this season. They finally get things right in 2025 with a schedule featuring Ball State, UConn, and Notre Dame, giving Purdue two cupcakes and a marquee game, but that may be too little, too late for a first-year coach trying to build fan confidence and recruiting momentum.
I can feel some of y’all seething at this article already. I get it. At the end of the day, Purdue pays Ryan Walters to win the football games on the schedule. He hasn’t won enough this year to make a bowl game, and that should be the minimum expectation for Purdue football; otherwise, we’re simply Indiana with better-looking uniforms and more people in the stands. The wins need to come, and come sooner than later, but Mike Bobinski and Jeff Brohm didn’t do Coach Walters any favors with their scheduling.
If I were Purdue’s head coach, I’d ask the A.D. to chip off a little of that Big 10 money and see how willing Oregon State is to go away next season, and then I’d replace them with Eastern Western Michigan Tech State for two guaranteed wins. Drop Oregon State, and Purdue still has Notre Dame, Oregon, Ohio State, and Penn State on the schedule along with the usual Big 10 suspects. Finding 5 Big 10 wins to make a bowl game is tough. That means Purdue probably needs to be perfect against Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Illinois and then find a win against either Nebraska or Wisconsin. Finding 4 Big 10 wins is much easier because it allows you to drop one bad game and you still have some wiggle room. If you beat the 4 teams you should beat, you’re in; if you drop a game to Illinois on the road, you can still replace it with a winnable Nebraska game.
Coaching is all about momentum in the college game. Purdue scheduled itself out of a bowl game this season, and is in danger of doing the same next year. Miss two straight bowl games, and you should be coaching for your job in season number three at Purdue. It’s going to be an uphill battle for Coach Walters to avoid that fate in 2025, and that’s not his fault. He’s starting his coaching career with an undermanned team playing a top 10 schedule. Regardless, he better figure out a way to win 6 on the schedule next season or get the schedule changed.
Purdue fans are patient, but not that patient. Explanations turn into excuses awfully fast.