Four weeks into the season and Purdue sits at 1-3 after losing to 3 good teams at home and beating a mediocre team on the road. I think I fall into the large group of Boilermaker fans that saw the potential of a quick reload in the new era of college football and the transfer portal. Unfortunately, the transition between coaches and schemes is not always quick. Purdue is only a third of a season into the Walters Era and there are clearly going to be uphill battles. I predicted 7 wins at the beginning of the year and now I am hoping for 3-4 wins this year. And this is not to say that Ryan Walters and company have been complete failures. The talent left over from the Brohm era is not enough to be a consistently successful P5 program.
Of course there is talent on this team, but we are still talking about young men who had to come in and learn a room full of new teammates, a new coaching staff, and a new scheme all while being pitted with the statistically most difficult schedule in the season. Do I expect more out of this Purdue team? Of course I do but do I also recognize that it is much too early to start bringing up Hazell comparisons? Absolutely. Honestly, what did everyone expect out of this game against Wisconsin, a team Purdue hasn’t beaten in 20 years? Wisconsin did Wisconsin things in this game, dominating in the trenches, running the ball until their feet hurt, and waiting for Purdue to shoot themselves in the foot. If Purdue avoids Wisconsin on the schedule next season, the losing streak will be old enough to drink by the next time this matchup comes around.
This game felt like Wisconsin started at 7 while Purdue waited until 7:30 to play. The first half drives went as follows: Purdue 3 and out, Wisconsin 62-yard TD drive, Purdue negative 1-yard drive and punt (a shank no less), Wisconsin 38-yard TD drive, Purdue 58-yard FG drive, Wisconsin 75-yard TD drive, Purdue 3 and out, Wisconsin 6-play drive and punt, Purdue 61-yard drive ending with an interception. Purdue had 5 first-half drives and managed just 3 points compared to Wisconsin’s 4 drives that ended in 21 points. Purdue was incapable of executing fundamental football across all phases in the first half.
Penalties and lack of blocking forced Purdue in long third down attempts to the point where the average distance of third down plays was 16 yards before the final drive dropped it down to 10.1 yards. Purdue actually would’ve been better off throwing the ball away on first and second down and then attempting 3rd and 10. In the first half, Purdue was called for 5 penalties for 45 yards, including two holding calls that negated a 24-yard Mockobee rush and a 15-yard Card scramble. The unfortunate thing is the Purdue was actually moving the ball pretty well if not for 4 plays that each derailed a drive. Purdue finished the half with 165 total yards but only 3 points to show for it. I am conflicted on the last play of the half where Card got the snap off with a second left but a missed PI against Wisconsin gifted them with an interception at the goal line. I’m conflicted because I would have liked the offense to spike the ball and decide to draw up a play or kick a long field goal. Even without clocking the ball, he should-be PI would’ve put the ball closer for a field goal. 21-6 may not be much better than 21-3 at half but a 2 score game is better than 2.
On defense, the ghosts of Shrader were back as Tanner Mordecai took some read options and just ran away. Coming down to execution, Purdue failed to tackle Wisconsin runners, allowing them to gain 3-4 extra yards on runs. This helped Wisconsin start 8-8 on third down, an apparent staple of the Purdue defense. Purdue’s only 3rd down stop was set up by two false starts, a dropped deep ball, and a flat route that nowhere. Purdue was constantly burned on 3rd down passes because of an issue that lasted the whole game: the Boilermaker pass rush was a non-factor. Mordecai had at least 4-5 seconds in the pocket on seemingly every pass to which he would either scramble for yards or deliver a pass to a receiver that finally got open. The 4-man rush for Purdue did nothing and Wisconsin took advantage in the game.
The special teams weren’t great either. Yes, Julio Macias made his lone kick, a 34-yard field goal, and congrats to him on making his first career field goal. That’s where the positives end. Two kickoff returns did not make it back to the 25-yard line (14 and 19) and that cannot happen. The lone punt for Wisconsin ended up being a 60-yard bomb after TJ Sheffield let the ball bounce and get downed at the 3-yard line. Jack Ansell was abysmal while punting, averaging 34.3 yards per punt including a 20-yard shank that started Wisconsin’s second drive at the Purdue 38 already down 7-0. Just a total lack of execution in all phases that made the game unwinnable at half.
Ok, here’s the silver lining: Purdue looked much better in the third quarter. Extrapolate on the 3rd quarter and Purdue wins 56-24, has 4 sacks, allows none, and is penalty / turnover free while putting up 600 yards of offense. Dare to dream, right? Coming out of the half, Purdue could have just lied down but I think they showed good heart. While that’s not enough to win games, it’s an important first step.
Following a Wisconsin field goal to make it 24-3, the Purdue offense came out balanced and looked damn impressive on back to back drives, both resulting in touchdowns. Each drive was 75 yards, lasted under 4 minutes, and moved like clockwork. After a Wisconsin field goal made it 30-17 the following drive, Purdue looked to move the ball again. At the Wisconsin 49, Card made his first real mistake of the game throwing an interception on a deep crossing route where the defender left his receiver running a post to jump the route. At this point, Purdue was in a must score situation each time they had the ball going forward. Back to back jailhouse blitzes ended the next Purdue drive inside the Wisconsin 35 after Card was unable to hit an open Burks because a Wisconsin defender was in his face. The offense did get the ball back with just over 6 minutes left and still only a 13-point deficit. Then the dumbest play of the game occurred as Hudson Card was pressure and the ball was a wobbler coming out of his hand to Mockobee in the flat. Mockobee grabbed the ball and stood still, but the whistle never blew and two Wisconsin defenders punched the ball out and recovered. The play was reviewed and stood. Two fumbles in one play and the game was all but over. The offense had one more shot down 21 and drove into the redzone but back to back incompletions turned the ball over on downs with 1:23 to go.
Again, the defense showed heart in the second half, showing improvement. Rather than giving up touchdowns, the defense began giving up field goals. The game got down to a 10 point lead and the defense made a stand by intercepting a pass to give the offense another shot. Botros Alisandro cut off a route and ripped the ball away from the Wisconsin receiver. Funny enough, Alisandro missed on a chance to do the same thing in the first half that ended in a long 3rd down conversion for Wisconsin; see, improvement. The defensive drives in the second half went as follows: FG, FG, FG (started at Purdue 46), INT, PUNT, TD (started at Purdue 26), GAME. In no means is allowing four scoring drives in a half ideal, but allowing field goals rather than touchdowns in non-garbage time was a clear improvement. I thought the defense was much more aggressive in the second half, sending 5 or more defenders on the rush multiple times. The coaching staff clearly made adjustments but small mistakes had a way of snowballing in this one.
Speaking of mistakes snowballing, the special teams unit made some costly errors in this half too. The kickoff coverage allowed Wisconsin to start it’s opening second-half drive at the 34 yard line. Then after all of the momentum the offense gained by scoring back to back touchdowns, the coverage allowed Wisconsin to get up to the 39 while also hitting the guy late out of bounds. That really seemed like a backbreaker of sorts at the time. The only positives are that the kickoff return team started at the 25 or 35 each drive by fair catching the ball or letting it go out of bounds and Macias made his PAT’s.
Tanner Mordecai 14-yard rush 7-0
Tanner Mordecai 6-yard rush 14-0
Julio Macias 34-yard field goal 14-3
Braelon Allen 14-yard rush 21-3
Nathanial Vakos 38-yard field goal 24-3
Tyrone Tracy Jr 19-yard rush 24-10
Nathanial Vakos 22-yard field goal 27-10
Hudson Card 6-yard rush 27-17
Nathanial Vakos 48-yard field goal 30-17
Braelon Allen 4-yard rush (2pt good) 38-17
Purdue will desperately look for a win next Saturday against Illinois. Ryan Walters will coach against his former team and Purdue will still look for it’s first conference and home victory of the year.