By CLIFF BRUNT
After a week of unprecedented hoopla and an unexpected endorsement from ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, all has unfortunately returned to normal in Boiler Country.
Purdue was on top of the world a week ago. The Boilermakers were 3-1, had nearly knocked off Notre Dame and had become a trendy pick to win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl.
Then, it all came crashing down. Michigan’s Denard Robinson ran for 235 yards as the Wolverines rolled past the Boilermakers 44-13 last Saturday.
It was was a painful reality check, but one Purdue might appreciate later. I said before the game (in this piece) that Purdue needed to beware of believing the hype. It seems the Boilermakers bought what they had heard and simply did not show up against the Wolverines.
Better that it happened now than say, against Indiana with something big on the line.
See, now that the shine is off and Purdue is back to being under the radar, the Boilermakers can function normally again. As I had said, Purdue hasn’t won often enough or been the favorite in big games enough to know how to handle high expectations. Now that the Boilermakers understand that they can’t just walk in and win games, there should be a higher level of focus going forward.
That’s a good thing, because a schedule that once looked favorable doesn’t look so good anymore. Wisconsin, next week’s opponent, is down but appears to be getting better. Ohio State looks scary the next week. Even if Purdue plays its best, the Boilers might lose that one. Minnesota should be a win, but Penn State has improved, and that now looks like a tough game. Iowa might be back on track. Purdue should beat Illinois, but then the Boilermakers close at home against an Indiana team with a dangerous offense. Indiana probably isn’t going anywhere this season with that defense, but the Hoosiers have enough firepower to compete with the Boilermakers and possibly spoil their season.
All isn’t bad for Purdue. The scoreboard doesn’t lie, but it was only one loss. The winner in the Leaders Division likely will have at least one loss and probably more. And there’s an opportunity on Saturday against Wisconsin to regain respect and their footing in the division race.
Purdue still has the talent and potential on the roster to go to the Rose Bowl. The Boilermakers are always best with a chip on their shoulders. That chip should be back and firmly in place.
There still are questions.
Quarterback Caleb TerBush failed to alleviate concerns about whether he can lead this team to a championship. The defense, considered the strength of the team, has surrendered 85 points and 943 yards the past two weeks, getting shredded in two entirely different ways by Marshall and Michigan. Suddenly, Purdue has gone from Rose Bowl favorite to a team that could struggle to be bowl eligible. All that preseason swagger has died down.
Don’t worry, the swagger can be regained by working hard throughout the week, winning tough games, then doing it again the next week. This team has the ability to do that. The Boilermakers are armed with a painful example of what happens when they aren’t ready. Now that the Boilermakers know how hard they have to play, now that they have been humiliated, the Purdue team we all expected should return for the rest of the season.
You can thank both Michigan and Kirk Herbstreit later.