By CLIFF BRUNT
There was only one way Purdue’s epic flop against Minnesota could have been worse, and guess what? It happened.
What a double-whammy for Purdue coach Danny Hope.
Purdue, which entered the season with all the returning starters and all the hype, fell behind 44-7 against Minnesota and eventually lost 44-28 to the last-place Golden Gophers. Meanwhile, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was celebrating his first Big Ten win in two seasons, a 31-17 victory at Illinois.
Recruits across the Midwest turned on the television to see that Purdue crumbled on the same day Indiana took a major step forward. It is mind blowing how far apart the expectations were for these teams heading into the season. It’s even more shocking how things have flipped.
It could get worse for fans of the Black and Gold. I’m going to throw something out there that is going to make you sick.
Indiana is the only team in the Leaders Division eligible for the Big Ten title game that has a conference win other than Wisconsin. The Badgers, 3-2 in the conference, have a bye. Indiana hosts Iowa on Saturday in a winnable game. Say Indiana does win. That means Wisconsin is 3-2 and Indiana is 2-3. Guess what comes the next week? Indiana hosts Wisconsin. Don’t laugh – nobody has stopped Indiana’s offense yet. If Indiana wins those two games, the Hoosiers control the road to Indianapolis.
Yes, this is still football season.
It gets worse for Purdue fans. Wisconsin closes at home against Ohio State and at Penn State, two teams that could very well beat the Badgers. IU’s final two games are at Penn State and at Purdue. Based on what has happened so far, whose schedule looks better?
I can’t believe I’m writing this: it’s not that far fetched that Indiana could end up in the Big Ten title game. I believe 4-4 in the conference might be good enough. If IU gets there, it would be devastating for Purdue in more ways than I have time to write.
Purdue was supposed to contend in a weakened Leaders Division. The Boilermakers instead have been blown out in three of four conference games and botched what could have been a program-changing win at Ohio State. The Boilermakers had an eight-point lead against the Buckeyes in the final minute and faced a backup quarterback who started his final drive 61 yards away from the end zone. Somehow, Purdue lost.
Meanwhile, nobody expected Indiana to win anything, and here the Hoosiers sit with a golden opportunity.
In the face of the critics, Wilson kept talking about small victories and improvements and eventually, things started to happen. The Hoosiers had close calls in Big Ten losses to Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State before the breakthrough against Illinois. After Indiana’s 52-49 loss to Ohio State, I journeyed to Bloomington for Wilson’s weekly press conference and asked him how he would deal with the fact that folks in Bloomington were patting his players on the back about coming close. He offered this brilliant analogy:
I told my kids the other day as a team, ˜Don’t start acting like my kids when they were little, and every time we were going somewhere, they say, ˜Well, when are we going to get there?’ My answer was, ˜We’re going to get there when we get there. We’ve got to keep going because we’re not going to win, we’re not going to get there until we get there, and we’ve got to keep going.
“So, just like my little kids complaining about it, if we stop, we’re never going to get there. So quit worrying about it, quit complaining about it, let’s keep fighting, let’s keep going down the road and see if we can get there.
They got there against Illinois because they believe in their coach.
Meanwhile, Purdue’s players don’t seem to buy what Hope is selling. There is no reasonable explanation for Purdue to allow 44 points to a team that scored 39 points in its first three Big Ten games combined.
In a desperation move that really shouldn’t have been a desperation move, Hope has benched Caleb TerBush and turned to Robert Marve as his new starting quarterback. It might be too late. If Purdue somehow runs the table with Marve, which is not beyond the realm of possibility now that the Boilermakers have a player who can get the ball to their outside weapons, Purdue fans will be left to wonder what might have been if Hope hadn’t been so stubborn about making the switch in the first place. I know, Marve got hurt against Notre Dame. But I called for Marve to be the starter after the season opener (story here). Making what seemed like an obvious move back then might have limited some of the backlash Hope is getting now.
Purdue’s loss to Minnesota was damaging on multiple fronts. Minnesota is not Michigan. The perception that comes from getting blown out by a struggling program isn’t good.
But the real damage is the combination of Purdue’s tank job and Indiana’s surge. The Boilermakers definitely need some positive energy. They need to re-convince young players in the state that West Lafayette, not Bloomington, is the place to go. A win Saturday against Penn State would be a good start.