With about 12 minutes left in the second quarter of Saturday’s Homecoming game, Purdue led the visiting Northwestern Wildcats 21-3.
Joey Elliott, the Boilermakers’ senior quarterback, already had three touchdown passes and Purdue fans were dreaming of a rout.
Too bad games last more than 18 minutes these days.
The Boilers’ offense didn’t score again, and Purdue turned the ball over six times en route to dropping their fourth straight game, this one by a score of 27-21.
The half dozen giveaways included three in less than two minutes of game time, allowing the Wildcats to pull within five points before intermission.
It got to the point where every time a Purdue player was hit or tackled, the crowd was just waiting for the ball to come loose. I’m tempted to call the ugly execution a Pee Wee Football performance, but that would be an insult to grade-schoolers everywhere.
Purdue escaped further embarrassment in the first half when a fourth turnover was reversed on a video replay. If that call had stood, the home team would have had a mind-boggling four turnovers in a span of five touches of the football.
After what could be the most dreadful performances in school history, Purdue still had a chance to win the game, driving the ball to the Northwestern 7-yard line in the final minute, but fittingly, the Boilermakers stalled out short of the end zone in a game that Danny Hope’s team really didn’t deserve to win anyway.
The most optimistic fans will give Hope the benefit of the doubt as he tries to overturn a culture of losing in West Lafayette, where it’s been expected that anything can go wrong will (at least since Kyle Orton’s infamous fumble in 2004).
These fans point out that on paper, Purdue doesn’t have a ton of talent and has at least been competitive each of the past four weeks.
Personally, I tend to fall into this camp. Hope deserves a chance to win with his own players, as the speedy Florida recruits still aren’t seeing the field on a regular basis.
Instead, the holdovers like Aaron Valentin and Jaycen Taylor are fumbling away opportunities, and things seem to be going from bad to worse.
However, there are other fans who are ready to pull the plug on the Danny Hope era after less than half a season. Questionable timeouts and ill-advised decisions (throwing the ball from your own 2-yard line with a 21-3 lead late in the first half is only a good idea if it works) have been plentiful as the losses have piled up, and let’s face it, college football fans are not known for their patience.
If there was a bright spot on Saturday, it was the improved play of Joey Elliott, who hit on 20-of-28 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Of course, the lone interception and a brutal overthrow of a wide-open Valentin in the end zone on the Boilermakers’ final play of the afternoon is what most (including Elliott, certainly) will remember.
Talk of going to a bowl game in Hope’s first season is long gone. Running back Ralph Bolden has cooled down after his monster debut (2.9 yards per carry against Northwestern), Purdue’s mental toughness is obviously lacking, and the Boilermakers have missed on chances to make one critical game-winning play in four straight losses.
And then there’s the bad news. That would be the upcoming schedule, which features trips to difficult venues in Minneapolis, Madison, and Ann Arbor with home games against the Buckeyes and Illini sandwiched in the middle.
If Purdue doesn’t turn the ball over six times in each game, they could win some of those contests.
But right now, that’s hard to fathom.
Week Six prediction: Minnesota 34, Purdue 23
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writers Tim Cary, Kristofer Green, and Kevin Paul, visit www.FirstandBigTen.com.