The script has become all too familiar through the last five weeks.
Purdue takes first quarter lead.
Purdue self destructs.
The Boilermakers dropped their fifth straight game Saturday afternoon, falling 35-20 to the Minnesota Golden Gophers after jumping out to an early 10-0 lead in their first trip to new TCF Bank Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Old Gold and Black, it was all downhill after the fast start, as Minnesota racked up 35 points in the second and third quarters to put the game out of reach.
Danny Hope’s team continued its longstanding trend of shooting itself repeatedly in the foot, most notably with a not-so-special special teams unit.
In an eight-minute span of the third quarter, Purdue was victimized by a seven-yard punt, a fumbled kickoff, and a blocked field goal. Each of the three miscues led directly to Gopher touchdowns, and the Boilermakers never recovered.
The Boilers have owned a first-quarter lead in each game of the losing streak, but have yet to make those leads stand up once adversity hits.
“Mistakes piled on mistakes” doesn’t really make for a catchy marketing slogan, but that pretty much sums up the Hope era to date.
Purdue managed to slow down Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker, one of the nation’s top players, as Decker only caught three passes in the game (the first time this year he didn’t tally at least eight grabs).
However, the Boilermakers allowed 207 rushing yards to their opponents, so the Gophers only needed to attempt a total of 10 passes in picking up their fourth win of the season.
With a bowl berth seemingly out of reach, expect the Purdue coaching staff to start making some difficult decisions regarding playing time and the possibility of redshirting some talented freshmen. Most notably, the Boilers would do well to save a year of eligibility for speedsters Al-Terek McBurse and Gary Bush, who have yet to see the field in 2009.
Right now, the remainder of this season should be about fixing this team’s psyche and helping the Boilermakers learn to win.
If the first half of Hope’s inaugural season is any sign, there will be a few more close games before the season ends. Purdue fans would love to see their team figure out how to cut down on silly mistakes, finish the deal, rack up a few more victories, and build momentum for 2010.
Also on the to-do list: re-discover running lanes for Ralph Bolden (they’ve become increasingly rare as the weeks have gone by), teach receivers not to drop wide-open passes (Keith Carlos, this means you), and find a kick returner that can catch the ball and advance it successfully without putting it on the carpet.
The best player (by a long way) for Purdue right now is junior Keith Smith, who continued his run of impressive performances with seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
Smith seems to get better each week, and hasn’t yet succumbed to the turnover bug that appears to have infected the rest of the roster.
I don’t think Hope can clone his leading receiver, but perhaps sending him back to return kicks could at least stop the bleeding? At this point, answers are few and far between.
It’s hard to imagine this mentally fragile squad hanging with the powerful Ohio State Buckeyes for very long Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium, but after five straight defeats, a competent, mistake-free performance (even in a loss) would be a step forward…and a building block for a team that needs one in the worst way.
Week Seven prediction: Ohio State 37, Purdue 17
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writers Tim Cary, Kristofer Green, and Kevin Paul, visit FirstandBigTen.com, a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football.