When a football team outgains its opponent by over 160 yards and scores a touchdown in every quarter, it’s supposed to win the game.
Unfortunately for the Purdue Boilermakers, things didn’t work out that way Saturday afternoon at Ross-Ade Stadium.
In a game they needed to win to keep bowl hopes alive, the Boilers blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead and dropped a heartbreaking 40-37 loss to the visiting Michigan State Spartans.
Purdue was victimized by late meltdowns on defense and special teams, overshadowing a brilliant day for the offense and senior quarterback Joey Elliott, who was playing in his final home game. Elliott finished 39-55 for 373 passing yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and his efficiency especially showed in the Old Gold and Black’s remarkable third-down conversion rate (14-22).
After the Boilermakers took a 34-23 lead with less than 12 minutes to go, Michigan State finished the game with three scores on its final three possessions, each of which was set up by one huge play.
First, the Spartans answered the Purdue touchdown with a one-play drive, as Kirk Cousins hit BJ Cunningham for a 73-yard scoring strike.
Next, Michigan State used a 45-yard reverse from Keshawn Martin to set up its go-ahead touchdown with just over seven minutes remaining.
And finally, after the Boilers had fought back to tie things up at 37, the Spartans got an 87-yard kickoff return, also from Martin, to get in position for the game-winning field goal.
Michigan State definitely took care of business in special teams, something the Boilermakers should take notes on and emulate in 2010 (after all, they simply have to improve in special teams…things certainly can’t get worse!)
In addition to Martin’s long return, MSU kicker Brett Swenson converted all four of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 52-yarders. Conversely, the Boilermakers missed a kick and had another blocked—costly mistakes in a three-point loss.
Of course, the Boilers probably should have known it wasn’t going to be their day when tailback Ralph Bolden fumbled on the very first play and the Spartans’ Chris L. Rucker ran the loose ball back for a touchdown. After getting in an early 7-0 hole, Purdue really dominated until the fourth quarter, but there are no moral victories in college football.
The Boilermakers’ seventh loss guarantees they’ll be staying home during the holidays for the second straight year, a disappointing turn of events after coach Danny Hope’s team had won three of its last four games to revive thoughts of the postseason.
However, Purdue continued to prove on Saturday that they are developing weapons that can help the program’s cause in 2010: thoughts of a more experienced Keith Smith (15 catches for 152 yards and a score), Cortez Smith (8 grabs for 52 yards and a touchdown), and Ralph Bolden (76 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground) returning to pace the offensive attack next season must bring a smile to Hope’s face.
Since next year is still a ways away, Purdue’s focus now must turn to retaining the Old Oaken Bucket. The Boilermakers travel to Bloomington this weekend, playing for pride, rivalry, and a strange trophy (after all, I have three extra buckets in my garage if the Hoosiers want any). The Boilers won last year’s meeting 62-10 and are hoping for a similar result on the road to close the 2009 season.
If you were to search “How to blow a big football lead” on Google, you’d probably find a picture of the 2009 Indiana football team, which has seemingly patented the late collapse, most notably against Northwestern and Iowa in October.
However, they have continued to compete after a season full of horrible luck and disappointing outcomes, so don’t expect the Hoosiers to roll over for Purdue in the season finale.
Maybe we can summarize the scouting report this way: a Purdue team that collapsed late against Michigan State this past weekend takes on an Indiana team that seemingly collapses late against every opponent every weekend…so make sure you don’t turn the Bucket game off until the final whistle.
Week Twelve prediction: Purdue 30, Indiana 20
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writers Tim Cary, Kristofer Green, and Kevin Paul, visit FirstandBigTen.com.