The Bucket stays in West Lafayette another year.
Should we be surprised?
Purdue knocked off arch-rival Indiana for the 11th time in the last 13 seasons Saturday afternoon, posting a road win in Bloomington by the score of 38-21. The victory improved the Boilermakers’ 2009 record to 5-7, one triumph short of the six wins needed for bowl eligibility.
The Boilers’ seniors played their hearts out in their final college football game, led by quarterback Joey Elliott. Elliott threw for a career-high four touchdowns to spark Purdue to the win and deserves special credit for helping lead his team back from a disastrous 1-5 start.
Elliott will be remembered as the first Purdue quarterback to win in Ann Arbor since Bob Griese, the first to beat both Michigan and Ohio State in the same year since Drew Brees, and the building block who got the Danny Hope era started.
For the season, Elliott threw for 3,026 yards and 22 touchdowns: impressive numbers for a player that hadn’t started a single college game before the September opener.
Jaycen Taylor also closed out his career in style, breaking loose for 110 rushing yards at Indiana. Taylor got the majority of the snaps in the backfield ahead of usual starter Ralph Bolden, and he made the most of his opportunity. In addition to the big numbers on the ground, Taylor had a team-high seven catches for 59 yards and a score.
On the defensive side of the ball, David Pender forced a fumble, Torri Williams picked off a Ben Chappell pass and made 13 stops, Mike Neal fought through the pain from a dislocated finger (finishing with six tackles in all), and the Boilermakers’ veteran unit generally imposed its will on an overmatched Hoosiers offense for sixty minutes.
In the midst of the seniors’ contributions, the underclassmen showed flashes of brilliance as well, most notably Al-Terek McBurse. The highly-touted recruit finished his freshman year with a bang, returning the second-half kickoff for 87 yards and a score to extend Purdue’s lead to three touchdowns. McBurse and Ralph Bolden (who gained 935 rushing yards in 2009) should combine in an exciting Boilermaker backfield the next few seasons.
All in all, Danny Hope’s first season as head coach in West Lafayette should be considered a mild success. I predicted in August that Purdue would finish with exactly five wins, but didn’t expect the Boilers to reach .500 in the Big Ten (4-4).
Highlights such as being the only conference team to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, nearly shocking the Oregon Ducks (a likely Rose Bowl participant) in Eugene, and ending a 40-plus year drought in Ann Arbor were more than I expected from Year One of the Hope era.
Unfortunately, with those highlights comes the bitter realization that if it weren’t for a heroic Jimmy Clausen fourth-down touchdown pass, two dropped punts against Northern Illinois, or six (count ‘em—six!) turnovers against Northwestern, Purdue could be anywhere from 6-6 to 8-4, enjoying postseason play and the extra month of practice that comes with it.
Instead, the three consecutive heartbreaking home losses against the Irish, Huskies, and Wildcats—part of a horrible five-game skid—ended up dooming the Boilers to thoughts of what might have been.
Now it’s time for Hope and his team to turn their attention to 2010. With Miami transfer Robert Marve under center, returning star Keith Smith and emerging threat Cortez Smith out wide, as well as the Bolden/McBurse combo in the backfield, next year should see the Boilermakers once again becoming “Bowl”ermakers.
It all starts Sept. 4 in South Bend (probably against a rookie Notre Dame head coach!).
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writers Tim Cary, Kristofer Green, and Kevin Paul, visit FirstandBigTen.com .