Purdue seemed to walk a very fine line today.
Before the season I think most Purdue fans expected to drop this game. The Irish were coming off of a great season and had a lot more talent than Purdue. Even after they struggled to open the season, I still thought they were rightly favored. Even in my best case/worst case scenario I felt like Purdue would lose, but it would be a competitive loss.
All I asked for was a chance deep into the game, and Purdue had that today. The Boilers entered the fourth quarter trailing by four and the game was very much in doubt. They held the Irish to a short field goal and even got the ball twice while trailing by a single possession in the final period. It was what we had hoped for: a chance.
Unfortunately, Purdue did not cash in on enough chances today. It had plenty of them. Purdue trailed just 10-3 at halftime and was both lucky it was not worse and frustrating because we should have had more than three points. There was a major swing early where Purdue was stuffed on 4th down inside the Irish 40, then on the next Notre Dame drive they converted a long touchdown on a 4th down. That was a major shift. and Purdue was lucky to get into the half down 10-3 from there as the offense stalled completely.
The offense got on track to start the second half, generating 10 points in the first two drives, but Jack Coan hit on a long pass to Avery Davis to give the Irish another big play. The offense then stalled again, generating only 40 yards in three drives where Purdue had a chance to tie or take the lead before Kyren Williams effectively ended the game with a 51 yard TD run that was an orgy of poor tackling reminiscent the worst of last year’s Rutgers and Nebraska games.
Overall, I think the defense did well. It played well enough to win, giving up just three big plays. Like the Oregon State game, it kept Purdue in the game, but the offense couldn’t answer. It’s extremely hard to win in South Bend. There were questionable calls that did not decide the game, but they were there. Purdue still had its chances and couldn’t convert. It was the expected result, but still frustrating because Purdue was competitive and at least had a chance.
Now at a quarter of the way through the season Purdue is just about where we expected them to be. It got the game it needed against Oregon State, got the expected large win against overmatched UConn, and the expected loss at Notre Dame. The goal to reach the postseason and at least show some progress is still very much alive, but the margin for error is thin.
Purdue will be favored at home against Illinois next week and it cannot afford to trip up. That gets you halfway to bowl eligibility. From there, it looks like Northwestern is a similar game. The Boilers would then need to find two wins among Minnesota, Nebraska, and Indiana, with any other upset along the way helping.
While we have some answers with an improved defense, there are still a lot of questions. The offensive line has got to find a way to get better and allow for some sort of a running game. When 31 of Purdue’s 57 rushing yards come on a single play that is a problem. The punting game is pretty much a disaster, while the kicking game and return games are better. The injury to David Bell late in the game is also significant. We’ll see how his situation progresses.
Purdue was never going to go undefeated. It still needs consistency on offense, but there is little question in my mind that this team is at least better than last year. Now it is time to hold serve against the Illini. I am still of what to think in a larger sense, but a win over Illinois at least holds off the larger questions for a little while longer.