Rants, ravings, and somewhat sensical opinions following the wild, wacky, and wide-wide world of Purdue sports after Purdue’s 39-35 loss to Fresno State.
As I wandered around Slayter Hill on Saturday morning, I was filled with a sense of hope. A sense of nostalgia. Sensory overload, really.
My eyes saw the friends and families tailgating in the bright sun. My nose smelled the various grills charring the delicious hotdogs and hamburgers around. My mouth tasted the crisp flavors of a football Saturday beer, one of many that day. It was my ears, however, that spurred my wandering.
Just past the tree line, and over a slight incline, the sweet tunes of the Purdue All American Marching Band called to me. Starting as a whisper, but turning into a mighty roar as I crested to the top of Slayter, my favorite sight in the world. There she was. My band, entertaining my people. I was home.
I have always been fascinated by the Purdue Marching Band. The excellent precision. Hundreds of musicians precisely hitting thousands of notes in perfect succession to make the greatest sounds on earth. It may have been the beer talking, or months of missing my Boilermakers, but I couldn’t help but smile. I couldn’t help but stare at one of my favorite things, at one of my favorite places, with my favorite people. A brief moment of perfection.
The drumline, the flag twirlers, batons flying in perfect synchronization. Thousands of tailgaters looked on, clapping and cheering in unison. I was among my people, watching a well oiled machine. Every snare drum, every note, everything working together to accomplish the goal of being the best damn band in the land.
Like a pocket watch. Every cog in the mix fit perfectly. Days, months, years, decades of practice shone, as excellence was put on full display. Perfection.
Hudson Card was strong, but not spectacular, passing for 254 yds and 2 TD. Deion Burks caught 4 catches for 154 yards (2TD catches), including an incredible touchdown early in the game as he left the Fresno State defense in the dust. Devin Mockobee struggle in his first game of the season, netting 60 yards on 16 attempts running behind an injury depleted offensive line. The Boilermakers played well in the open field, but struggled mightily in the short run game. Tyrone Tracey and TJ Sheffield looked great on special teams, with spectacular results. Tracey, in particular, had 144 yards in kickoff returns, including a 98 yard return for TD, Purdue’s first since 2013.
Defensively, Purdue was off beat. The new look Purdue defense had some bright spots, but many head scratching moments. The Boilermakers gave up 487 yards to Fresno, including 371 through the air. The secondary much of the time played good coverage, but tough passes were completed in tight windows. That is a credit to the excellent play by FSU QB Mikey Keene. Other times, however, the Purdue secondary would get lost. Even with a single-high, ultra deep safety, Fresno took advantage of the 1 on 1 matchups when available, and often time made forced confusion onto the Purdue DBs.
Dillion Thieneman played the deep safety look for this defense, and looked great. He had 10 solo tackles and an acrobatic interception late in the game which resulted in Purdue points on the ensuing drive. This young man is incredibly fast, and will be a Purdue legend if he can continue to improve.
The rest of the defense was bolstered by Markevious Brown with 9 tackles, Kydran Jenkins and Nic Scourton who had six tackles each.
Unfortunately these young men couldn’t carry the load, as Fresno State averaged nearly 65% third down conversions, and scored points when needed.
Break It Down:
Anyone who didn’t expect some growing pains early in this season are lying to you.
New season. New coach. New systems. New players. New opponent. New stadium. New Tunnel. When you start compounding the word NEW as an adjective onto a football program, there are often times rough patches. Not all of those NEWs are bad, but enough carry challenges with them to be a problem. While the notes of “Hail Purdue” haven’t changed in well over a century, the coverage from a single-deep odd-man front defense is new to this team. While the AAMB has hit the same drum cadences for decades, a new QB throwing to new WRs, and being protected by a new offensive line, leads to difficulties.
Fresno State is a good program. Their culture is established. They are well oiled. They are well coached.
Purdue is a good program. Their culture is in flux. They are not well oiled. Their coach is good, but inexperienced.
There is the difference in this game.
Coach Ryan Walters’ youthful exuberance was taken advantage of on Saturday. Fresno State’s coach, Jeff Tedford has been coaching at a high level since the early 1990s, and has been a head coach for 13 seasons. You could see that Tedford has been doing this for years, as in game adjustments appeared to all work in Tedford’s favor.
Thats ok for Walters. Coach is an incredibly smart person, and immensely passionate. It is time for Walters to learn from this experience, and come back stronger. Walters is trying to implement a new program, while learning a new job. These things take time.
What Went Well:
- Deion Burks: Wowza! 152 yards on 4 catches (38 yard average), and 2 TD. There were questions in the preseason as to who was going to be the alpha in the WR room, and Burks has raised his hand early.
- Special Teams: A missed field goal notwithstanding, the return game looks explosive so far this season. Tyrone Tracey’s 98 yard kickoff return is a rare site in West Lafayette, which propelled him to a 48 yard average on returns. Likewise, a big change in momentum for the game 29 yard punt return which flipped the field goal and led to a Purdue TD on the ensuing drive. These are the types of plays that Purdue didn’t get under the Brohm regime.
- So, He’s a Freshman??: Dillon Thieneman is the latest in the line of Thieneman football players. He is incredibly fast, and laid some great hits on Saturday, and the lone turnover of the game. He will thrive in this defense.
Opportunities for Improvement:
- So, You Mean To Tell Me: … That the Power 5 team can’t gain a single rushing yard against a Group of 5 team when they absolutely needed it? Yes, I understand that Purdue’s offensive line was playing 4 deeps due to injuries. I understand that this offensive line is still getting used to playing together as a unit. I do not understand how BigTen recruits, with a star RB can’t establish -some- sort of short running game against Fresno State. Likewise, what was with the insistence of CONTINUING to pound the ball when it was clear that it wasn’t working. That is frustrating. The injury bug is a very real thing up front, so here’s to praying for some quick recoveries up front.
- Third Down: … Conversions continue to be continual concern for Purdue defenses. This happened during Hope. Happened during Hazell. Happened during Brohm. Happened on Saturday. Third and 5, give up 8. Third and 8, give up 10. Third and 10 give up 15. Third and 18, give up 20. I completely understand that Coach Walters’ system needs some time to meld. It will improve. Unfortunately, high 3rd down conversion rates from a Purdue opponent can be set on a metronome, so you can see why Boilermaker fans are gun shy. As the defensive philosophy continues to be engrained into this team, look for improvement in this regard.
- Need to Finish: Following Tyrone Tracey’s KO return for TD, Purdue was up 2 scores. 14 unanswered points by Fresno, relinquished that lead just a few minutes into the 4th quarter. I am not sure if it was conditioning. I am not sure if it was complacency. I am not sure if it was that -inevitability- which has been in Purdue’s DNA for a while… no matter what it is… something happened from that point. The Boilermakers, the Big Ten team, at home, with a 2 score lead in the second half should not lose. I am sure this Fresno comeback is a wakeup call, however. These young men need to be motivated, and I think Walters & Co. will get them there.
A Look Ahead:
This rough start to the season could get rougher as Purdue will travel to Virginia Tech for a nooner against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech is a proud program who has seen some lean years the past few seasons. Playing in Blacksberg VA is a tough go, with the famed “Enter Sandman” entrance creating a raucous environment. As of the writing of this article, this game is a Pickem with even odds. ESPN matchup predictor has Virginia Tech with a 55.8% chance of victory, if you believe that metric.
Purdue needs to get a victory under their belt here. This won’t be easy, but the greatest improvement comes from week one to week two, so who knows what to expect on Saturday.
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