The good lord has blessed me with the ability to experience some unique things during this pandemic.
Many folks have been struggling since March, since the world shut down. People have lost their lives. Many have lost their careers. People have lost their freedoms. Others have lost their happiness.
My experience with this pandemic has been like so many others. I lost my career earlier in 2020. Luckily I had the fortune to be hired by a different company, shortly after. Others haven’t been as blessed as me, and I thank the stars every day for that stroke of luck.
Others close to me have went through layoffs. Others have battled mystery upper respiratory illnesses prior to the world knowing what this whole thing was. The world has been a mess.
The one thing that I was looking forward to, however, was the restart of college sports. The light at the end of the tunnel, another year of football and a return to normalcy.
Well, prep football returned on time, anyways. Yes, I have been covering IHSAA football games throughout the fall, it took the Big 10 a bit longer to figure it out.
Last week I bemoaned the fact that the 2020 season would be the first time in 35ish years that I will not be attending a Purdue football game in person. Strangely enough, due to some personnel shakeups, I was granted the opportunity to be the ISC Purdue representative in the Ross Ade press box for Saturday’s game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
After a wonderful lunch with Dave Kovich, Editor of ISC Purdue, I made my way to an empty Ross Ade Stadium.
I had the opportunity to witness the first game of the 2020 Purdue Boilermaker football season, on October 24th, during a pandemic, under the lights, with 900 fans in attendance, and 800 cardboard cutouts. I got the opportunity to witness the return to Purdue normalcy, first hand, on a Saturday in October, a day in which I never in my wildest dreams believed would come. The first game in the craziest season in Boilermaker lore. I had an opportunity to witness Purdue history. I am ever grateful.
Yep, the good lord blessed me with the opportunity to witness something very, very unique during this pandemic.
A game in which underdog Purdue was missing their head coach, their special teams coordinator, their Heisman candidate WR, a dynamic running back, their cheerleaders, their marching band, their world’s largest mascot, their fans… and about 1000 other essential personnel, the Boilermakers were not missing one thing…
Gone were the days of early season, guaranteed win cupcakes like Nevada and Eastern Michigan… Purdue needed to hit the ground running against an upper-mid tier Big Ten foe.
Purdue’s passing attack carried the team early, as 2019 finisher QB Aidan O’Connell was roping it around the field. He finished with a respectable 282 yards, and 3 TD, while tossing two picks.
David Bell led the way offensively, hauling in a gaudy 13 receptions for 121 yards, and 3 TDs. Including the game winner with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game.
Zander Horvath, the Boilermakers physical running back took the game over in the second half, running through, over, and above (literally) Iowa defenders. He continued where he left off his 2019, rushing for 129 yards. He provided the spark which kept momentum swinging Purdue’s way during their comeback.
The new-look defense struggled at times against Iowa’s run happy offense. While the Hawkeyes took chunks out of the Purdue defense, Bob Diaco made some adjustments, and held Iowa to just 3 points in the second half. The defense did their job, holding Iowa to 20 points on the afternoon.
With the game in their hands, O’Connell and David Bell did what they do best… leading game winning drives. Purdue came back from down late, to take the game 24-20, the 3rd Boilermaker victory over Iowa in 4 years.
What Went Well:
- For whom the Bell tolls: David Bell is incredible. There is no other way to put it. With 13 catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns Bell was able to continue his all-world production from 2019.
- HORVATH WARPATH!!!: Zander Horvath, particularly late in the game, was a force to be reckoned with. If he wasn’t LITERALLY flying over Iowa defenders, he was carrying them for yards after contact. The physical specimen took advantage of Iowa’s growing fatigue, and punished them when Purdue needed that gutty performance. If Horvath continues to run angry he will continue to bring pride to #40 on the field.
- Big Boys Gotta Eat: The Purdue offensive line showed a great improvement from their performances of 2019. They gave up 2 sacks, one of which was due to the quarterback holding the ball too long. Likewise, they opened up the holes to help Horvath break the 100 yard barrier yet again.
- Don’t forget about the other Big Boys: The Defensive line took over late in the game, flexing their muscle when the Boiler Defense needed it. Stuffing the running game, or getting timely sacks, the big boys up front set the tone for the comeback.
- Well Oiled Machine: Access to the press box for media was efficient and well done. Clearly Purdue has a well trained and disciplined crew of people. Whether it be security check-ins, temperature checks, making sure everyone knew where to go, the hospitality crew at Ross Ade was top notch. Everyone was kind, respectful, professional, and appeared to be smiling at all times (even if the smiles were behind masks). Well done, Purdue staff!
Opportunities for Improvement:
- Consistency is key: Quarterback Aiden O’Connell did what was needed in order to get the victory, but threw two picks in the process. His first INT was a forced pass along the seam when the Boilers were looking to score, and his second was a red-zone turnover, in which O’Connell needed to put more touch on the ball.
- Purdue fans have short patience for quarterback play. We, as fans, need to keep this in mind… Aidan is still only 4 starts into his career. While he is still learning his reads and his internal pocket timing, he has also led Purdue on multiple 4th quarter game winning drives in his young career. He will continue to grow, and can be a really good one if he keeps improving.
- I might be chunky…: but giving up chunks of yardage from the defense isn’t a fun personal quirk. It is painful. Yes, this is a new defensive scheme, but Purdue allowing Iowa to pound the rock, blowing coverage on third down, and giving Purdue fans that dread that they are a rehash of Boiler defenses of old… is guaranteed heartburn.
- In fairness… They only gave up 20 points. 17 of them, however, were in one quarter.
- It’s not quite the same…: Nobody in the house is a very painful, surreal atmosphere. No tailgates. No kids throwing a football, getting in your way while walking to the stadium. No coeds wearing goofy costumes on Slater Hill. No marching band. No world’s largest drum… While I am thrilled to have Purdue Football back, its hollow. Canned crowd noise isn’t the same. Thanks Big Ten.
- I have covered IHSAA games with multi-thousand fans this season. THAT’S HIGH SCHOOL. Why can’t the Big Ten allow more than a few dozen attend? Sure, some sort of limited access can theoretically be justified, but 900 fans in a 60,000 is about… 1.6% attendance.
- I need my eyes out there: Part of the charm of working for a local publication is the ability to communicate with my photographer while he is on the field. Purdue went with the pool approach for photographers, limiting photographers to a very select few for the game. I understand their safety concerns when dealing with COVID, however, I don’t have my eyes on the field to tell me what he sees. It doesn’t help the product, either. Likewise, if you are looking closely, other B1G colleges were allowing photojournalists all over the stands. Seems like Purdue went the conservative route with their access to photogs, and it is going to hurt the visibility of their product.
Big Man On Campus:
David Bell continued where he left off in 2019. Hauling in 13 catches for 121 yards and three TDs, immediately puts Bell at the top of receiving of the Big Ten.
If this performance continues, Bell could also be mentioned in the realm of B1G Legend.
A Look Ahead:
Purdue travels to Illinois for a Nooner against the Fighting
Kingfishers Illini. Illinois is coming of a rather embarrassing loss to Wisconsin, so they look to respond with positivity. Will Purdue start 2-0 for the first time in quite a few years? We’ll know on Halloween.
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