WEST LAFAYETTE -- The days leading up to Saturday were filled with rhetoric. The personnel changes and positive vibes would bring a different Boilermaker team, they said. But for all the talk, Purdue’s play was silent.
From start to finish, it was all Nebraska. The final score read 44-7, and it didn’t even feel that close.
“We’re not in a great spot right now—that’s the reality of it,” said head coach Darrell Hazell, who drops to 1-5 in his first season with Purdue. “We don’t feel good and nor should we.”
The first start of Danny Etling’s collegiate career was a struggle. He completed just 14 of 35 passes for 184, throwing for one touchdown in the game’s final seconds. The lowlights of his day include a costly pick, a botched pitch and a misguided 17-yard scramble that ended in the end zone for a safety.
Etling prides himself on preparation, going the extra mile in the film room. He has a lot to learn from in this film reel.
“I’ve got to play better, and I think I’m going to play better,” said Etling. “I’ll learn more from a game like this than success. I’m going to get better.”
There wasn’t much support for Etling. The Boilermakers’ offensive line had its worst game yet, allowing the quarterback to be sacked five times. The rushing attack posted a mere 32 on 25 carries yards. And Nebraska’s offense ran a clinic on Purdue, even with backups at quarterback.
The Boilermakers elected to receive the opening kickoff, hoping to get the new-look offense rolling right from the start. Instead, it backed up two yards over three plays, forcing a punt.
Armstrong, the freshman, led the Cornhuskers to an 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive. His showing was shaky, but it didn’t matter much. The Boilermakers were rattled.
The first quarter finished with Nebraska at 14 points and Purdue at 14 yards (no points).
It only got worse. More stalled drives for the Boilermakers and more big numbers for the Huskers. The hope was that Purdue’s altered offense would produce points. But there were struggles all around, just like before.
“At times, we didn’t execute the way we should have,” said sophomore center Robert Kugler. “We need to execute better.”
Ameer Abdullah led Nebraska’s rushing attack with 126 yards on the ground. Tailbacks Terrell Newby and Imani Cross also contributed to the Huskers’ 251 rushing yards. If Bo Pelini held out Taylor Martinez to preserve him, it was a wise move.
For all of Purdue’s inefficiencies, its mistakes only multiplied the problems. The Boilermakers posted seven penalties, a pair of turnovers and hit on three of 14 third-down attempts, compared to Nebraska’s 11 of 21.
“We’re not a good enough football team to overcome some of those self-afflictions and that is where we are right now,” said Hazell.
The most alarming part for Purdue is that Nebraska kept its game plan so simple. There was no need for trick plays on offense or odd blitzes on defense. It was everything the Boilermakers studied on film. But the Cornhuskers were just that much better.
So how can Purdue correct its mistakes?
“At the end of the day, we need to practice better and then execute better,” said senior cornerback Ricardo Allen.
The problem is that it’s mid-October, and there shouldn’t be talk of effort and execution. Those are August issues that are plaguing a challenged football team.
With the losses mounting and the struggles on display, Hazell must worry about keeping his locker room together. A disconnect would dramatically stunt the growth of his program. The Boilermakers must get back to work.
“We’re going to play a lot better,” said Hazell. “We’re going to find our way out of this hole. That’s the goal.”
Improvements have been few and far between for the Boilermakers. They must hope this isn’t just more rhetoric.