WEST LAFAYETTE -- Darrell Hazell said it best in his postgame press conference. After Northern Illinois humiliated Purdue on its home turf, a break is needed to get things fixed.
“This is a great time for a bye for our football team,” Hazell said follow the Boilermakers’ 55-24 loss, their second 31-point defeat in as many weeks. “We need to take a look, from A to Z, at everything we’re doing.”
The pounding Purdue took in Madison last Saturday was bad. The Badgers manhandled their opponent in every way. But the hurting the Huskies handed was even worse. This is a MAC team—granted, by far the cream of the crop—that humiliated Purdue on its homecoming.
When it was all said and done, Northern Illinois posted the most points in Ross-Ade Stadium’s 89-year existence. It became the first MAC team to beat two Big Ten teams on the road (Iowa being the other). And it gave the Boilermakers a tough pill to swallow before their bye week.
“We’re going to get healthy, we’re going to get better, and we’re going to evaluate ourselves,” said senior cornerback Ricardo Allen. “Right now, we’re looking into the mirror and seeing how we can get better.”
It can’t get much worse.
Purdue’s only lead of the game—coming on a 44-yard screen pass touchdown from Rob Henry to Akeem Hunt—was short-lived. Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch hit Da’Ron Brown for a 15-yard touchdown pass, giving the Huskies a 10-7 lead. After a Mathew Sims field goal, Lynch added two more touchdown passes.
Late in the second half, with the Boilermakers trailing 27-10, Rob Henry’s heaved a bad decision into the back of the end zone, finding the hands of NIU’s DeChane Durante. That was the final straw for Hazell, who pulled the plug on his senior quarterback. Enter Danny Etling and many, many more questions.
The redshirt was burnt and the future began. Etling, the promising true freshman, finally got his chance. It wasn’t clean, as he hit on 19 of 39 passes for a pair of touchdowns and picks. But it’s something to build on in the bye week.
“I’ve got to play better,” Etling said. “I can’t play like a freshman.”
Hazell wouldn’t say if the switch was permanent, so don’t look for Rob Henry to back down. But Henry, too, has a lot to improve on. He connected on just five of his 16 passes, including two interceptions of his own.
What went wrong, Rob?
“Everything,” he simply said.
In the locker room at halftime, the Boilermakers held out hope they could make it a game. With Etling at the helm, the offense believed it could make moves. But the Huskies’ Tommylee Lewis took the opening kickoff 99 yards to the house.
“It was a big play for them,” Hazell said. “We thought we had a chance to be successful coming out of the locker room. ... I thought our guys felt we had a chance, but to then have that come back, that hurt us a lot.”
If the Boilermakers had any hope after that, it was lost when Etling was intercepted by NIU safety Jimmie Ward, who returned it 62 yards for a touchdown.
Etling’s first touchdown pass was one of the Boilermakers’ few bright spots, when he found fellow freshman Cameron Posey for an 18-yard score—a perfect strike to the corner of the end zone, where Posey came through on a diving effort. But the Huskies answered with 14 more points, breaking the half-century mark with their second-team defense … against Purdue’s first-stringers.
For Etling, the bye week will offer a chance to look at his play and patch up the little errors, both in decisions and demeanor.
“I think my teammates really calmed me down,” Etling said. “You can’t throw late on the sideline, and if you do, you need to make a tackle. That kid of ended the game. … It lets your whole team down and you need to bounce back from that. My teammates will help me with that.”
Don’t hand the blame to Etling, Henry, or anyone individual. Purdue must improve collectively. It can only hope the bye week brings growth.
There were issues all around for the Boilermakers. Too many missed opportunities on offense, too many yards allowed on defense (402), and far too many penalties (seven for 58 yards). Add five turnovers to that and you don’t have much of a chance.
“Everything is a concern,” Hazell said of his team’s issues.
Thankfully, the bye week is here. Purdue can figure out all that’s gone wrong in its first five games, and try to make it right. As a team, the Boilermakers can take a break from football and heal their wounds.
But after four losses in five games—each difficult in their own way—Purdue is starting to see this is more than just a slow start. It’s a rebuilding year, and it’s going to be rough. With upcoming contests against Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State, it won’t get any easier.
Sure, ‘everything’ on the field is a concern for Darrell Hazell. But now, he must worry about keeping his team together. The worst thing that could happen for a growing program is to lose the locker room.
“The big thing right now—above all else—is to stay close,” Hazell said. “We are going to hear negativity from those outside, and rightfully so. We just need to stay together, love each other and make strides forward.”
Alas, a break is here. The Boilermakers must hope things get better. Frankly, it doesn’t get much worse than this.