- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Toward the end of Joe Tiller's tenure, Purdue managed to reach lower-tier bowls without notching many signature wins.
In Danny Hope's first year as Boilers coach, the team fell short of a bowl but notched several victories that could lead to greater success down the road.
Purdue ended a 19-game slide against ranked opponents by handing Big Ten champ Ohio State its only conference loss on Oct. 17. The Boilers ended an 11-game slide on the road by rallying to beat Michigan, which also marked their first win at the Big House since 1966. With a 4-4 Big Ten mark and several dynamic players returning for 2010, Hope can feel good about what lies ahead.
The team's solid finish takes away some of the sting from a 1-5 start filled with near misses and major mistakes. Purdue gave away the football at an alarming rate, committing 20 turnovers in the first six games, and consequently gave away games against Oregon, Northwestern and Notre Dame. The Boilers also struggled to stop the run for the second straight year, ranking last in the league (173.4 ypg).
But the team never quit and received tremendous performances from quarterback Joey Elliott, wide receiver Keith Smith, defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and others. Elliott and Smith led the league in passing and receiving, respectively, while Kerrigan emerged as a dominant pass-rusher.
Hope and his players know 5-7 isn't good enough, but they took several important steps this fall.
Offensive MVP: Joey Elliott. He patiently waited his turn at quarterback and made the most of his only season at the helm. Elliott led the Big Ten in both passing (252.2 ypg) and total offense (274.5 ypg), showcasing impressive mobility and firing 22 touchdown passes. Smith also deserves a mention here.
Defensive MVP: Ryan Kerrigan. The junior led the Big Ten and ranked third nationally in sacks with 13. He produced his best performance in Purdue's biggest game, recording four tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the upset of then-No. 7 Ohio State. Kerrigan earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.
Turning point: Purdue's string of near misses ended in historic fashion, as the Boilermakers stunned Ohio State 26-18 on Oct. 17. The defense forced four turnovers from Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and received a big performance from Elliott. It began a stretch of four wins in the final six games.
What's next: Hope must find a replacement for Elliott, as Miami transfer Robert Marve enters an intriguing quarterback competition. Purdue needs continued development from players like Smith and running back Ralph Bolden, while the defense must reload in the secondary after losing all four starters. The Boilers need to find their way back to the postseason in 2010.
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