Monday, October 19, 2009
Purdue victory provides 'huge shot in the arm'
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Faith never wavered inside the walls of the Mollenkopf Athletic Center and on the practice fields nearby.
Purdue players and coaches saw the progress each week, and despite their infuriating results on Saturdays, they maintained morale. The Boilermakers practiced hard and entered each game expecting to win, even as the losses piled up.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Joey Elliott completed 31 of 50 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.
"We have a great team," first-year head coach Danny Hope said Sunday afternoon. "We just don’t have a great record."
At 2-5, the Boilers still don't have a great record. But for the first time since 2003, they have a great victory on their résumé, a 26-18 triumph against then-No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday.
Purdue snapped a five-game losing streak this season. More importantly, the Boilers snapped a 19-game losing streak against ranked opponents, a stretch that left a stain on the program and its fans.
For the players and coaches, the win validates the improvement that has taken place in practice. Their eyes are not betraying them. The difference now is 50,000 others, many of whom rushed the field late Saturday afternoon, can see it, too.
"We’ve gone into every Saturday expecting to win and playing to win," Hope said. "But for our program, it certainly is a huge boost. It brings us some national attention and certainly some credibility to the direction that we’re going in. So it was a huge shot in the arm in a number of ways."
Hope and his assistants have certainly brought more liveliness to the program, but there seemed to be a lack of fire outside the program. Purdue fans had watched their team tumble from the top of the Big Ten in 2000 to the middle of the pack from 2004-07 and then to the bottom last fall and this season. They had seen the team's inability to win big games worsen over time.
That's why Saturday's win, against an opponent like Ohio State, means so much.
"Campus is real lively right now," defensive end Ryan Kerrigan said. "It really re-energized our student body here, and that’s really good for us. To beat a ranked opponent, especially No. 7 in the nation, was just phenomenal."
Kerrigan provided the biggest spark against Ohio State with four tackles for loss, including three sacks, to go along with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The junior was named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
It likely won't be the last big game we see from Kerrigan, but time is running out for his senior teammates, four of whom addressed the team last week. Quarterback Joey Elliott, defensive end Keyon Brown, defensive tackle Mike Neal and linebacker Jason Werner held a brief meeting where they stressed the urgency to beat Ohio State.
"It really hit home with a lot of us underclassmen," Kerrigan said. “A lot of them said some pretty inspiring things. This is their last go-round, and it was really heartfelt what they were saying.
"That was definitely a contributing factor into our good week of preparation and our win."
Arguably no player deserved the win more than Elliott, who has put up great numbers this season with little to show for it. The career backup is making the most of his only season as the starter and completed 31 of 50 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State.
"He’s a true solider," Hope said. "Love taking the field with Joey Elliott. He improved in a few areas of his game in practice this week and it really showed up. He was much more detailed in his reads in the passing game. He had a much greater presence in the pocket. It made a big difference."
Even if Purdue had lost Saturday, Hope expected his players to return to practice energized for next week's game. But things are certainly a lot easier after a win.
"It could springboard our team for the second half of the season," he said. "This is certainly something that can help fuel the fire, that’s for sure."