Monday, November 14, 2011
Boilers refuse to back down in bowl push
By Adam Rittenberg
Danny Hope took a brief break from entertaining recruits and preparing for Iowa to answer a phone call late Sunday afternoon.
"Sundays are nuts," the Purdue coach told ESPN.com.
What about Saturdays?
"Saturday," Hope said, "is the best day of the week."
Coach Danny Hope and Purdue need one win to become eligible for a bowl game.
This past Saturday certainly fit the description for Hope and his Purdue Boilermakers. It was their best day of the year. In fact, it might have been the program's best moment since its previous upset of Ohio State in 2009.
After two blowout losses on the road, Purdue returned home Saturday and breathed life into its season and its discouraged fan base with a 26-23 overtime victory against Ohio State. The Boilers outplayed the Buckeyes most of the game, nearly let it go late before making a huge special teams play and then prevailing in the extra session.
Hope's team is one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
"It was a lot of fun," Hope said. "Sometimes a football team stubs its toe a couple times in a row, and they may not have the substance to bounce back. Our team showed some great mental toughness."
Purdue's resolve showed up in all three phases Saturday.
A defensive line that had surrendered 703 rush yards in losses to Michigan and Wisconsin the previous two weeks held Ohio State's high-powered ground game to 163 yards on 47 carries (3.5 ypc). Defensive tackle Kawann Short led Purdue's effort with three sacks in a performance that resembled Ryan Kerrigan's incredible day against Ohio State two years ago. Like Kerrigan did in 2009, Short earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors for his effort against the Buckeyes.
"He has a tremendous upside," Hope said. "He can still play a lot better. He can be a dominant player on the national level. You haven't seen the best of him yet."
"I was really proud of our entire defense and particularly our defensive line and linebackers," Hope continued. "They really had to man-up this weekend."
Perhaps the same can be said for Purdue's offense, which hadn't done much in the previous 10 quarters entering Saturday's game, scoring only 31 points during the span.
The Boilers on Saturday established themselves early, showing good balance on offense in the first half. Although they stalled a bit after halftime, quarterback Robert Marve sparked the unit in overtime, going 3-for-3 on pass attempts and stretching across the goal line for the game-winner.
But the biggest play, the one that might have saved Purdue's season, came on special teams, an area where the Boilers have had their ups and downs. In Week 2, Purdue lost 24-22 to Rice after a 31-yard field-goal attempt -- a chip shot for the bionic-legged Carson Wiggs -- was blocked as time expired. Hope didn't mince words after the game, saying, "It was lost on the field goal."
Purdue also struggled in the kicking game in its 23-18 loss to Penn State, missing two field goal attempts and allowing a long return.
The Boilers redeemed themselves Saturday, as defensive tackle Bruce Gaston blocked a potential game-winning extra-point attempt with 55 seconds left in regulation.
Hope and his coaches had spotted an opening in Ohio State's protection during the game.
"We changed the pressure point a little bit and found some daylight," he said.
But it was more than just scheme recognition.
"Any time they're lining up to kick an extra point or a field goal, on the defensive side you're [ticked] off anyway," he said. "You want to block the [crud] out of the ball.”
Purdue's 2009 win against Ohio State sparked the Boilers down the stretch, as they finished 4-4 in Big Ten play. But Purdue fell a win shy of a bowl game.
The 2011 Boilers hope the victory carries over as they look for back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Hope can't pinpoint why his team has given Ohio State so much trouble. But he didn't downplay what was at stake for the Boilers on Saturday.
"We had to rise up and play," He said. "We needed to win. I don't think it would have mattered this weekend who [the opponent] was.