LAFAYETTE WEST – The big takeaway image from Thursday’s heartbreak 35-31 loss to Penn State is important to keep in mind.
However, the short-term feeling is one of anger, disappointment, and a missed opportunity. This loss stings for a variety of reasons and look no further than the closing seconds of the first half and the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when the Nittany Lions split from the Boilermakers.
That’s 21 points in a short period. That was the difference.
Purdue showed their potential as a strong team, overcoming adversity, penalties and sloppy tackles to be able to knock out one of the country’s top programs on the national stage and earn the label of serious contender for the Big Ten West.
Instead, the Boilermakers left Ross-Ade Stadium knowing they were a good team, but failed to wrap up the game that could have propelled their season to new heights.
Whether it’s the battle cry to run the ball in the fourth quarter with a three-point lead or stay aggressive in the passing game, it’s about closing the deal.
It doesn’t matter how Purdue achieves the desired end result as long as it does. On Thursday, that didn’t happen due to the inability to make one more play, win one more first down and avoid one last missed tackle.
“We had this one right where we wanted it with a chance to seal the game with another first down and it’s game over,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “We couldn’t get that. That’s what stings. I am proud of the fight. We fought in the second half and we didn’t give up. We had a chance.
The second quick guess is to grill Brohm for not being confident in his running game to get a first down and chew time on the clock. Most likely it works, but Brohm has sealed wins during his tenure in the air. This is his strength and the results are always in his favour.
But even Brohm knows that generating production on the field is essential, especially in the fourth quarter with a 31-28 lead and unleashing the four-minute drill to make sure he doesn’t give up the ball. He saw Penn State charging bodies at the line of scrimmage. He saw the Nittany Lions bring blitzes, creating one-on-one matchups on the perimeter. Purdue hasn’t won enough of those matchups in the passing game.
“We had a few negative plays in the running game that hurt us and at the time we had a bunch of head-to-head matchups,” he said. “Straddling the arm of quarterback and receivers, we weren’t able to make enough plays at the very end.”
And that’s where it counts.
Although the Boilermakers rebounded from the disaster late in the first half, when the Nittany Lions scored two touchdowns in the 1:44 final through sloppy turnover and tackles, what matters is to make the plays in the fourth quarter. That night, they didn’t.
Purdue will be in that position again. He will play tighter games the rest of the season. Apart from the one-sided match scheduled for next week against Indiana State, Boilermakers will face the same situation time and time again. You can count on it.
“Starting with me, I have to be more precise where I throw the ball.” said quarterback Aidan O’Connell. “I will take responsibility for it. We need to be on the same page at all levels, signaling the call of play and everyone lining up and doing what we need to.
The good news is the Iowa transfer Charlie Jones was as good as advertised with 12 catches for 153 yards and his first touchdown as a Boilermaker. The defensive line turned many bodies and started to impact the game in the fourth quarter until PSU quarterback Sean Clifford engineered the game-winning drive.
Chris Jefferson’s pick six lit up Ross-Ade Stadium and had all the makings of a season-defining play until the Nittany Lions marched onto the field and won the game. The running game produced 70 yards but had its moments and the offensive line created more holes. But it wasn’t enough.
Purdue has the talent to do it. The Boilermakers have the experience to win the first down that eluded them on Thursday. They will have to show that they can do it.
The Boilermakers lost a game they won on Thursday, a major reporting opportunity that goes to Penn State. But Purdue will face another statement game soon, and we’ll see if it can deliver the knockout blow when it counts.
Mike Carmin covers Purdue sports for the Journal & Courier and USA Today Network. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @carmin_jc