Finding positives as the losses pile up

Purdue fell again, this time 45-21 to Penn State, but there were some positives to take. That's all you can do in a rebuilding year.

In a rebuilding year, you're forced to take the positives and work with them.

Purdue's 45-21 loss marks its eighth straight defeat, drops it to 1-9 on the season, and spelled more trouble for a beleaguered football team. But there were at least a few bright spots.

Finally, Danny Etling paced the Purdue offense for long, sustained drives. The Boilermakers' three touchdowns weren't even half of what Penn State posted, but it's as many touchdowns as Purdue has posted in its four prior Big Ten games.

Etling was efficient, completing 21 of 33 tosses for 223 yards, adding a two touchdowns—one in the air, one on the ground—and an interception. For most other quarterbacks, this would be an average day at best. For Etling, the promising freshman, it marks steps forward.

For the first time all season, the Boilermakers opened up their offense and let Etling air it out. Purdue play-caller John Shoop lived up to his word from this week, giving Etling more chances to make plays. The frustrating question with this: What took so long?

With a real West Coast look on offense, Etling utilized his slew of young receivers and threw the ball with confidence. More importantly, he was careful and executed. Sure, there was the pick, and he took too many sacks, though these things are all correctable. He can take the good things and build on the bad.

There were many more good things than bad for Etling. His 45-yard throw to Deangelo Yancey on third-and-short, a gutsy call at the time, worked beautifully. Before that, there was the 38-yard screen pass to Cameron Posey—unofficially the first successful screen of the season.

Etling's lone touchdown pass of the day came on a two-yard dish to tight end Justin Sinz, all set by a play-action fake which fooled the Nittany Lion defense. Later, his sneaky 11-yard run to the end zone brought the Boilermakers within a score early in the third quarter.

At the time, it looked like Purdue was going to make it a game. Would Boilermakers break through? In the end, it was too much Penn State. And that's where the positives end.

Coach Darrell Hazell must have known this program was in poor shape. But on Saturday, Penn State—a program setback by sanctions and scholarship limits—made Purdue look like it was the one decimated by such hardships.

The Nittany Lions had their way with the Boilermaker defense. Tailbacks Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton combined for 230 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, breaking arm tackle after arm tackle. PSU freshman phenom Christian Hackenberg posted a modest 212 yards through the air, part of the Nittany Lions' 501 yards of offense.

Give defensive coordinator Greg Hudson credit for putting together a solid plan, blitzing the young quarterback and disrupting a touted aerial attack. Yet, Penn State stuck to the run, and Purdue just doesn't have the players on defense to execute for four quarters. That's how things went from bad to worse in the second half.

The Boilermakers' offense had its share of issues, too. The rushing attack, again, was nonexistent, posting 38 yards on 20 attempts. Tailback Akeem Hunt had just 22 yards on six carries. Etling was forced to make up for the lack of a balance in the offense. Frankly, he didn't too badly with that task.

Again, it's a rebuilding year, so take what you can from these games. The good news is that Purdue showed potential—even in small flashes. Its issues, and there were many, can be worked out for next year. The youth will have a year under its belt, and the next freshmen class will likely fill some voids.

For now, take the positives and hope the rest gets better. In a rebuilding year, there's not much more that can be done.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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