MADISON – Trying to make sense of the school’s seventh double-digit loss of the season, receiver Bilal Marshall had a simple rallying cry as Purdue closes out the final two weeks of yet another dismal season:
Stick together, don’t be selfish and let the chips fall where they may.
“We want to finish strong because no one knows what's going to happen after these last two weeks,” Marshall said. “We need to make sure we cherish these moments."
Upsetting No.6 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) in the regular season home finale at Ross-Ade Stadium Saturday would be a landmark victory for a Purdue program that has unquestionably lost its way.
Purdue (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) has lost 10 straight to Wisconsin, the longest streak by either team in the series, and the Boilermakers haven’t been to a bowl game since firing former head coach Danny Hope in November 2012.
It’s been misery ever since.
Purdue hired Darrell Hazell after only two years of head coaching experience at Kent State, going 5-7 his first year and 11-3 his second year. Not only did the Boilers never hit the double-digit win plateau, Purdue never hit five wins or won consecutive games in Hazell’s 3.5 seasons, going 9-33 overall and 3-24 in the Big Ten.
The permanent head coaching position is still to be determined, but multiple years of head coaching experience is probably a high prerequisite for first-year athletic director Mike Bobinski.
Receiver coach Gerad Parker, who has also served as tight end coach and recruiting coordinator in his three seasons at Purdue, is trying to get things to the finish line as the interim head coach.
“This isn't about me and my career; this is about those guys in the locker room,” Parker said at the time of Hazell’s firing in mid-October. "We have a bunch of good coaches, who have been through the business and have a lot of great ideas. I will lean on those guys, who we know and love and trust and care about.”
The coaching shakeup has not yielded results. The Boilermakers have lost four straight under Parker (five overall) by a combined score of 177-86. Two of those have come to top 25 teams – at No.8 Nebraska, vs. No.24 Penn State – but Purdue’s 45-17 loss at Northwestern Saturday didn’t sit well.
The Boilermakers jumped out to a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter, saw the Wildcats take a 14-10 lead midway through the second and were outscored 31-7 in the second half. Purdue allowed 605 yards of total offense and committed four turnovers that resulted in 17 points for the Wildcats.
“We just haven't executed well,” quarterback David Blough said. “It just happens to happen at the same point these last couple weeks and it's frustrating. We've been in position to succeed and coached well, but we haven't executed on my behalf.”
Injuries have forced a youth movement on both sides of the ball. Freshmen have accounted for 101 points, 413 rushing yards, 149 passing yards, 390 receiving yards, three interceptions, 160 tackles, a sack, 7.0 tackles for loss and four PBUs this season. They’ve also caused Purdue to rank 113th in total defense (466.9 yards per game), 119th in scoring defense (38.4 points per game), and 122nd in rush defense (248.4 ypg).
There are struggles on offense, too, but as a byproduct of Purdue’s rushing offense ranking 124th nationally (104.1 ypg), Blough has been asked to carry the offense with his arm. Through 10 games the sophomore quarterbacks leads the conference in total yards per game (295.4) and is tops in the Big Ten in conference games in touchdown passes (16), completions (179), attempts (312) and yards (1,975).
The Boilermakers spread the ball around, too, as six different players have at least 29 receptions. Dre Yancy leads the team in catches (37), yards (748), yards per catch (19.4) and touchdowns (7). He’s a big-play threat with six of his touchdowns being at least 35 yards.
“I think it’s a really good scheme,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “I think that they’ve got some extremely skilled players, and they do a good job of dispersing the ball to the number of different receivers and can attack. They’ll push it down the field, they’ll spread you out and you have to defend the field. I think they do have really good concepts.”
During their 10-game win streak over Purdue, the Badgers have averaged 34.5 points per game, topping the 30-point mark seven times. On defense, UW has allowed the Boilermakers an average of 11.7 points, for an average margin of victory of 22.8 points
Winning the final two games of the season means Wisconsin heads to Indianapolis to face either Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State for the Big Ten title and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“We’ve got to make sure we put the focus on things we can control. We know we’re going to play a good time,” Chryst said. “Their record isn’t what they want it to be. None of that matters. You’ve got to be the best team that day.”