WEST LAFAYETTE -- Will Purdue win a Big Ten game?
Amazing, isn't it, that we ask the question. But submission football -- and if you saw the Boilers the last two weeks with blowout losses to Michigan and Wisconsin, you know what submission looks like -- gives you no chance in a power conference, even one as down as the Big Ten this year.
Purdue is 3-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten and in danger of becoming postseason irrelevant. It was picked as a Leaders Division contender and became college football's biggest under-achiever. It was favored against Michigan and Wisconsin and got outscored 82-27.
In front of fans growing restless when they show up, which more and more of them are not.
“It's surprising we've played like this,” safety Landon Feichter says.
That's being kind.
Unless something changes dramatically, Purdue will be fodder on Saturday at unbeaten but beatable Ohio State. It won't beat improving Penn State or suddenly dangerous Iowa.
And of the three apparent soft touches remaining on the schedule -- Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana -- the Hoosiers aren't looking so soft anymore. They've pushed Michigan State and Ohio State hard while showing tenacity the Boilers have not.
In other words, there might not be the three wins left on the schedule to make them bowl eligible.
“We left some regrets on the field that hopefully we can fix next week,” Feichter says. “We're not playing like we're supposed to play.”
That's an understatement. Coach Danny Hope's best team in terms of talent and experience has played like his worst. A defense expected to dominate has gotten shredded for 41, 44 and 38 points in the last three weeks. The offensive line struggles with consistency. The quarterback play is mediocre. The secondary gives up too many big plays and the tackling is, well, a problem.
“We didn't tackle well,” Hope says. “We had guys in position to make plays and they dove at ankles and didn't play physical. We weren't standing up and hitting them hard. We weren't true in the back half (the secondary) in regard to coverage. Wisconsin's play action passes were wide open throughout the course of the game.”
What is the team mood?
“This hurts us,” defensive tackle Kawann Short says, “but as far as guys talking in the locker room, we can still do a lot of things this year.”
Last year Purdue was 4-5 before rallying to finish 7-6 with a Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl victory. That was supposed to be a springboard to the championship run Hope has talked about since taking over the program after the 2008 season.
Instead, promise has spiraled into disaster.
“Everybody is still in it,” Short says. “Everybody still has faith in this team. Last year we weren't bowl contenders, but we stirred up the wins and did it. We have a better team this year. We're humble and still hungry. These guys still have faith.”
And yet, losing has a ways of turning faith into doubt and dissension. Short suggests there was some of that as Wisconsin, which plays a be-more-man-than-you power approach, steam rolled the Boilers.
“We beat ourselves as far as communication, pointing fingers and stuff like that,” he says. “Everybody has to be playing his role and doing what we need to do. If we do, everything will fall into place.”
Adds Feichter: “We're a brotherhood. We're a family and that will be the mentality we'll keep. If somebody is down, somebody has to step up and help. That's what we'll do.”
As for as winning the Leaders Divison title and making the Big Ten title game, that's as likely as A-Rod regaining his baseball mojo.
“We're not worried about that,” Feichter says. “We have to win next week. If we do and things settle in the right position, that's great. We're just looking forward to Ohio State.”
This is not a juggernaut Buckeye team, even if it is 7-0 and ranked seventh. It has enough significant defensive issues that starting fullback Zach Loren was switched to linebacker and became an instant starter. Coach Urban Meyer says he's going to have a more hands-on approach to defense even though that's not his area of expertise.
Purdue has won two of the last three games with Ohio State. It doesn't need divine intervention to win. It does need to play with tough-minded purpose.
In other words, stop submitting.