WEST LAFAYETTE – Did Purdue coach Danny Hope save his job?
For a few hours at least, it doesn’t matter. The Boilers are bowl eligible for the second straight season.
Purdue rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat arch-rival Indiana 56-35 Saturday afternoon, retain the Old Oaken Bucket that symbolizes this series and positioned itself for a bowl bid.
The Boilers (6-6) will likely go to a bowl in Dallas, Phoenix or Houston.
“This was a huge step for our program,” Hope said. “To come away with back to back wins … There were a lot of great things we were able to put together.”
IU finished 4-8 in coach Kevin Wilson’s second season.
Hope has been under fire since a disastrous five-game losing streak to open Big Ten play. Attendance has plunged, and fan apathy rivals fan anger with demands for a coaching change.
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said he would wait until after the season to evaluate the program. One way or the other, he likely won’t wait long.
The post-game celebration included the players lifting Hope onto their shoulders while hoisting the Old Oaken Bucket Trophy. It did not include any guarantee that he would return for another season.
“I’ve been on the hot seat for four years,” he said.
“I don’t have any idea (if I’ll be back). Either way I’ll be OK. I’ve learned to live on the hot seat. Anytime you have a contract weak spots, you can be on the hot seat on a regular basis. I’d love to be back next year. I’ll be fine either way.”
Purdue won its last three games, but they all came against teams (Iowa, Illinois, IU) with losing records.
Hope said he doesn’t have any regrets.
“I wish we had won more games. I don’t know what we could have done any different. The end result we found a way.
“I always do my best. I never second guess my effort and commitment. I worked 85 to 100 hours a week for 4 ½ years and got the program back to national prominence. We’ve made improvements in every phase of the program. It’s just that plain and simple.
“I’ve committed my life to Purdue for the last 4 ½ years. It was not always reciprocated from the outside. My loyalty will always be to Purdue football.”
The Boilers were in trouble at Ross-Ade Stadium until stunning IU with a 21-0 burst in the first 11 minutes of the third quarter to take control they never lost.
Purdue quarterback Robert Marve was 20-for-29 for 348 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Running back Akeem Shavers had 126 yards rushing and a touchdown, plus 99 receiving yards and a touchdown.
IU quarterback Cam Coffman was 31-for-53 for 348 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Tailback Stephen Houston rushed for 158 yards and three TDs.
The game’s beginning reflected Purdue’s self-destructive season. Shavers 71-yard touchdown run was wiped out by a holding call on the game’s opening possession.. IU’s 51-yard TD run by Stephen Houston was penalty free. The Hoosiers led 7-0 three minutes into the game.
The Boilers came right back with a 77-yard TD drive, the last 14 on Brandon Cottom’s run. That tied it at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.
Marve’s 8-yard TD pass to Edison capped a 59-yard drive and made it 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Consecutive Houston TD runs gave IU a 21-14 halftime lead. The second TD was set up by Greg Heban’s 70-yard interception return off a deflected Marve pass just as the Boilers seemed poise for their own go-ahead touchdown.
The Boilers set an instant third-quarter tone. They forced a quick IU punt, then capitalized on the Hoosiers’ short punt for a touchdown. The big plays were a 31-yard pass to fullback Kurt Freytag and the 19-yard TD pass to receiver O.J. Ross, who broke a couple of tackles to finish the play. That tied the score at 21-12 four minutes into the second half.
IU was driving when cornerback Frankie Williams intercepted a badly overthrown Coffman pass. Williams returned it 33 yards, then Marve hight tight end Crosby Wright with a career-long 58-yard reception to set up Rob Henrys’s 1-yard QB sneak to make it 28-21.
Purdue linebacker Will Lucas forced and recovered a fumble by IU tailback D’Angelo Roberts. That became another Boiler touchdown on a Rob Henry 25-yard screen pass to Gary Bush for a 35-21 lead.
IU came right back. Coffman’s long pass to Kofi Hughes set up Coffman’s QB sneak for a TD to make it 35-28. Then he hit receiver Cody Latimer for 6-yard TD pass and a 35-5 tie with 12:14 left.
Purdue botched the kickoff to get the ball on its 1-yard line, then drove for the TD. Marve hit Shavers with a 73-yard throwback screen pass for the touchdown.
Following a Coffman interception, Marve hit Shavers with a 26-yard TD pass and a 49-35 score. Shavers added a 1-yard TD run with 6:14 left to clinch the victory.