Travis of Hammer & Rails was kind enough to answer some questions about the Boilermakers for me, and I have done the same for him.
1. First, the obvious question. Can even a 2004 or 2008-style beatdown save Danny Hope's job? Obviously, rumors can't always be trusted, but the conventional wisdom seems to be unanimous that Hope is gone regardless. Have you heard anything to the contrary?
The "Hope is gone no matter what" has died down a bit since the wins over Iowa and Illinois, but I think we can both agree that those were far from impressive wins over fantastic teams. Beating Indiana by 3 or 30 would still give Hope his first in-season three game winning streak since coming to Purdue. Considering it has taken until year four and none of those would be considered an earth-shattering win I don't know if it is enough.
Most of the fans felt he was gone as soon as the seventh losses and no bowl was secured, so in a way he has saved himself already twice. We’re pretty upset that not only did he lose five straight to start Big Ten play in a year we should have contended with Wisconsin for the title game berth, but that in four of the five games Purdue was completely blown out and didn’t even look competitive.
I would say that he is definitely gone with a loss to Indiana, while a victory over IU drops his chances to about 75%. At the very least, he needs to can Gary Nord as offensive coordinator to stay. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Nord missed the Iowa game and the offense actually looked good.The bottom line is that this season is already a step back and it was supposed to be a big step forward with his most talented team. I think he and Nord are gone after the Indiana game regardless and we have an interim coach for any potential bowl game.
2. Purdue has had a strange season. The Boilers have been very close to beating the last two remaining major undefeated teams. On the other hand, Purdue was embarrassed by Minnesota and wasn't overwhelming in beating Iowa and Illinois, the two teams IU also has defeated. Has there been any common theme separating Purdue's good performances and the bad ones?
I would say defensive line play. The defensive line was dominant against Notre Dame and Ohio State. You could argue that Purdue beats Notre Dame if we don’t inexplicably pull Robert Marve in the third quarter. A blocked extra point on our first extra point at Ohio State loomed huge as well. If Purdue kicks the extra point there a nine point lead means Ohio State’s last TD doesn’t matter.
Against Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Penn State the defensive line got pushed around and created virtually no pressure in the passing game. Combined with the offense doing little to nothing after the opening drive in those games things got out of hand rather quickly. That was probably the second biggest factor. Against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Penn State Purdue had a big play and aggressively scored on its opening drive. The rest of the time in the first half was spent going 3 and out as we went way too conservative.
3. Purdue's defense seems to be the better of your two units. Who have been the keys to success on that side of the ball?
Josh Johnson at corner has had a very good season and deserves all-Big Ten consideration. Landon Feichter, if he can put on some weight this offseason, can go from walk-on afterthought to solid Big Ten safety with the way he is always involved in the play. He also is one of the Big Ten leaders with four interceptions.
Then, of course, there is Kawann Short. At times he has played like a first round NFL pick and can be completely unblockable if things are going well. He just needs the rest of the line around him to be playing well so teams don’t focus solely on him. In a one-on-one situation he can’t really be stopped.
4. Basketball. It's been a bit of a rough start to the non-conference season. How confident are you that Purdue will rally to make the NCAA? Which of the freshmen has impressed you the most?
I wrote about this over the weekend. It is far too early to panic, but this is a young team going through a lot of growing pains so far. I think some expected them to come in and be the Baby Boilers 2.0 but they have struggled shooting from long range and at the free throw line. The three losses are definitely not bad ones. Bucknell has an NBA prospect center and starts four seniors back from a 25-win team a year ago. They’re going to be a nasty low-major team for someone in March and the team that prevented them from playing in last year’s NCAAs, Lehigh, only upset Duke in a 15 over 2 game. Considering we played without Terone Johnson in that game and five freshmen were playing their first collegiate game it was a very dangerous team to play.
The Villanova game was an absolute screwjob with the call on Byrd, while free throws and an awful first half were the reason for the loss to Oregon State. Even then, it was a tie game with two minutes to go. I can't help but wonder if the team was a bit deflated after the call on Byrd cost them what would have been a nice win over Villanova.
The schedule strength is there with a tough Big Ten and one of the toughest non-conference schedules we have played under Painter. There are still tough, but winnable non-conference games against Clemson, Xavier, Notre Dame, and West Virginia that can look very good on a resume. Win three of those, plus 10 games in the Big Ten and possibly a win in Chicago will have Purdue right there.
That said, the freshmen are going to need to grow up. The team needs to hit is free throws and someone other than Byrd has to become a perimeter shooter. There have been flashes. A.J. Hammons almost single-handedly pulled us back to win the Oregon State game. Ronnie Johnson is growing each game. Donne Hale has been a surprise in his first year out of a redshirt. Jay Simpson and Jacob Lawson have shown that with time, they can be very good, athletic players.
I think if this team grows like most Purdue fans think they can grow a tourney berth is still possible. As long as it avoids a bad loss and beats a Clemson team it should beat on the road in the ACC/Big Ten challenge the Crossroads Classic against Notre Dame could be a chance for its first big win and to show how much it has grown.