On Oct. 16, 2004, the Purdue Boilermakers faced the Wisconsin Badgers in a battle of unbeatens. The Boilermakers controlled most of the game and led 17-14 in the fourth quarter. On third down and three, Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton rolled out to his right and tried to dive for the first down. He appeared to have the conversion before colliding with Badger defensive back Scott Starks.
Without the ball.
Starks scooped up the fumble and returned it 40 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Wisconsin went on to win 20-17. This began a four-game losing streak and a 7-5 season for the Boilermakers.
Purdue has yet to recover.
Oh sure, they’ve gone to bowl games (2-3 since 2004) and even beat Ohio State two out of three years (albeit with the help of the NCAA in 2011), but something has always been missing in West Lafayette since that fateful autumn night. This season will be yet another chapter in that narrative.
Offensively, Purdue has so little to offer. Supposed savior quarterback Danny Etling transferred to LSU, leaving the job to junior Austin Appleby. Appleby threw for under 1,500 yards last season with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. And those stats were with somewhat respectable skill positions. The one legitimate offensive threat that returns this season is senior wide receiver Danny Anthrop who had 616 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2014. The next guy available is junior Cameron Posey, who only had 188 yards and one score. If there is anything the offense can build around, it’s the offensive line. All five starters are back for the Boilermakers in 2015, but it is paramount that they shore up the skill positions.
The defense isn’t much better. Purdue was 10th in the conference in total defense last season, giving up an average of 416 yards a contest. Defensive back Landon Feichter was the leading tackler (105) and had the most interceptions (five) on the team last season and he is now gone. Sophomore linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and senior defensive back Frankie Williams return, but they cannot stop the potent downfield Big Ten offenses by themselves. Up front, senior defensive lineman Ryan Watson returns. He led the team with four sacks last season. Watson and the rest of the defensive line will need to get that number up if Purdue has any hope of creating problems in opposing backfields. Otherwise the defense will be on the field for long periods of time.
When I look at Purdue’s schedule, I don’t see very many Ws. They open the season on the road against Marshall before hosting Indiana State, Virginia Tech and Bowling Green. The conference road games include Michigan State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. They dodge Ohio State this season, but that is about all the help Purdue is getting from the schedule. I’m sure it’ll be nice playing arch-rival Indiana at home though.
I don’t see Purdue doing much damage this season. At most, I have them at 3-9 with a 2-6 conference record and finishing last in the Big Ten West.
Brooks Hooley is a Junior Big Ten Football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @brookshooley.