Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Watershed Moment?


(Note to the reader: This post is longer than normal...but read it in chunks if you don't have time to read it in its entirety...Then, let us know your thoughts...I think we're witnessing a critical period of time for Danny Hope's coaching staff)

In 2009, Purdue fans were in an optimistic mood. Almost everybody, including Joe Tiller, was ready for a change following the '08 season. We all knew Hope was an emotional guy...a high-energy guy. We all liked that too. After years of watching a stoic coach hold a stop watch, crunch on ice chips, hold his nose at the refs and complain about the disparity between Purdue and the cream of the conference, it was good to see something fresh.

And we saw something new last season. We saw a team that was a seemingly-manic as its coach. Coach Tiller was never too high, never too low. Coach Hope is a red ass when angry and happy like a little kid after a big victory. Football should be an emotional game...I like that emotion. I still think that personality type was what the program needed, especially after the last few seasons of JT's time in West Lafayette.

That said, I have to be fair and look critically at what we've been witnessing the last two seasons...and it's worse than not good. Possibly more disparaging, Things are going backwards...and it has little to do with injuries, in my opinion. The optimism for this coaching staff among the fan base seems to be waning.

Offensive Woes
Everyone reading understands the painful reality the Purdue football team's attrition has probably brought to the coaching staff. But, injuries to skilled players have no effect on the offensive line. This offensive line, at times, has looked as bad as any I've seen since Akers was coaching at Purdue. Colletto's lines were generally powerful...but slow. Tiller's lines (even the least talent-laden) were generally lean, but very skilled at protecting for the spread system. But Coach Hope's second offensive line seems to be months away from being ready. On paper, they're formidable- tall, long arms, great strength and weight. But, in person, versus less-than stellar competition, this unit seems to be manhandled regularly. The problem starts there...the OLine is Hope's baby...and his baby is kinda ugly right now.

Make no mistake, I'm not blaming Robert Marve's current injury on that line. But he was hit a ton the first few games. Granted, some of that was because he refused to get rid of the ball...but some was because he was simply running for his life as soon as the ball was moved. Today in the second half, they seemed to wear down Toledo and blew open some substantial holes...but this wasn't aOSU or Wisconsin they were facing. In the BT, it wearing a team down as the game goes on will become less and less likely. I have friends that say Bolden and Smith's losses are a difference of two or three games. They might be right, might be wrong. But, experts say that games are won in the trenches...in that case you can see why Purdue's offense is struggling to find an identity and has not yet found a rhythm.

Atop that, the play-calling has been horrible. The draw has been the mainstay this season from Coach Nord, next, a ton of reverses to the short side of the field...and for the life of me, I can't understand why the coaching staff keeps going to these dry wells. These plays have yielded very-limited success...and more-notably, have helped Purdue become one of the less-potent offenses in the nation. The 1-2-3-4 First Down Chant might need to be shelved for a while, in my opinion. The whole point of that was to demonstrate the frustrating nature of the way Purdue's offenses would rack up yards and first downs a they'd march down the field. This simply doesn't happen with regularity this season. Purdue has had more three and outs than their competition this season. Let that sink in- that's versus UND (who can't seem to stop anybody but Purdue), a 1-AA opponent and two MAC teams. That's flat-out awful. Do you think things will get better as the BT season commences?

Defensive Concerns
Defensively, Purdue is struggling mightily to stop third down conversions. Some other Achilles heels seem to be the dreaded tight end dumps over the middle, delay draws and running backs who simply bounce their runs outside. These problems are officially a theme...and by the way, those plays don't take a genius like the Manatee to draw up or even a wise offensive sage to spot. This was a struggle last season too. People tried to blame it on a young/unhealthy LB corps then...now, according to Hope and others, this is supposed to be one of the best units on the team...it simply doesn't look that way though.

When Purdue has needed stops most this season, they simply haven't come. When a tackle has to be made, it almost never is as opposing running backs and quarterbacks seem to have Teflon-coated jerseys on when they're needed to be brought down. These same problems have seeped into the kickoff coverage units...Mercifully, Purdue doesn't have to kickoff all that often (read above for an answer why).

Recurring Special Teams Problems
Speaking of special teams, here's what we've seen- no consistency from the punters, a pre-season all BT kicker miss routine field goals and a kickoff coverage unit that seems to wilt when needed most. Versus UND, Ball State and most recently, Toledo. This kickoff team (that's filled with starters) exhibits poor spacing and worse tackling more often than not. This gives an already beleaguered defense a short field to defend, time and time again. Keep in mind, Purdue hasn't been playing teams with deadly kick returners or Beamer-coached ST units...they've faced a mediocre UND team, a D1-AA team and two MAC teams (yes, I'm repeating for effect).

There's an old football adage that I've found to be true- bad teams always seem young. They're always awaiting the arrival of a RS player or recruit to complete the team. Good teams seem to have underclassmen who are frustratingly good and seem to start for 5 or 6 seasons. Purdue isn't the latter right now...nor were they in '09.
There's Always Something
In much of the last season, I can remember thinking,
"if only the defense could stop the run..."
"if only the DBs could stop the pass..."
"if only the quarterback could make a few deep throws and be more-consistent..."
"if only the punt and kickoff units could keep their spacing and cover more-consistently..."

"If only this team could put together a complete game."

Ahhh, wouldn't it be great? And they did a few times last season toward the end...it seemed some of the lessons learned might carry into 2010. But, we seem to be experiencing Groundhog Day all over again. Versus Notre Dame, the defense held UND relatively in check (23 points)...but the offense was a no show (12). Today versus Toledo, Purdue's offense put it together in the second half (20 points in that half alone), but the defense allowed the statistical-worst offense in the nation to make plays when as it needed to assure victory. In the middle two games both the offenses and defenses struggled at times...particularly, allowing nearly 300 yards passing against W. Ill, then going scoreless for two-straight quarters against BSU.

As a rule it seems, Danny Hope's teams have struggled mightily to make "big" plays when their backs are against the wall in the first halves of each season he's been at Purdue.

Why?
Perhaps Hope's camps haven't been as effective as they've needed to be. Perhaps the coaching staff simply doesn't game plan aggressively early on as they don't have confidence in the individual units at the beginning of the season. But whatever the case is, something needs to be done. If the offense can't score a ton of points and force opposing teams into a high-paced game that leads to mistakes...or the defense can't consistently come up with turnovers and stops as needed...or the Special Teams units cannot make tackles or produce enough points, something's gotta give. It's a team game, and since none of the individual parts seem to be dominant, the collective unit must compliment the sum...it hasn't happened yet.

What can be done?
As J said in his post-game wrap-up, we're not proponents for people calling for the firing of Hope at this point as the season should be judged in its entirety, in our opinion. But, there might be some things that can be done to send a message to everyone on staff that there will be accountability and he simply expects more from his staff. Plus, I've never been a fan of people who just talk about problems and never have any proposed solutions...sure, my solutions aren't flawless, but in my opinion, something needs to be done.

Last season, Hope spoke of the importance of the Special Teams units as he named J.B. Gibboney as the ST Coordinator. The kick coverage was bad last year...but Hope blamed that on the fact that they couldn't put the guys on the field they needed/wanted to. This season, the kick coverage is still lousy...and starters are out there playing on those units. I'm not a fan of a mid-season firing...but think Gibboney needs to be relieved of his duties and shifted within the staff...perhaps to a position's coaching role.

The next potential change would be removing the "Co" from in front of Gary Emanuel's title and make him DC...then moving Landholm into the LB coaching role. Hagen would then become ST coordinator and would also coach the DLine.

Above, you can see how critical we are of the play-calling by Nord- it's been as vanilla and uninventive as I can remember. That said, I think his hands are tied more than any other coach's due to the losses of key players.

Granted, the chance of these changes, or changes like these, happening is extremely-slim as Hope seems to be staunchly-loyal. But, the margin for error of how to attain a winning record or respectable bowl has just gotten slimmer and slimmer...and with it, the leniency among alums, the general fanbase, and ticket holders/buyers might be disappearing.

Just as the Toledo loss back in 1997 became a defining moment and rallying cry for the Tiller's team and coaching staff, we could be witnessing a similar period of time right now, if some positives can be gleaned from it. If Hope's program is to take a collective step forward it will be because of the hard lessons learned thus far, and the difficult, if not aggressive decisions made during the upcoming bye week.

A Bleak Outlook
Purdue is currently last in scoring offense, second-to-last in passing, last in kickoff returns, and tied in seventh for scoring defense all while playing the 8 most-difficult schedule thus far.

This week alone, Wisconsin scored 70 points, aOSU scored 73, UM scored 65 & MSU scored 45. Without major changes, could Purdue see one of the most lop-sided losses in recent memory in BT play? Or worse yet, could the Boilers end up in the cellar of the conference?

Games that looked like gimmes don't look like it anymore as Illinois is playing respectably and IU is flat-out playing well...Finding (at least) 4 wins in the remaining schedule, at least at this point, seems to be a bit of a pipe dream

The odds of having a winning season, or even going to a bowl game decreased drastically today following the loss to Toledo. Hope and co. simply can't wait until the end of the season to make a move...The time is now.

27 comments:

Ben said...

I agree the season must be judged as a whole.

And, as Antione Dodson so eloquently put it...."Weeeelllll, OBVIOUSLY"...change is needed.

I personally think this change needs to start with a NEW AD. Morgan Burke is a selfish asshole. Ask anyone- and I do mean anyone who has played as a student athlete in the last decade.

I contact him on a yearly basis, usually through emails that end up in a phone call- and he's the first to divert attention away from the problems and talk about what good he has done for PU. Yes, academics are important at Purdue- even for student athletes. That is the absolute CORE MINIMUM Morgan. The fact that you emphasize academics doesn't make you a Mollenkopfesque hero. It means you are tending to the absolute basics...which you should.

But as far as the basics are concerned, Mr Burke is missing the mark. I'm thrilled with Matt Painter as head coach. Thank you Gene Keady.

Mr. Burke continues to pilfer from the football program to support (otherwise meaningless) athletic programs. Any investor worth a piddle of salt knows that you must reinvest in order to add to principle capital...not milk it for all its worth...which at this point I would say that our product- B10 football- that product has been substantially eroded.

No we haven't been a powerhouse in football. Yes, Joe Tiller had some good years and Bowl Games...he was also 12 games over .500 in 10 years as head coach in B10 play. This was not acceptable. Not on any level.

So here we sit, watching ill prepared soon to be men hobble onto the field....while their coach can't muster the courage for an audible for fear that the personnel wouldn't know what to do. I ask of you, who's fault is that Mr. Hope?

The injury bug? There is no one...not one that is to blame but the head coach. Ill prepared teams continue to march the field- and every game it seems we are left hoping for a miracle.

Gibboney should have been gone about 3 games into the season last year. If the special teams unit have a coach- it sure did not show on the field. That remains true.

Urban Meyer personally coaches special teams himself. He utilizes starters...and has a competition for special teams position. He even provides incentives for the special teams members as they are first in line at chow.

A coach that has won 2 national championships in 5 years puts emphasis on special teams. He obviously knows something.

Conclusion- special teams are very important.

While I have been excited to see Coach Hope succeed in recruiting the state of Florida...it seems so far that's all he's great at. Organizing and preparing his coaches and his athletes- well that has yet to show up in a meaningful way.

That is no way to run a B10 program. And it is a disservice to the proud tradition of Purdue football. From Bob Griese to Rod Woodson to defending Super Bowl Champion Drew Brees- Purdue football has held a meaningful spot on the map for many years.

That tradition is waning. We are in a nose dive for the spot of conference bottom dwellers and that will not be accepted. Not now, not 25 years from now...that will never be acceptable at our proud institution.

Shawn said...

Is it wrong to pine for a Brock Spack defense? I remember how infuriating it was to watch some of his talented defenses underperform. At this point, I would gladly take under-performance over no performance at all. 378 yards to the worst FBS offense?

And how can Gibboney still be employed? If I were that bad at my job I'd be in jail by now.

MrAnonymous said...

I don't know. I don't know how to judge a new coach, when to hold and when to fold. My feeling is that we don't fire Hope after 2 seasons. To fire the coach now would really add some instability to the program. And really, there must be a reason that the staff has gone to a more vanilla play calling as compared to last year. I think it is a lot of young underclassmen, and a lot of upperclassmen that are just no good. Anyways, I live in western Virginia, and I like to compare Purdue to VA Tech. Frank Beamer, the "savior" of VA Tech had his first SIX seasons as thus

2-9
3-8
6-4-1
6-5
5-6
2-8-1

And we know how Tech is doing now.

boxercr said...

A right all you Chicken Littles: how many NFL teams would be over 500 if they lost their starting QB, RB, and #1 WR? And they have more talent at the back-up positions than college teams. Let the season play out. Because if they beat aOSU and MICH again, these posts will look stupid. The success of this season will be whether the team fights and competes in each game or whether they roll over and die. We won't know that until the end of the year.

Ben said...

No Boxercr, I disagree. We are more than a 4 win conference program with a possible upset once a season. Well, we should be anyway. To say last season was a success because we beat then ranked #7 OSU would be ridiculous. That game was a success. The season was not.

If we lose every game but one...and at this point- we would be underdogs in EVERY game so any win would be an upset- that would not be a successful season either.

If we win out, sure, these look silly. If we go .500 it would be a miracle.

jfiandt said...

BD - good post.

I for one am not calling for Hope's head, either, as that does nothing but further the problem.

However, I agree that it seems the team has stagnated or gotten worse from last year.

We seemed imaginative last year and tested teams with our balanced attack. This year, we rely on the run, the draw and the jailbreak screen. NOTHING is aimed at the downfield play. Robert Marve looks to be a dud and Rob Henry has the tools, but the passing game is suspect with him at the helm.

I sadly got suckered into the hype surrounding Marve and the team this year and I think that is what stings the most. We're expecting steak and get nothing but sizzle. The injuries merely add more insult to the whole mess.

I'm reminded of the disastrous start to last year, but that team felt as if just one piece was missing; the turnovers. This team seems to want to rest on its laurels and is sipping its own bathwater. The lack of control and focus is eerily reminiscent of the 2005 squad: so much promise and hype and no results.

I pray Hope and his staff aren't in over their collective heads, but until we see otherwise; that's where my opinion stands. We may very well get on a roll like last year, but then again the only direction this team can go is up.

zlionsfan said...

Let's not be rewriting history. Purdue has never been a football power; they've won about 53% of their games overall with just two Rose Bowl appearances (and only one win). Their best stretch was arguably Mollenkopf's last four years (1966-69), the only four-year stretch where Purdue was .800 or better each year, and even during that time, they struggled with top conference opposition (0-3 against top-10 Big Ten teams; thank goodness ND was around to be beaten).

Yeah, Tiller was 12 games over .500, but that was more than acceptable ... don't you remember what it was like before then? Has the wasteland that was the Akers and Colletto years been forgotten so quickly? After Mollenkopf, Purdue had managed just five winning seasons in the 27 years prior to Tiller's arrival, and before Mollenkopf, there were a couple of good seasons in the '40s, and then three more back in the who-gives-a-crap pre-WWII days.

Sorry about the history lesson, but I want to make it clear that Purdue never has been a football school. We have a proud tradition of producing quality players and a recent history of moderate success, but this isn't (and likely never will be) a Michigan or an Ohio State. The money isn't there, the support isn't there, and I'm not really sure the desire is there: given the choice, I suspect Purdue would much rather be outstanding at basketball.

So it's not like the bar is set that high. Hope doesn't need to win 10 games and make it to a BCS bowl to be successful. He needs to run a good, clean program, beat IU, get to a bowl game, and occasionally contend for the Big Ten title and beat Notre Dame.

The problem is that so far, it looks like he's only managing two of those (thankfully, the most important) ... at least Purdue's APR in football went up four points to 930 (925 is where penalties start kicking in), and really, IU has yet to play decent competition - they beat a I-AA team and were unimpressive against bad Sun Belt and MAC competition.

And if that's all he can manage, well, Tiller did that with his eyes half open ... 10-2 against IU and 6-0 in Ross-Ade.

I agree with what I think boilerdowd is saying in that the biggest mistake was acceding to Tiller's demand; a better move would have been to pick the best man for the job, but hell, it worked out with Painter, so I suppose Burke can be forgiven that one. Anyway, it's done, and you can't make a good, permanent change midseason ... as much as it sucks, the best we can expect is that Hope will plug some leaks during the season and get to 4-8 or 5-7 with a win over IU. That might be enough to let Burke give him an ultimatum (and reduce the payout for firing Hope if needed).

If he can turn things around next year with almost an entire roster of his own recruits, then it'll be a good thing. If Burke gives him one more chance, well, I think it needs to be six wins (including IU) plus a bowl game (preferably a win) ... right now I would take that in a heartbeat.

Ben said...

@Z-

We are saying the same- except we agree to disagree regarding Joe Tiller. I'm glad he did what he did for our program- but bare cupboard has been evident since the exodus at 2004.

12 games over .500 boils down to 1 game over .500 per year. There was not enough success to keep JT in the saddle.

Sadly, I agree with BD- that we continue to digress.

I'm not trying to say we are building a National Championship...but perennial bowl teams is the only way to measure success. Bowl games are the bonus check at the end of the season- additional revenue, national exposure...these things help you stay competitive in recruiting.

All I know is that we struggle to be competitive- in the "cupcake" season. The problem is no one has a shred of something positive to hang onto. Call it what it is- we got beat by the worst team in the nation- at home. Disgusting.

Bloomington.Boiler said...

I'll go ahead and throw in my two cents...

We suck.

Chad said...

I'd have to agree with Shawn about the defense. My seats are right behind where the defense sits and the differences I see between the current defensive coaches and Brock Spack are night and day. Not a single game yet this year have I seen the coaches yelling at the players trying to get their heads in the game! The score was 14-0 Toledo and I saw players chatting and laughing as if they were up 14-0. Spack would have been all over them and they would have starting pumping each other up! The emotion, or lack there-of is a huge reason Purdue is 2-2 right now.

Purdue Matt said...

@Zlionsfans,

"Their best stretch was arguably Mollenkopf's last four years..."

Jim Phelan and Noble Kizer would like a word with you.

zlionsfan said...

Phelan's best season was set up by a weak schedule: Purdue missed four of the five next-best teams in the conference (Iowa was their only opponent with a .500 conference record). Kizer's teams were similarly aided ... in the '20s and '30s, Purdue seemed very reluctant to play Ohio State and Michigan - can't say I blame them, but it doesn't help their case any.

Of course the lack of bowls (and the Western Conference's disinterest in them) doesn't help things either. It would have been interesting to see the '29 team play, say, unbeaten Tulane. (Were there really 23 teams in the Southern Conference back then? That's a little much.)

sports-reference.com likes the 1932 team (second only to Elmer Burnham's unbeaten 1943 team - that war thing really got in the way) ... they give a slight edge over a four-year span to the '60s teams, but like I said, it's arguable.

Mark said...

I wrote a long, logically coherent and brilliant post; however, the system refused it and deleted it.

To sum it up:

[yawn]

Overreaction.

boilerdowd said...

Mark, were you at the game?

Mark said...

Yes, and at the game I was pretty disheartened.

I watched replays, too, but after watching them, I saw good coaching decisions in game. What I saw was poor execution from a few specific positions:

#3 QB - Is this Hope's fault that the 3rd string r-Fr. QB isn't ready to lead the team from a 14-0 deficit? No.

#2 RB's - Missed blocks, not hitting the right holes, going to open space not following blockers...all from inexperience and/or not practicing due to injury.

#1 LB's - Here is a huge problem that has been in existence before Hope. Werner and Holland CANNOT tackle RB's. They are in position, they get arms around them, but they don't bring them down. Every big run (except QB option for TD) was due to a LB not making a tackle. After 32 years in the system, 3 different LB coaches, these two should be able to tackle. It tells me that it is more a personnel issue than a coaching issue.

The offensive line is still forming, and I've seen improvement every game. I wasn't able to evaluate what happened at the end of the game, but the last three offensive plays looked like the line gave up.

All that to say, what I've said since last year: 2010 is a REBUILDING year. Add several key injuries, and it's heading toward a bad year. If Hope gets 5 wins, he'll have earned his salary.

boilerdowd said...

Since you were at the game, you felt the pall over the stadium...the feeling that the defense couldn't stop anything and the offense couldn't score once, let alone the needed three times.

I agree with most of what you say...but don't think it's over-reacting to ask for coaching changes. And once again, I know it won't happen.

I think the first half was the worst half of Purdue football that I've seen in the last 15 years. The second half was better...but top-to-bottom, it was awful. They made a middling MAC team look like a highly-ranked, uber-talented SEC club. Toledo looked faster, meaner, better-coached and more talented. I don't think they are most of these things. That comes down to preparation. CBS sports called Purdue (along with Minnesota) the absolute doormats of the league right now. Sadly, I don't think the write-up is wrong...nor do I think the garbage we saw on Saturday should be accepted by anyone as a bi-product of injuries, a lousy football heritage or the fact that this year is a re-building season.

Uninspired football with poor fundamentals will absolutely kill a fanbase's drive to come to games and it can snowball quickly in the psyche of the players if something doesn't change. That's the point of my post...and I don't think it's an over-reaction. These two weeks are pivotal.

J Money said...

And, as most of you know, we speak from experience. We were there when the fans, students, alums and players were all getting indifferent towards football.... losing was fully expected and completely accepted. Bad times.

MrAnonymous said...

I think calling for coaching changes is overreacting. Phil Steele has us ranked 108th in the country by experience. We are a YOUNG team. We only start 6 seniors. Having 9 wins seasons like Tiller's first year are not the norm. Most of the time coaching transitions bring growing pains (VA Tech, Iowa). Throwing Hope out on his ear now will lead to instability in the program and will scare off good hires, because frankly, we are not a dream job, and who wants to put up with a program that hires and fires helter-skelter?

boilerdowd said...

Read again, sir. I didn't ask for Hope to be thrown out. I am absolutely asking for members of his staff to be changed, if not fired.

If he's not already, he will dearly pay for these coaches on his staff that do not know how to handle experienced, highly-skilled coaches.

When a team is young and less-skilled than its opposition, that's when it desperately needs good coaching. It's pretty obvious some units aren't getting anything of the sort right now.

Purdue Matt said...

Fire Joe Tiller!

boilerdowd said...

Right Matt- it'd be awesome if he had mailed it in for another season or two.

dozer8589 said...

"I didn't ask for Hope to be thrown out. I am absolutely asking for members of his staff to be changed, if not fired." bdowd - 9.28.10

While you didn't mention Nord by name, he is a member of the staff. I was simply saying that I personally don't think Nord should be one of changes - apparently you agree.

As far as Siller goes, why don't we want an upperclassman with game experience playing QB?

boilerdowd said...

Dozer, my pal- Did you read anywhere that I suggested Nord's position be changed? Never said it. I think his play calling has been questionable, at best at times...but he gets an out due to the fact he's clearly trying to find some sort of offensive system that fits the personnel...problem is, you have to have a line like Wisconsin's or aOSU's to run the draw every other play with any success. Purdue's linemen are neither trained for that, nor are they physically-dominant enough for that, in my opinion. (the games thus far prove me correctly as misdirection and cutbacks seem to be working pretty well)

dozer8589 said...

"Did you read anywhere that I suggested Nord's position be CHANGED?" – bdowd 9.29.10

"I didn't ask for Hope to be thrown out. I am absolutely asking for MEMBERS of his STAFF to be CHANGED, if not fired." bdowd - 9.28.10

No need to call me "pal" (unless you truly mean it). You said some of his staff members should change. My reply was that Nord shouldn't be one of them. I think we're on the same page here...

BTW, this just in from G&B: the team plans to use the bye week to focus on healing and "relaxing."

WTF?

boilerdowd said...

I did mean it- you're a regular here...I wasn't being sarcastic.

I spelled out that I thought Landholm and Gibbony were large problems.

I hope the team is by a pool sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas all week...that'll get 'em mentally prepared.

Andrew said...

What about dozer's comment about Siller?

I like the idea of putting him back under center. His athletic ability is termendous and can scramble to make something out of nothing.

Bloomington.Boiler said...

Andrew... that's a good point. Because you're correct - right now, we have just that - NOTHING!