When it rains, it pours. That was the story in Ross-Ade Stadium against Illinois on Saturday, it was the story in 2018 when the Boilermakers took on Eastern Michigan and it has been the story for Purdue all season.
If we go back and take a look at the first game against Nevada, the Boilermakers blew a big halftime lead and ultimately lost the game. Little did Purdue know, that was the thunder before the storm. In the next game, fifth-year quarterback Elijah Sindelar went down with a concussion, and slowly but surely, it began to drizzle. Sindelar missed a game, and Purdue got annihilated by Texas Christian University. Once the Boilers played Minnesota, the storm had fully begun.
To lose one’s two best offensive and defensive players in the same season is almost unheard of, but it happened to Purdue. At the time, those losses made chances of the bowl difficult but not impossible. But after playing the Illini however, bowl eligibility appears slim.
“We just have to take it one game at a time and honestly, we just have to take it one practice at time,” said junior receiver Jackson Anthrop. “We just got to shorten things and focus on what we need to do right now, instead of tomorrow or the next day.”
In order for Purdue to become bowl eligible, the Boilermakers must win the next four games.
“The whole team knows what situation we’re in,” said freshman quarterback Jack Plummer. “We know we only have two wins and six losses, and that’s not good enough. People came here to win games. You ask anybody on our team — we didn’t come here to just be on the team, we came here to win. Everyone’s got to work hard and everyone’s got to do their part, myself included.”
Three out of the four games are winnable on paper, but so were the Illinois, Nevada and Minnesota games. Predicting what games Purdue can win is tough.
University of Nebraska
The Cornhuskers currently sit at 4-4 and will roll into West Lafayette looking to secure bowl eligibility. When the two teams faced off last year, Purdue was able to come away with a dominant 42-28 victory, but these are two totally different teams. Nebraska defeated Illinois 42-38 but lost to Minnesota 34-7.
These are the only two teams both Purdue and the Cornhuskers have played. However, it is important to note Purdue faced off against an Illini team that just upset former-No. 6 Wisconsin. Though often understated, momentum can be a true deciding factor when it comes to victory.
Although Nebraska has a better record than Purdue, the Boilermakers have played much tougher competition. Purdue should be able to secure a victory against Nebraska as it continues to weather this season’s storm.
Although the Wildcats won the Big Ten West last year, they are the only team in the division with a record worse than Purdue right now. They haven’t scored more than 15 points in a single game this year and should be an easy victory for the Boilers.
Assuming Purdue is victorious against the University of Nebraska, a win against Northwestern would give Purdue the momentum necessary to win the toughest game of this four-game stretch.
University of Wisconsin
In order to secure bowl eligibility, Purdue must also defeat the now-No. 13 Badgers. Anybody who plays sports knows to approach each game one at a time, but Wisconsin is certainly on the minds of Purdue players and coaches as a formidable opponent.
Besides Penn State, this is the strongest team Purdue will face all season. This game could be the signature win that the program needs, or it could serve as a crushing loss that ends all hope of a bowl-game appearance. If Boilermaker bowl hopes are still alive by this point, a win against the University of Wisconsin might still be possible.
Lorenzo Neal has been out since late last year, but he is expected to return some time this season during Big Ten play. If the Boilermakers manage to defeat Northwestern and Nebraska, he will likely see the field again.
Head coach Jeff Brohm said Neal will play before the end of the year. Although he isn’t fully cleared to go at this point, three weeks is a long time, and Wisconsin is the second to last game of the regular season.
In addition to Neal’s return, we may also see junior wide receiver Jared Sparks return by that point. He has been in and out of the depth chart all year with a chronic injury. For the past two weeks, he was listed as doubtful. With some rest and practice over the next few weeks, it’s very possible that Sparks could return and majorly impact the passing game.
Sophomore wideout Rondale Moore could also be game-ready by the time Purdue takes on Wisconsin, but only if Purdue is still a contender for bowl eligibility by that point. Moore hasn’t been in action since the freak play against Minnesota, when both he and Sindelar went down. However, he has been listed as doubtful for every game since then, and Purdue has never fully closed the door on his return. Even if Moore returned at less than peak performance, he would still be the ultimate weapon on the field. His return could even open up the field for more for play-makers like Bell and senior tight end Brycen Hopkins.
In a perfect world, the Boilermakers’ game against the Badgers would be the calm after the storm. There is a chance everything could come together at the right time and set up yet another showdown against the Hoosiers.
The Boilermaker nation’s animosity toward Indiana is well-documented and extensive. For the third straight year, the Hoosiers could be the only thing standing between the Boilermakers and their chances at a bowl game. If Purdue can get through the preceding three games without a loss, Indiana stands no chance.
Indiana had perhaps one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the Big Ten and hasn’t beaten any legitimately formidable teams in the Big Ten. Its record alone doesn’t tell the full story of its season. On paper they may seem like the stronger team, but this will be put to the test on game day.