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November 3, 2012
No margin for error.
Purdue plays without much of one already in single games - every drop, every missed block and every missed tackle seems magnified.
But now that's the case for the 2012 season. After another lopsided loss, 34-9 against Penn State, the Boilermakers must win their final three games to reach bowl eligibility.
It's not the position many in the program thought they'd be in when this promising season started, not with experienced players and all-conference-type talent back across the defense and potential rising stars on offense.
But it's reality.
Purdue is 3-6 and winless in five Big Ten games.
It has lost its three Big Ten home games by a combined 116-36.
"You sit here and you just shake your head," junior Rob Henry said. "You look at the film and you see the mistakes that you make the past couple of weeks and you think you correct them and things just aren't working right now. It just doesn't make sense to us.
I think we have some good practices. I think we fix some things, and I haven't seen the film of (Saturday), but obviously it's not going to be any good. Everybody is just kind of shaking their head, don't really know what's going on right now."
There weren't any answers on offense against the Nittany Lions, whose defensive front seven was touted as the best Purdue has faced this season.
After scoring on their first drive for the fourth consecutive game - and scoring the first points against Penn State in the first quarter this season - the Boilermakers stalled again.
Danny Hope made a change to start the game where it'd seem to matter, inserting Robert Marve at quarterback for Caleb TerBush.
But there weren't any changes on the offensive line or at receiver. And those were areas that seemed to hurt the offense the most.
Marve, who looked mobile again despite playing with a knee injury, could only do so much when Penn State linemen broke free from blocks to smother him. Or when linebackers blitzed and weren't picked up, allowing Marve to get crushed.
He was hit consistently, likely in the double-digits, and that prevented the offense was opening up at all. It was limited to short throws, and even those didn't always produce.
Not when receivers and tight ends are dropping passes.
Purdue's quarterbacks completed 52 percent of passes for 288 yards, most of which came in the second half with the Boilermakers trailing. The Boilermakers converted only 1 of 11 third downs in the first half.
"The quarterback was hit and he was pressured some, so obviously if you can't protect the quarterback to some degree of excellence, then you can struggle in the passing game," Hope said. "I think Robert Marve showed a lot of courage, but we didn't protect the quarterback near as well as we needed to and it made it much tougher on Robert.
"We need to protect the quarterback a lot better, but when we get our chances to get open and catch the football, we have to cash in and make that happen. The protection wasn't what it needed to be, and the sure-handedness of our receivers let us down (Saturday)."
Purdue's defense seemed to play inspired early, getting pressure on Matt McGloin and forcing some bad throws.
But Zach Zwinak found some room to run, and the Boilermakers' secondary appeared to get gouged for big plays for the second consecutive game.
A 42-yard completion helped set up Penn State's first touchdown and a 35-yarder led to a 35-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead. In the final minutes of the half, McGloin connected on a 31-yarder, and Penn State rushed for a TD four plays later to take a 20-3 lead in at halftime.
"It's a lot of big plays we left out there, from starters to the backups, as far as people getting beat in coverage or taking the fakes, playing out of their gaps," Kawann Short said. "We felt like we could have done a lot better."
The defense didn't force any turnovers.
The offense largely wasted four first-half opportunities of drives starting near midfield.
Freshman Paul Griggs missed a chance to add points in the first half when his field goal bounced off the right upright.
So, now, Purdue is staring down a difficult task.
Up next - and the only one that matters, really, at this point - the Boilermakers head to Iowa's Kinnick Stadium next week, a place they haven't won since 1992.
Then, if they beat the Hawkeyes, they'll have to worry about hapless Illinois in Champaign.
And if they the Illini, it'll come down to the hated Hoosiers at home on Senior Day.
Short said he thinks the final three-game stretch will be "challenging," but he thinks the team can step up and respond.
First, though, it'll have to put this one behind it.
And that's not easy.
"The feeling sucks. It sucks," Marve said. "It's not fun. It's frustrating because you see things out there that we thought we could take advantage of, and we didn't. Hats off to Penn State.
"(The season has) just been not what we want. I don't really know how to put it into words. It hurts, I know that. I know that it's a rough situation. Stay positive as you can, we have to win three against teams we feel like we can compete with. Whatever we have to do to turn this thing around, we have to do it now."
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