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September 28, 2013
If Purdue's 41-10 loss to a conference opponent on the road last week was a "step back," what's this?
Committing five turnovers, including having one interception returned for a touchdown?
Managing only 24 points against a defense allowing more than that per game this season?
Watching a quarterback - a Heisman candidate, to be sure but one known more for his rushing than passing - connect on 73 percent of passes?
Allowing a Mid-American Conference school to post 55 points, the most ever against Purdue in Ross-Ade Stadium?
This could be the bottom for the Boilermakers.
Northern Illinois dominated - it pushed to a 20-point lead as early as the second quarter - and cruised to a 55-24 victory. That ties for the largest margin ever in a Big Ten-MAC matchup.
"This is a great time for a bye week for our football team," first-year coach Darrell Hazell said. "We need to take a look from A to Z at everything we're doing. All the personnel we're using right now and we need to make some improvements. We need to get healthy and come back. I think the big thing for our football team right now, above all else, is to stay close because we're going to hear it from people outside and rightfully so, but it's very important for our football team to stay glued together."
Purdue (1-4) didn't start that badly against the Huskies, holding NIU (4-0) to a field goal on its first drive and then answering with a 75-yard touchdown drive for a 7-3 lead.
But that quickly was erased - and there was no coming back.
Not with a Jordan Lynch-led offense.
NIU needed only two minutes to complete five passes that covered 63 yards, ending in a touchdown on its next series after Purdue took the lead.
Then Rob Henry lost a fumble, allowing the Huskies to go down and tack another field goal on to make it 13-7.
The next Purdue drive went three-and-out, and NIU needed only 2:06 to put another TD on the board.
Henry threw an interception after that, and the Huskies needed only four plays to get a touchdown to go up 27-7.
Hazell tried to provide a spark, yanking fifth-year senior Henry for freshman Danny Etling, despite having only 35 seconds left in the half and one timeout.
Etling completed two passes and Paul Griggs drilled a 47-yard field goal that gave Purdue some hope.
A 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half wiped that out.
"That was a big play," Hazell said. "I thought our guys in the locker room felt like they had a chance to be successful. If you get them stopped on that first drive then you're back into the ballgame, and I really felt like our guys felt like they could come out and have some success. To have that kickoff come back on you, that hurt us a lot."
It wasn't the only thing.
Purdue's defenders simply could not slow NIU's offense.
It tried to stay in its base 4-3 defense and cover receivers with linebackers, and catches were made at a high rate.
It tried to bring in an extra defensive back, and catches were made at a high rate.
It tried to pack the box to bottle up Lynch and the running backs, and NIU averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
Purdue figured Lynch would be the guy to stop running the ball - he'd carried 22, 23 and 23 times, after all, in the first three games this season.
Instead, Lynch came out throwing, and dissected the defense with his arm. He completed 14 of his first 15 passes.
Ricardo Allen and Bruce Gaston didn't seem to have any answers afterward. Allen talked about how the defense needs to play harder, and Gaston mentioned it needed to "execute" better.
That'll need to come over the next week, allowing Purdue to stew over its break.
"We're going to evaluate ourselves," Allen said. "Right now, we're looking into the mirror and finding out what we can do better as players. Us as players, we have to play better. We're going to evaluate ourselves and see what we can do to make ourselves better and get ourselves to a chance to win."
The offense certainly won't be exempt from that scrutiny.
Though Hazell wouldn't say after the game whether the switch to Etling was permanent, the offense still appears to have more problems than its quarterback play.
Next week will be a busy one for Purdue.
"You give up that many points and you turn it over that many times, you don't score enough points, everything is a concern right now," Hazell said.
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