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October 12, 2013
Earlier in the week before Purdue played Nebraska, Ricardo Allen said the Boilermakers were "so far down that the only way to come is up."
That climb got steeper Saturday.
And that's even after Purdue used two weeks of preparation to make major scheme changes on both sides of the ball - a shift from a four-man front to a three-man front on defense and from a pro style to more of a spread on offense.
Those drastic changes weren't enough to matter Saturday. Nebraska held the Boilermakers' new-look offense led by true freshman Danny Etling to only 216 yards and rushed for 251 yards on an ailing Purdue defense in a 44-7 rout at Ross-Ade Stadium.
"We have to play better at every position," Coach Darrell Hazell said. "Our execution needs to be a whole lot better than what it is right now. I thought we would perform a little bit better than what we did.
"We're not a good enough football team right now to overcome some of our self inflictions. That's where we are right now. That's the reality of it. We need to get a whole lot better."
The Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten) just narrowly missed being shut out for the first time at home since 2006 - Etling's 55-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Yancey came with only 39 seconds remaining in the game.
That play wasn't only Purdue's longest of the game, it accounted for the Boilermakers' longest drive.
The changes, personnel and scheme, didn't work.
The offensive numbers were dismal, regardless of the new quarterback, the bevy of three-, four- and five-receiver sets and the reliance on shotgun formations.
It's still, largely, the same personnel that has struggled to execute all season.
And that has always started up front and trickled down.
On the first snap of the game - in which Purdue showed one of those five-receiver looks for the first time this season - Etling was sacked.
Officially, Etling was sacked five times. In actuality, it was closer to seven.
Here's a snapshot: In a six-play stretch in the second half, Etling was sacked three times, including for a safety to make it 30-0. The safety was just as much on the receivers and Etling as the line, which held up well initially. But the next two sacks saw tackles Kevin Pamphile and Justin Kitchens both miss blocks.
Nebraska almost always brought blitzes when Purdue went with an empty backfield, but even when it rushed only four, there were points Purdue struggled to hold up.
"We knew that they were going to bring pressure," center Robert Kugler said. "We had been watching the film, and they're good at it. We thought we had a good plan to stop it, but we didn't execute as well as we should have."
Four times, Purdue went three-and-out. Three drives ended on downs. Two ended on turnovers.
The most successful drive of any length - that TD pass came on the first play of a series in the final minute - was probably when the Boilermakers advanced near midfield in the second quarter only to have Dalyn Dawkins drop a pitch and have Nebraska recover.
"That fumble that we had was huge," Hazell said. "They go down and score and it's 21-0 like that. Those are huge plays for our football team. When you're an established football team and program, you can overcome some of those things. But where we are right now, we're going to struggle in those areas, so we have to do a better job of making sure those things don't occur."
With the way Purdue's defense is playing, the Boilermakers' offense needs to make leaps, not just incremental developments.
For the third consecutive game, Purdue allowed at least 40 points.
Even with a complete scheme change.
The Boilermakers debuted a three-man front that had former ends Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips playing as the third linebacker with a five-DB package behind them.
The hope was that change would give Purdue a bigger linebacker at a position group that's been struggling.
The results were mixed, at least early.
Nebraska marched down the field on its first drive, going 66 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown. But then Purdue forced a three-and-out and had an interception on its next two defensive series. The Cornhuskers responded with a 51-yard drive for another touchdown by the end of the first quarter.
Hazell and his players wanted to wait until they saw the game film to evaluate the new defense. But Russell, for one, said he liked his change in roles.
"Early on, I think it was really working. I could feel the energy from what the team was doing," Russell said. "I'm not really sure what happened later on to change that. But that is something I have to look at on film and get it corrected. Especially playing a new position, you can never study enough."
Russell won't be the only one devouring game tape.
Hazell and his coaches will again re-evaluate the schemes and personnel, which showed a shift to younger players on both sides of the ball.
"We're not in a great spot right now," Hazell said. "That's the reality of it. We don't feel good about it, nor should we. But there's only two ways you can go. I know our football team. They'll work to get out of this hole and do everything they have to do to keep clawing and scratching and fighting to work to get better."
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