EVANSTON, Ill. - Things can't get much worse than this.
Not only is Purdue now a loser of four in a row following its 48-26 loss at Northwestern Saturday, but its brewing quarterback controversy has apparently been solved by injury.
Curtis Painter, who was pulled from the game midway through the second quarter, won't have to worry any longer about Joey Elliott replacing him.
Elliott, unfortunately for the junior, appears to be indefinitely sidelined after separating his shoulder just three-plus series following the change.
The Boilermakers committed five turnovers - including three interceptions by Painter, two of which were hardly the QB's fault - in getting blown out after a solid enough start. Purdue led 6-0 after the first quarter.
After that ...
"Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong," Coach Joe Tiller said. "It was just an ugly game."
Purdue trailed 24-12 at the half following a disastrous late-second quarter sequence.
Elliott started a promising drive but was injured running for a first down to the 'Cat 35, taking a helmet-to-shoulder blow to his right shoulder.
"Right when he hit me," Elliott said, "my whole right side went numb."
Tiller said the first information he received was that the shoulder was dislocated, but later learned it was a separation. Elliott said he'll undergo an X-ray Monday.
Painter returned and hit Greg Orton at the Northwestern 4. But after a short Painter run, Purdue, with plenty of time to work with - one minute and 14 seconds, approximately - called a mysterious timeout, one play before Sheets scored from two yards out.
Tiller and Painter said they didn't remember why the timeout was called, but offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher said he called for it in order to get his desired personnel on the field.
It loomed large, though, after a short kickoff was magnified by a silly personal foul on Nickcaro Golding, giving Northwestern the ball at its own 43 with a minute to play.
After C.J. Bacher hit Jeremy Ebert for a 30-yard gain down to the Boilermaker 5. Two plays later, he rolled out on third down and found Tyrell Sutton for a nine-yard touchdown.
Previously, Purdue's offense visited the red zone twice, but settled for just two Carson Wiggs field goals prior to its touchdown. Then, after the touchdown, Painter dropped the snap and Wiggs bounced the PAT off an up-right, Purdue's second missed extra point in the three weeks.
The second half was utter debacle from Purdue's perspective.
The offense had its moments in the second half, with Painter hitting Greg Orton for a 32-yard touchdown and Kory Sheets scoring on a 76-yard run. But everything else went wrong.
Painter was intercepted once when he was hit as he threw, giving the ball up deep in his own territory and setting up a field goal; then, he threw for Arsenio Curry - looking for his first catch - only to see the ball bounce off the receiver's hands and/or chest, straight up in the air, where it was intercepted and returned to the 1, setting up a touchdown.
"It's frustrating," Painter said of the circumstances of the first two interceptions, "but you look at the bright side that at least it wasn't a bad read (by the quarterback) or something."
The Boilermaker defense, a week off giving up just 222 yards to Ohio State, gave up 451 yards Saturday. Bacher threw for 230 and three scores and Sutton ran for 96.
Northwestern benefited from solid field position all day, never more than on the interceptions that started drives on the 12 and 1, both of which led to touchdowns.
Fumbles by Elliott and Greg Orton started drives at the 10 and 19, respectively, leading to a field goal and yet another touchdown.
All told, four of Purdue's five turnovers occurred inside its own 20, leading to 24 points.
"That's football," defensive tackle Mike Neal said, "and life, too. You get put in bad positions. It's about how you respond."
One of the critical plays in the game in the second quarter, when Northwestern scored off a trick play - receiver Sidney Stewart threw a 30-yard TD to Eric Peterman - to go up 14-6.
"The disappointing thing about that," linebacker Joe Holland said, "was that our coaches gave us a heads-up about it. They said, 'Watch for a trick play.'"
Sheets ran for 168 yards and two scores, his second best effort of the season and his career.
Frustrated after the game, the senior running back was his usual outspoken self.
"I can't do it all myself," Sheets said of the offense's struggles. "I need some help."
The 48 points by Northwestern was the most ever by the 'Cats against Purdue, and the 22-point victory was the largest by NU over the Boilermakers since a 38-14 win in 1970.