The 2012 season felt very much like a make-or-break campaign for Purdue head coach Danny Hope, and after falling to 0-4 in the Big Ten via a 44-28 loss at Minnesota, it’s moving closer to break. The university athletic department issued a statement addressing the “high expectations” that “everyone around [the] football program” had, and 3-5 hardly meets those. The outlook is grim for Hope, with Penn State coming into West Lafayette on Saturday and a pair of road games to follow.
The Boilermakers draw struggling Illinois and Indiana still, but even sweeping the two means needing an upset over PSU or Iowa to reach a bowl game. And simply going to the postseason for a second straight season might not be enough to keep Purdue from becoming Hope-less.
Purdue was getting some attention in the preseason as a potential Big Ten spoiler, yet even in the hapless Big Ten Leaders division is a notable disappointment. Surrendering 44 points to Minnesota is the low point for a celebrated defense. Offensively, Hope has played musical chairs with Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve at quarterback. Marve is slated to start against Penn State after shouldering most of the workload against the Golden Gophers, though Hope added a third candidate to the mix in Rob Henry. Henry came on strong late in 2010, but suffered an ACL tear last year.
Instability at quarterback has translated to inconsistency for the whole offense. Purdue has yet to break the 30-point threshold against BCS conference competition. The defense has similarly buckled. Since holding their first three opponents to a combined 42 points, including Notre Dame, the Boilers have given up scores of 41, 44, 38, 29, and 44.
Meanwhile, in-state rival Indiana achieved a feat eluding Purdue by winning its first Big Ten game. The Hoosiers were competitive against Michigan State and Ohio State before breaking through against Illinois, employing Kevin Wilson’s high tempo offensive philosophy. Were Purdue to win its next three but lose the Old Oaken Bucket — which it has hoisted eight of the last 10 seasons — it would likely cost Hope dearly.