October 25, 2008

More of the same

Turnovers, squandered opportunities and injuries have combined to mar Purdue's 2008 season. So it was only appropriate that such calamities again combined to undermine the Boilermakers in their fifth consecutive loss, a 17-6 setback to Minnesota in Ross-Ade Stadium. A week after the Boilermakers lost backup quarterback Joey Elliott for the season with a separated shoulder, starter Curtis Painter went down with the same injury, albeit seemingly less severe ("slight to moderate"), early in the first quarter. That left the offense in third-stringer Justin Siller's inexperienced hands. Seven days earlier, Siller was a running back. That hampered a Purdue offense that didn't surpass the 200-total-yard mark 'til its final drive, turned the ball over four more times and didn't score a touchdown for the third time this season. In the second quarter, after Painter returned to the field - he'd later determine he couldn't play in the second half - the senior quarterback committed two turnovers. Painter threw an interception on which Traye Simmons seemed to simply take the ball from receiver Joe Whitest, giving Minnesota the ball at the Boilermaker 38 and setting up a field goal. Later, Painter lost what seemed to be an unforced fumble after he faked a handoff to Kory Sheets, in Minnesota territory. In the second half, Sheets lost a fumble at the Gopher 17 - his first fumble of the season - denying Purdue a prime opportunity to score. Purdue also missed a chance to score when a drive that reached the Gopher 21 resulted in an upright-rattling missed field goal. Such has been a common theme for an offense that has repeatedly bogged down when in position to cross the goal. "That's been the story of our season, really," Coach Joe Tiller said of his offense's failures. "It hurts you two ways (when squandering scoring opportunities): It impacts you on the scoreboard and it starts to get to you mentally." Wide receiver Greg Orton agreed with the latter. "I don't know what it is," he said. "Something always happens. We just can't get in the end zone." And so Purdue's defense was left in more compromising positions, with little help on the scoreboard. "If you believe in that kind of thing," linebacker Anthony Heygood said, "I guess you could say we're cursed." After giving up a touchdown drive to start the game - a broken play resulted in a 71-yard catch-and-run, setting up the TD - the defense held Minnesota to just 10 points, three of which came off the drive started at the Boilermaker 38. Purdue allowed Minnesota an average of only 3.2 yards rushing and sacked quarterback Adam Weber four times, with Alex Magee and Mike Neal each getting a sack-and-a-half. "It's a little bit repetitive," Heygood said when asked the same post-game questions he seems to get asked every week. Carson Wiggs made two first-quarter field goals to account for all of Purdue's scoring. Of course, things were made especially difficult for the Boilermakers with Siller operating with only a rudimentary knowledge of the offense. In his nearly three quarters of work, the redshirt freshman completed 10-of-17 passes for 73 yards, while running for 41 total yards, trimmed down to a net of just 17 by yardage lost on the four sacks he absorbed. Siller's only interception came in the game's final seconds, appropriately enough in the end zone. Siller, who began his Purdue career as a QB before moving to running back during camp in August, was pressed into action under center right away, as Painter got hurt on just the Boilermakers' fourth snap. "I got hit from the left side," said Painter, who threw incomplete for running back Sheets on the play, "and came down right on my shoulder." Painter missed exactly a quarter of play in the first half, leaving at 11:51 of the first quarter and returning at 11:51 of the second, albeit temporarily. Painter did not play in the second half. "I could tell I didn't have all of it (on the throws); it was a little stiff," Painter of coming back in the game in the second quarter. "After the half, it was getting more stiff and I didn't have as much (on passes)." It's hoped Painter will be able to play against Michigan next week, but the way this season's going for Purdue, nothing should be taken for granted. Sheets finished with 73 rushing yards, but most of them came in the first quarter. He carried the ball just twice in the second quarter and rarely had anywhere to run the second half as the Gophers seemed to realize Purdue wouldn't be able to beat them for any big plays in the passing game. Though they took some shots deep, Purdue's passing game was relegated almost exclusively to short passes to the boundary; the Boilermakers' 16 completions netted an average of just 6.8 yards. The Boilermaker offense was already without senior offensive tackle Sean Sester, because of a knee injury it's hoped he'll return from next week. Another indication of Purdue's fortunes: long-snapper Andy Huffman injured his shoulder in warm-ups. But that's the way Tiller's final season has gone. "This isn't what I had in mind," Tiller said.
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