If drama increased ticket sales, today’s Penn State-Purdue game might generate more than lukewarm interest in West Lafayette, Ind.
Consider how Purdue’s week started.
Team leaders ordered one of those let-it-fly “players’ only” meetings Sunday. Coach Danny Hope unveiled a depth chart Monday with sixth-year senior Robert Marve replacing Caleb TerBush as the Boilermakers’ starting quarterback. Then, later in the day, athletic director Morgan Burke released a statement addressing the football program’s condition.
“Currently, our performance has kept us from reaching our goals,” Burke said in the statement. “But we have a third of the season left to play, and our focus is to achieve that consistency over the remaining four games.”
Translation: Hope better started winning immediately.
Should Penn State (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) expect a scrappy Purdue (3-5, 0-4) bunch when they enter Ross-Ade Stadium for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff? Purdue and Illinois, another school with a coach handling job-security questions, are the only programs without Big Ten wins.
Penn State isn’t acting like a team ready to face an opponent who hasn’t won since Sept. 29 and trailed Minnesota 44-7 less than five minutes into last week’s second half.
“These are Big Ten teams,” guard John Urschel said. “Every team you are going to be facing is going to be playing hard, fighting hard. I doubt Purdue is going to be an exception. This is a good football team despite their record.”
The Boilermakers have nice pieces. Senior defensive tackle Kawann Short and junior understudy Bruce Gaston can stuff running plays and inflict serious damage on quarterbacks. The secondary, which includes veteran cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen, grabs errant throws.
And here’s Penn State cornerback Adrian Amos’ assessment of Purdue’s offense.
“All-round they will be the fastest team we have played,” Amos said. “Ohio State had fast receivers also. From a skill position standpoint, they are probably one of the most athletic teams that we will play.”
Boiler Up? How about scurrying off track.
Hope, who received a two-year contract extension that runs through 2016 for guiding his team to last year’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, might need to promise Burke and fans more than $5 pizzas to save his job. After facing Penn State, Purdue meets Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. So, yes, a turnaround is possible.
Observing another team handle off-the-field drama represents further proof things are beginning to settle at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions fell to Ohio State 35-23 before 107,818 fans last week. Cut that total by two-thirds, and you might win today’s guess-the-attendance contest.
Whether they play before a city at home or a scant crowd in basketball-crazed Indiana, Penn State players insist they are treating a game at struggling Purdue like a home contest against undefeated Ohio State.
“We only have four games left,” senior defensive end Sean Stanley said. “We have to take every game as a big game and we have to be ready for Purdue.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.