Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, right, dives to the one-yard line as he's tackled by Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: November 8, 2012 12:21PM
WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue is for real this year? Never count your Big Ten chickens before the team’s league schedule has hatched. Never believe the stuff you just sort of hear, either. Never take a flyer on the Boilermakers without real tangible evidence.
And never count out Denard Robinson.
Those are lessons learned from Saturday after a mostly lifeless crowd of 50,105 at Ross-Ade Stadium never really had much to cheer about in a 44-13 loss to the Wolverines. They did, however, get to leave early, which is always the blowout bonus.
Word was, Michigan was vulnerable, the whole Big Ten was vulnerable (substitute “awful” for vulnerable if you like) and the Boilermakers, presumably based on a decent showing against Notre Dame, were a potential player in a conference not to be confused on any level with the SEC. They had, at times, a scary good defensive line, a serviceable offense and a reasonable schedule (No Nebraska or Northwestern). They also had hopes of winning out at home.
Being good in a bad conference still means something. Nobody is going to say in 10 years that the Big Ten winner from 2012 was the worst champion ever. Well, OK, maybe one or two nerds will keep track of it.
Apparently, the Boilermakers’ definition of real doesn’t jibe with winning the conference expectations — at least for now.
“We got beat by a good team that played well today,” Danny Hope said. “We’re a good team that didn’t play well.”
We’ll see about the last part of that statement.
The last time the Boilermakers were in a meaningful conference game, where there were first-place implications, was in 2004 when Kyle Orton was the quarterback and they won their first five games — including their first two Big Ten games against Illinois and Penn State.
Wisconsin punctured the Boilers’ sail that year, returning an Orton fumble 40 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes to lead the Badgers to a 20-17 victory. Purdue never recovered from the blow, losing three straight after that.
Comparing Saturday’s game against Michigan and this year’s Purdue team to that 2004 team isn’t quite right. Purdue had done something then. The Boilermakers had a pretty good quarterback, who they had pushed for the Heisman until it all just fell apart — the way things seem to happen for the teams that are always trying to push Michigan and Ohio State off the top of the shelf usually do.
This team should be able to do something this year or at least that was the idea.
Scatter shooting across the Big Ten and no team, not the Big 2 (Michigan and Ohio State), not Wisconsin, maybe Nebraska, but not really Northwestern after they lost to Penn State Saturday, stands out.
Purdue fit somewhere in that landscape — at least it seemed like they did.
The Wolverines blew up that notion pretty quickly.
Robinson made the Purdue defensive line look average, rushing for 235 yards and passing for 108.
And Caleb TerBush did nothing to quell the discontent from Boilermaker nation about his disposition for being the starting quarterback.
The first major TerBush gaffe came on a fourth-and-1 from his own 43. After calling timeout to debate whether to go for it, TerBush was picked off by Raymon Taylor on a little sideline out. He returned it 63 yards for a touchdown and the Wolverines led 21-0.
That was it for the Boilers, who had brief spells of energy, like when Robert Marve was inserted into the game in the fourth quarter. He looked decent, completing all five of his passes while leading the team to one meaningless field goal.
The upside to the loss is that the Big Ten really does seem to be bad enough for the Boilermakers to regroup next week against Wisconsin and get right back into it again.
Danny Hope wants the loss to be “motivating” for his guys. Plenty of Boilers fans were looking for a rejuvenating win or at least a reasonably good performance, something to pin their hopes on for the rest of the season. They’ll get to push the restart button next week — this time with expectations reasonably modified, knowing this may not end well at all.