Purdue wide receiver Gary Bush (6) fumbles the ball as he's hit by Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (5) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Purdue recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:45AM
SOUTH BEND — Look, there’s really no such thing as a moral victory at this level of college football.
But after we learned virtually nothing about Purdue in a walkover against FCS Eastern Kentucky in its season opener, we at least learned the Boilermakers can be competitive against a legitimate opponent, with their 20-17 loss to No. 22 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Their quarterback situation is still up for grabs, especially with the unknown status of Robert Marve after he left the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent left knee injury — the same knee in which he has twice torn his ACL. But after a mostly shaky season debut following his one-game suspension, Caleb TerBush responded with the game on the line when called upon, throwing the tying touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Antavian Edison with 2:12 left on a fourth-and-10.
The defensive line — led by Kawann Short, moving toward that goal of becoming a potential top five NFL draft pick; and the emerging Ryan Russell, and Bruce Gaston — will give Purdue a chance in most games. The Boilermakers allowed 52 rushing yards on 36 carries against the Irish.
The special teams, which left plenty to be desired last week, came through this week, including Sam McCartney kicking a 33-yard field goal on the first attempt of his career and making the tying extra point.
“It wasn’t good enough. But this is a way better team than last year; last year, the game wouldn’t have been this close,” Short said. “Just looking back, comparing it to last year, it’s a whole different team and a whole different mindset. Guys are mad, but we have to keep our heads up. Right now, we know we could beat those guys if we played them again. … We came up short in a couple spots.”
The Boilermakers nearly snagged a rare win in South Bend, having been 1-16 since 1974, with that lone win coming in 2004.
“We were only a few plays away from knocking off a really good football team at their own place,” said coach Danny Hope, who compared the way Purdue would like to rotate its defensive linemen to the New York Giants. “Certainly we’re disappointed with the loss. But disappointment is an emotion, and we’ll get over that.”
TerBush went 8-of-19 for 79 yards with the touchdown and two interceptions (the second came on a Hail Mary on the game’s final play). He began the second half with a three-and-out, a pick, and a three-and-out, before giving way to Marve.
“I wouldn’t say I really got rushed,” TerBush said of the interception. “I tried to throw it away, and it kind of went low on me, and they picked it off. The guy made a play.”
The interception set up a Notre Dame field goal to make it 17-7, as Purdue’s defense prevented a touchdown.
“We manufactured a stupid pick, or interception, if you will,” Hope said. “That was careless. That impacted the game some.”
But again, TerBush, after Marve had played three-plus straight series, came back off the bench to make a critical play, after Josh Johnson’s strip of Everett Golson and fumble recovery had given Purdue the ball at the Notre Dame 15 with 3:24 left.
“It’s a bummer,” TerBush said of the loss. “We came in here expecting to win. We felt like we had a bunch of mojo behind us this week. … Everybody played hard today, they put everything they had into the game. It’s just unfortunate.”
Marve went 11-of-18 for 119 yards and a touchdown, a 2-yarder to Edison on his second series of the game. In his first series of the second half, he led the Boilermakers to a drive that ended in a field goal, before two three-and-outs and the injury.
“We’re always going to play more than more quarterback,” said Hope, who did not play No. 3 Rob Henry against the Irish. “… We don’t want the No. 1 quarterback to go down and have to wave a white flag right in the middle of the game or right in the middle of the season. I thought the classic example today was when Robert Marve went down, and TerBush came back in the game and put us in position to potentially go into overtime.
“We’re going to play the guys to help us win. If it’s one quarterback, that’s fine; if it’s two, that’s fine; if it’s three, that’s fine; if it’s four, that’s fine. We’ll do whatever it takes for us to win.”
Not to speculate, but depending on the situation with Marve, the Boilermakers might be down to two quarterbacks. But as much focus as there has been — and will continue to be — on that position, there are obviously other positions on the field.
And Saturday against Notre Dame — which has its own injury issues and, while it might not exactly be a national title contender, is a talented team — Purdue demonstrated it has no excuses not to indeed be far and away the best team in Hope’s tenure.