IOWA CITY — Hope or change?
The presidential election might have passed, but with Purdue on the brink of its worst Big Ten football record in nearly two decades, director of athletics Morgan Burke is weighing a change at the top.
Mired in a five-game slide, the league’s most experienced team arrives at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium this weekend looking for its first Big Ten win of the season as Burke contemplates the future of Boilermakers coach Danny Hope.
The Hawkeyes, stuck in their own three-game skid, are dealing with their own issues heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game, but even coach Kirk Ferentz is a little perplexed by Purdue’s lack of success this season.
“I thought they were a dangerous team in the summer,” Ferentz said. “That was one team I really thought could take a big step, not that I’m jumping on the prognosticator bandwagon or anything, but I felt like they’d be a good team. It’s a team that still could emerge. I certainly thought that was a possibility.”
That hasn’t been reality, though. Purdue followed a 3-1 nonconference start — which included a three-point road loss to unbeaten Notre Dame — by losing its first five Big Ten games.
Consecutive losses by 31 points to Michigan and 24 points to Wisconsin at home set an ominous tone for the Boilermakers, who returned nine starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s 7-6 team.
During the preseason, Hope labeled his team as the most talented he has coached in his four seasons at Purdue. He now uses words like “surprising” and “baffling” to describe what has transpired in recent weeks.
Dropped passes, blown coverages and missed tackles on defense and an inability to move the chains on offense have plagued the Boilermakers, who will be off to their worst Big Ten start since finishing 0-8 in 1993 if they are unable to win this weekend.
Injuries have been among Purdue’s problems.
Robert Marve, expected to start at quarterback against the Hawkeyes, suffered an ACL tear in the Purdue’s second game of the season but returned to the lineup last week and completed 22-of-39 passes for 138 yards before his knee forced him off the field early in the second half of a 34-9 loss to Penn State.
On defense, ends Ryan Russell, tackles Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston and cornerback Ricardo Allen have either missed playing time or have played through injuries.
“We have a lot of guys who are sucking it up and playing injured on Saturdays. We appreciate the effort, but they are not as effective as they could have been,” Hope said.
The cumulative impact has been a loss of confidence, although Hope maintains that a team which has lost its five league games by an average of 20.6 points has not quit on him.
“You lose and you lose ugly and the fans turn on you, and in some ways doubt creeps in. Then you get injured and pretty soon, you’re not playing as good as you have been,” Hope said. “… It’s hard to hold it together, and then the competition picks up. Things sort of snowball.”
Burke issued a statement last week that did not mention Hope by name but expressed disappointment in performances that have “kept us from reaching our goals.”
Asked about the his job situation following last week’s loss to the Nittany Lions, Hope said, “I’m not concerned about that one bit, to be honest with you.”
Instead, Hope has chosen to forge ahead, ignoring a “Fire Danny Hope” Facebook page and doing what he can to turnaround a team which still could become bowl eligible if it can beat Iowa and Illinois the next two weeks and win its finale at home against Indiana.
“Obviously, the fans have a reason to be disappointed. We’re very, very disappointed,” Hope said. “But, I don’t let someone that demonstrates themselves in a small way set me back a whole lot. I’m not going to let a disgruntled fan or any one person take my spirit away.”