After an abysmal stretch in which the Boilers lost their first five conference games by an average of over twenty points, the writing was on the wall for Hope. Attendance was at a free-fall and the few who showed up to home games were rewarded with games that were pretty much over by halftime.
The conference schedule was definitely front-loaded, but it was still a surprise when Purdue pulled out a road win over Iowa's worst team in over a decade. I wasn't surprised by the Hawkeye's ineptness, but I was at the Boilers' resilience. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been, as inconsistency was a hallmark of the Hope era.
A close win over a worst in show Illini team meant that the Bucket Game would have bowl reprecussions for Purdue for the second year in a row (those stakes haven't been there for Indiana since 2007). The Hoosiers were much improved over last season, and had also beaten the other "I" schools. Most of their games were at least competitive, which was a lot more than could be said for Purdue. Purdue were slight favorites, but I don't know too many fans that were confident of a victory.
There were two plays that stood out to me in the Bucket Game: The first was in the second quarter, when Robert Marve threw a pass that was deflected by an IU LB, almost caught by a Purdue lineman and then batted to Greg Heban, an IU DB, who raced down the sidelines. Marve, of the thrice (and currently) torn ACL chased him down after sixty or so yards and made a diving tackle. It turned out not to matter, as the Hoosiers scored shortly thereafter, but it showed that Purdue had not quite given up yet.
After Indiana had scored 14 straight to tie it up in the fourth, Marve hit Akeem Shavers on a throw back screen and Shavers had a lot of daylight in front of him. Two IU defenders had an angle and caught up to him at about the 20. Shavers cut back, which caused one defender to fall, and drove the other defender away with a nasty stiff arm. It was the first of his TD hat trick in the quarter.
After the game, Hope met his weeping wife at midfield, beat the World's Largest Drum and was lifted up by his players to sing Hail Purdue in the end zone.
The Bucket victory wasn't enough to save his job. Crazily inconsistent performances by his team and a string of questionable decisions (mainly the QB shuffle), had soured him on the fans. With no confidence in the coach, a string of blowout losses, and a plelethora of other entertainment options, the fans found better things to do than spend Saturdays in Ross-Ade. And that is why, even though they still have the bucket, Purdue is looking for a new coach.