WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue is running out of time to save its season.
The Boilermakers, who entered the season talking about playing for a Big Ten title, have lost their first five conference games and need to win out to become bowl-eligible. Purdue (3-6, 0-5) travels to Iowa on Saturday with its season on the line.
The Boilermakers said they were fired up after the previous week's 44-28 loss at Minnesota and expected a better performance last Saturday against Penn State. Purdue grabbed an early lead against the Nittany Lions before falling apart and losing 34-9.
Purdue has been outscored 189-86 in league games. Coach Danny Hope, normally positive in his news conferences, spent most of Tuesday's session explaining what has gone wrong.
"It is surprising, surprising and baffling in some ways, but again, I think it's a combination of a lot of things, and a lot of it might be poor management on my part," he said. "What they can handle and what I think they can handle might not be the same thing at times."
Hope said the Boilermakers didn't deal with the high expectations well.
"Sometimes you can be too pressed to win," he said. "There's a real difference between intense and tense. We may be tense more than intense at times, the pressure of wanting to win and wanting to exceed and wanting to meet our expectation levels. But again, I don't apologize for trying to be the best. I think it would be beneath us if we did."
The Boilermakers went 3-1 in nonconference play, including a close loss to Notre Dame that got the nation's attention, before opening the conference slate with losses of 44-13 to Michigan and 38-14 to Wisconsin.
"You lose and you lose ugly, and then the fans turn on you in some ways and then doubt creeps in it a little bit and maybe a guy doesn't play as well, and then a few guys get injured, and pretty soon, you're not as good as you should be or as good as you were," Hope said. "It's hard to kind of hold all that together. And then the competition picks up and you get more guys injured and you lose some more and things become tough around you."
Purdue pushed Ohio State, but the Buckeyes scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the final seconds of regulation to tie, then won in overtime.
After that came a loss to Minnesota, athletic director Morgan Burke put out a statement saying the team's performance hadn't allowed the team to reach its goals, and that those associated with the program were disappointed.
Things got no better the next week with a loss to Penn State that put this season in jeopardy of being a complete failure.
Hope said it comes down to execution.
"We call it DYJ, doing your job," he said. "We've got guys that are trying like hell but not getting the job done. Guys are really working hard in practice and focusing in practice and studying his plays and then he gets on the field and he does everything right except for a thing or two, and the next thing you know it manufactures a huge play (for the opponent)."
Hope is aware that the fans are unhappy, and they showed it with attendance of just 40,098 at last Saturday's game. They have been busy on message boards on Twitter, railing against the program and criticizing both players and coaches. Hope said he doesn't worry about the negative comments.
"I'm not going to let a disgruntled fan or any one person take my spirit away or take away from what it is that we're here to do, and that's to coach football and have fun and to win," he said. "Obviously, the fans have a reason to be disappointed. We're very, very disappointed. But I don't let someone that demonstrates themselves in a small way set me back a whole lot."
Hope said the message to his players is that he still believes in them, but they need to get it together.
"We try not to coddle them right now," he said. "We don't need them feeling sorry for themselves. They need to man up and get ready to get it on and guys have to suck it up and play injured."