Gerad Parker took the reins at Purdue last week not really knowing what to expect. The interim head coach replacing the fired Darrell Hazell was caught up in a whirlwind.
Parker started this week’s press conference in West Lafayette thanking everyone who helped him through the transition. He credited the administration, his assistants and his players. It took a village.
Lastly, Parker shared his appreciation for the officials during Saturday’s 27-14 loss at No. 7 Nebraska. The game-day experience may have opened his eyes more than anything he saw leading up to it.
“It didn’t feel as weird as what I thought it would,” Parker said. “But you’re so used to being an assistant coach and dealing with my guys, I didn’t realize how many things you have to be aware of during a game to manage a game for your whole organization.
“So I think probably the biggest lesson learned would be just managing the whole game and all that it entails and all that it takes to make the decisions during the game.”
The Boilermakers, more than a three-touchdown underdog in Lincoln, held a 14-10 lead at halftime before fading away. They’ll try to finish things off this week when they play host to No. 24 Penn State on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN2).
The new leader will be challenged to maintain his team’s intensity.
“This is a very emotional game, and guys and teams that play at a high level are able to find that emotion each and every week; and that’s something that we’ve got to understand here and do better here to get where we need to go,” Parker said.
“We’ll find a way to do that. That’s my job, to push that message and make sure that we do that for our home fans, as they come out to support us on Saturday.”
The Nittany Lions (5-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) face a similar hurdle. They’re coming off a 24-21 upset of then-No. 2 Ohio State.
Penn State rides a three-game winning streak into Ross-Ade Stadium. It’s on a roll since dropping its conference opener, 49-10, at No. 2 Michigan. It’s the first road game since that shellacking.
The Lions’ offense has played well, for the most part, all season. The defense has improved. Against Ohio State, it produced six sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Purdue has succeeded in protecting quarterback David Blough. It has yielded just 11 sacks all season, tied for third fewest in the Big Ten.
“You have got to be sound in your protections,” Parker said.
“Your football team has got to be prepared on offense to protect what they are going to bring at us. And we have got to get into attack mode and play on their line of scrimmage and find ways to get the ball and stay on the field and manage what they are going to try to do in their disruption.”
Offensively, Penn State has gone to a spread this season and likes to play up-tempo. The Nittany Lions have averaged 29.6 points per game and feature one of the league’s best running backs in Saquon Barkley, who ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 97.6 rushing yards per game.
“You could not ignore how good of a player he is, There’s no question about it,” Parker said. “Any time you deal with what they are able to do in the run game and put you in space, creates problems for everybody, and they have done a good job of that.
“Any time you find a way to attack what they do the best, it gives you greater chances to make you at least have to CB and see less runs and other things to try to stop them from doing what they do, and they do it well. It’s a huge challenge, and there’s no doubt, that’s got to be the focus.”
The defense could receive a boost with the return of all-Big Ten tackle Jake Replogle from injury. Parker said he thinks there’s a chance his standout will return against Penn State.
No matter who plays, the Boilermakers must maintain the higher level of play they displayed at Nebraska, then add to it. In recent years, there has been a tendency for this team to let down after a win or tough loss to a good opponent.
“You don’t get the results you want, and men of low character or whatever, say: Well, that didn’t work, maybe in the past; I’m not willing to give all of that again,” Parker said.
“I didn’t see the prize, the cookie. Everybody wants instant results. It’s not like that. If you don’t win, that means you’ve got to do it all the same way you did it, and better, and you’re still not guaranteed it.”
“I think for our guys, it’s understanding, hey, we are closer to it. Now you’ve just got to double up. We’ve got to move faster today during practice. We have to be smarter in what we’re doing. We’ve got to study more. We’ve got to do all these things better and buy in better to get us to a point where we are then going to see some of those rewards and that’s why they keep going.”