WEST LAFAYETTE -- This time, Purdue finished.
The Boilermakers stayed aggressive throughout the fourth quarter, and it paid off, as quarterback Elijah Sindelar and receiver Rondale Moore both had record days in Purdue’s 42-24 win over Vanderbilt before 50,506 at Ross-Ade Stadium.
On a day that began with emotion when Purdue dedicated the student gate to the late Tyler Trent, Purdue (1-1) bounced back from blowing a 17-point, second half lead in last week’s 34-31 loss at Nevada. On what would have been Trent’s 21st birthday, Purdue kept pushing the ball downfield through the air. Sindelar finished with a career-high 509 passing yards and five TDs, while Moore had career highs in both catches (13) and receiving yards (220).
Purdue rushed for just 31 yards, not ideal balance. But with a young offensive line and one of its top two running backs, Tario Fuller, out with a broken jaw, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said he will continue to call to the strength of the offense to put his team in the best position to win games.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to have great balance,” Brohm said. “I’d love to be able to knock people off the ball and run the football and have great play action. For this team right now, it’s not our strength. We don’t have a lot of time to waste. We can’t lose games. We have to go for it and win.”
That was apparent when Vanderbilt cut Purdue’s lead to 35-24 on a 2-point conversion after a 75-yard catch and run touchdown by receiver Chris Pierce from quarterback Riley Neal with 9:16 left. On Purdue’s subsequent drive, Sindelar connected with Moore on passes of 9 and 70 yards, down to Vanderbilt’s 4-yard line. Two plays later, Sindelar scored on a quarterback sneak to put Vanderbilt up 42-24 with 6:05 left.
Of Moore’s 220 yards receiving, 154 came on five catches in the fourth quarter. Moore also had a 34-yard touchdown catch earlier in the fourth quarter, using an official as a screen, to put Purdue up 35-16 with 9:27 left.
“The biggest thing going into halftime was finish the game,” Moore said. “I think we came out firing on all cylinders. We made some mistakes that we can clean up. We did a good job of finishing the game.”
Sindelar’s record day was spoiled somewhat when he suffered an undisclosed injury in the closing minutes. After throwing for 423 yards last week against Nevada, Sindelar became the first Purdue quarterback since Drew Brees in 1998 to throw for back-to-back 400-yard games. Brees did it in back-to-back Big Ten games against Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Sindelar was not made available for postgame interviews.
“He got a little dinged up, so we’ll see how that comes out,” Brohm said. “Hopefully, he’s OK, but we’ll make sure to take care of it and see how it goes. And (backup quarterback) Jack (Plummer) will be ready just in case. I’m just upset that he got a little dinged up at the end.”
Purdue fell behind early, 7-0, on a 1-yard touchdown run from Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. But Sindelar answered by connecting with five different receivers on a six-play, 68-yard touchdown drive, tying the score at 7 on a 12-yard TD pass to tight end Brycen Hopkins with 3:57 left in the first quarter.
A 2-yard touchdown pass from Sindelar to redshirt freshman tight end Payne Durham put Purdue up 14-7 with 4:56 left in the second quarter. The Boilermakers took a 14-10 lead into halftime, then extended it to 28-10 with two more third quarter touchdowns. The first came when Sindelar rolled to his right and found junior receiver Jared Sparks behind Vanderbilt’s secondary for a 50-yard touchdown. The second came when Sindelar found Hopkins again for his second TD catch, a 20-yard strike that put the Commodores up 28-10.
“That was probably the best game I’ve seen Elijah throw the rock,” Hopkins said. “He was zipping it in there when he needed to, and he was putting air on it when he needed to. He’s a smart player, obviously athletic, and he knows what he’s doing, and I put my trust in him.”
Purdue’s defense was up and down but managed to maintain the lead. Purdue freshman defensive lineman George Karlaftis came up with a big play, knocking away a Neal pass attempt on fourth-and-1 that turned the ball over on downs at Purdue’s 15-yard line with 36 seconds left in the third quarter. Purdue also recorded its first turnover of the season when cornerback Dedrick Mackey had a third quarter interception.
But after a 22-yard punt by Purdue freshman Brooks Cormier early in the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt drove 44 yards to cut Purdue’s lead to 28-16 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Neal to freshman receiver Cam Johnson. Later in the fourth quarter, Purdue missed two tackles on Pierce’s catch-and-run, 75-yard touchdown.
As a team, Purdue’s defense allowed 420 yards passing and 491 total yards.
“When you compare it to last week, I think we did a better job of just finishing, just playing with more grit, more effort overall,” Purdue senior linebacker Markus Bailey said. “By no means were we perfect. We gave up some big plays. Had more missed tackles than last week. But they have a good team over there, good running back, good tight end. I think the most thing we did was just finished.”