WEST LAFAYETTE –
How it Happened
Defense dominated the early minutes of the game, with teams trading two punts each. Vanderbilt got the ball midway through the first quarter and Purdue looked like it would get another stop when defensive end Derrick Barnes crashed through the line and made a tackle in the backfield for a 7-yard loss, setting up third-and-13. On the next play, however, quarterback Riley Neal hit Jared Pinkney for 18 yards and followed that up lofting a long pass down the seam to Kalija Lipscomb for 49 yards and a first down inside the Purdue 5. Lipscomb beat Dedrick Mackey on the play and Neal, who had time to set his feet, made a terrific throw over the top. Two plays later, Ke'Shawn Vaughn punched the ball in from a yard out to make it 7-0.
The Boilermakers struck back on the following possession, but not without a little luck. An attempted jet sweep to Rondale Moore went awry when the pitch hit him in the leg and Vanderbilt scooped the ball up, racing the other way. It was eventually ruled an incomplete forward pass, a break for the Boilers (though it was the right call) that allowed them to retain possession on the botched play. From there, Purdue's offense picked up the tempo. Quarterback Elijah Sindelar completed passes to five different players, including Moore, and tossed a 12-yard touchdown over the middle to tight end Brycen Hopkins that knotted the score at 7 late in the first quarter. The pass was into a crowd of three defenders, with the referee also in the way, but Sindelar threaded the needle perfectly for the score. All six plays on the drive were passes.
The Boilermakers later embarked on a 75-yard, 16-play drive that started at its own 2-yard line, but came away with no points when a 39-yard field goal missed wide right. It was a missed opportunity, but Purdue got a second chance after a subpar Vanderbilt punt gave the ball back at midfield. The Boilers took advantage, getting the drive going with a 25-yard completion over the middle from Sindelar to true freshman David Bell. Bell was hit hard by a safety on the play, but held on, doing a good job of shielding the defensive back with his body to make the catch in traffic, a rare play for a freshman. Sindelar then proceeded to hit Moore for 22 yards inside the 5 and followed that with a 2-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Payne Durham in the corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead. Top tight end Hopkins was a decoy on a well-designed play in what had been a tough area of the field for Purdue to navigate.
Vanderbilt made a bid to tie the game again late in the half, driving into Purdue territory, but a rash of penalties (35 yards worth on the drive overall) forced the Commodores to settle for a 48-yard field goal that split the uprights. The teams went into the half with Purdue up 14-10.
The second half began with one of the biggest plays of the game. A couple of nice pass plays moved the ball to midfield and from there, the Boilermakers took a deep shot. Sindelar had all day to throw and he lofted the ball up in the direction of wide receiver Jared Sparks, who was one-on-one down the middle. Sparks wasn't particularly open, but as the ball lofted toward him, the Vanderbilt cornerback mistimed his jump and Sparks hauled the ball in without much trouble, backing up into the end zone for a touchdown. The score put the Boilermakers in front 21-10, a backbreaking touchdown for the Commodores, who aren't built to come back.
The next two possessions ended in turnovers, one for each team. The Boilermakers got their first turnover of the season, when Neal threw to essentially no one on a third-and-long and Mackey picked it off, his first career interception. The takeaway gave Purdue the ball at the Commodore 46 with a chance to really put some breathing room between itself and Vanderbilt. That opportunity was given away, however, when Sindelar dropped a snap, picked it up and tried to shot-put the ball over the line in Tim Tebow-esque fashion. It was a remarkably poor decision and the ball was intercepted.
Purdue's defense stepped up, however, and got a stop, giving the Boilermakers another chance to extend the lead late in the third quarter. This time, Purdue took advantage, with some help from a costly Vanderbilt penalty. The Boilers marched into Vanderbilt territory with the help of another nice catch from Bell on which he broke a tackle and went 30 yards. The drive might have stalled after a pass to Moore on third down came up short of the sticks, but a targeting penalty on a Vanderbilt defensive back – he speared Moore with his helmet – gave Purdue an automatic first down. On the next play, Hopkins ran a post and Sindelar hit him inside the 5-yard line. Hopkins dragged a would-be tackler across the goal line for a 20-yard touchdown to put the Boilermakers up 28-10.
Just as in Week 1, however, the Boilermakers struggled to play ball control offense. After a big defensive stop gave them the ball early in the fourth quarter with a chance to chew some clock, the Boilers instead went three-and-out, holding the ball for barely 90 seconds. A bad punt gave the Commodores the ball in Purdue territory and Vanderbilt wasted no time marching down the field for a touchdown. The drive only took five plays and 1:38 before Neal finished it off with a 10-yard swing pass to Cam Johnson for a touchdown.
Purdue answered immediately. Instead of going with a ball-control offense, the Boilermakers decided to go to the air again. Moore was the catalyst on this drive, hauling in passes over the middle for 21 and 20 yards to move the ball into Vandy territory. Purdue went back to the same well one more time from the 34-yard line and it paid off as Moore caught the ball on a crossing route and used the referee as an extra blocker to spring free. Once had open space he outraced everyone to the end zone for a huge touchdown and a 35-16 lead.
That should have been more or less a clinching play for Purdue, but on the ensuing Vanderbilt possession, the Commodores proved they weren't done yet. Neal hit Charlie Pierce with a nice out route and Pierce broke two tackles before sprinting all the way to the house for a 75-yard touchdown. It was a poorly-timed defensive breakdown for Purdue and a 2-point conversion made it 35-24.
In the end, however, there was too much Rondale Moore. The next Purdue drive started at its own 4-yard line, but a swing pass to Zander Horvath got the Boilermakers out of the shadow of their own goal line. At the Purdue 26, Sindelar looked deep for Moore. Moore had a step and hauled the pass in, then put his hand on the ground to steady himself before making a beeline for the end zone. He dragged a tackler 10 yards before he was finally out of bounds at the 4-yard line following a 70-yard gain. Two plays later, Sindelar snuck the ball in for a touchdown, putting the game on ice at 42-24 with six minutes left.
Player of the Game: Rondale Moore
Moore had the latest superstar performance in his incredible career, catching a career-high 13 passes for a career-high 220 yards and the huge fourth-quarter touchdown. It was his ninth career 100-yard performance, a figure that ranks fourth in Purdue history, in just 15 career games. He has 136 career catches, moving him past Antavian Edison for 19th on the all-time Purdue list. He also passed Greg Orton and tied Bart Burrell for 15th on the all-time Boiler list with 14 receiving touchdowns. It was his first career 200-yard performance.
Facts and Figures
Purdue and Vanderbilt had not met since 1942. ... This is Purdue's second win against an SEC opponent in three years, along with a 35-3 win against Missouri in 2017. ... Purdue ran 52 passing plays and 18 running plays. ... The Commodores had 13 penalties for 100 yards. ... The touchdown receptions for Durham and Sparks were the first of their careers. Hopkins' two scores give him three for the season, surpassing his total from 2018 (two). ... Sindelar threw five touchdown passes and has nine for the season. He also rushed for a touchdown. It's the first time a Purdue quarterback has thrown four touchdown passes in back-to-back games since Curtis Painter against Toledo and Eastern Illinois in 2007. Sindelar finished with a career-high 509 yards passing. He is the first Purdue quarterback with back-to-back 400-yard games since Drew Brees against Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1998. ... After turning the ball over five times against Nevada, Purdue gave it away just once against Vanderbilt. The Boilers' turnover margin went from minus-5 to even. ... Snider graduate Lawrence Johnson started at defensive tackle and had one tackle. ... Neal, a graduate transfer from Ball State, where he threw for almost 7,400 yards and 46 touchdowns, went 24 for 35 for 378 yards, a touchdown and an interception. ... Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who averaged 7.9 yards in 2018 and 4.9 yards in Week 1 against No. 3 Georgia ran for just 56 yards, averaging just 3.3 per carry. ... Before the game, Purdue dedicated the Tyler Trent Student Gate, which replaces Gate E of the Stadium, in honor of the Purdue student and superfan who died from bone cancer at the age of 20. The gate features the insignia "T2" and and two plaques below the facade tell his story. Among those who spoke were university president Mitch Daniels and Jeff Brohm.
Purdue is back in action in Week 3 against TCU (1-0) at Ross-Ade Stadium. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. TCU had a bye in Week 2 and beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 39-7 in its season-opener. The Horned Frogs went 7-6 in 2018 and won the Cheez-It Bowl. The teams have met twice, in 1969 and 1970, with Purdue winning both contests.