By CLIFF BRUNT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Purdue's offense is suffering through one of its worst slumps in the Joe Tiller era.
The normally high-powered Boilermakers failed to reach double-digit points for just the 10th time in 143 games under Tiller in last Saturday's 16-3 loss to Ohio State.
This also marks just the second time in Tiller's 12 years at Purdue that the Boilermakers were held to single digits in back-to-back games -- they dropped a 20-6 decision to Penn State the previous week. Now, the Boilermakers (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) must make corrections in time for Saturday's game at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1).
"I think we've done some things well," quarterback Curtis Painter said during Tuesday's weekly teleconference. "We've had some drives that were eight-, nine-, ten-, eleven-play drives that you'd like to think we'd be able to punch those in. For whatever reason, we haven't been able to."
The only other time a Tiller-coached Purdue team has failed to score at least 10 points in consecutive games was in 2006, when the Boilermakers lost 24-3 to Wisconsin and 12-0 to Penn State. Another loss would make it tough for Purdue to qualify for a bowl game. Six wins are required, meaning Purdue needs to win at least four of its last six to have a chance.
Painter said the Boilermakers won't panic.
"It's more about this week," he said. "You can't really worry about the rest of the schedule or being bowl-eligible right now. This game is a chance for us to get back on track. Our focus is on this week, and this week only."
The last two weeks have been among the worst of Painter's career. He threw for just 112 yards in the loss to Penn State, his lowest total since his freshman year. He passed for 228 yards against Ohio State, but completed just 23 of 51 passes and failed to lead the Boilermakers into the end zone.
Despite his struggles against Ohio State, Tiller kept him in the game. In the previous game against Penn State, Tiller benched Painter and backup Joey Elliott led the Boilermakers to their only points during his only drive.
Tiller didn't blame Painter for the team's poor offensive performance against Ohio State. He said the banged-up offensive line continues to be a problem. Justin Pierce has missed time with headaches after suffering a minor head injury against Penn State, Sean Sester has been limited after offseason back surgery and Garret Miller will have season-ending surgery on an injured foot.
"Our game in Columbus was the poorest our offensive line has played all year, and I think that we need to get them back to performing the way they were," Tiller said. "As a result I think that's really handicapped probably our offensive production more than anyone knows."
Purdue ranks 10th in the Big Ten in scoring offense, but its opponents bear some responsibility for that. Penn State and Ohio State rank 21st and 16th in the nation, respectively, in pass defense, and No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten.
"So we've just played statistically speaking the best defenses back to back, and we don't expect to see that statistically again," Tiller said.
It gets easier for the Boilermakers. Northwestern is 58th nationally in pass defense. After that, Purdue plays Minnesota (103rd), Michigan (94th), Michigan State (87th), Iowa (35th) and Indiana (77th).
Northwestern might be just what Painter needs. As a sophomore, he passed for 431 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-10 win, and he was named Big Ten offensive player of the week. Last season, he passed for 182 yards and two more scores in a 35-17 win.
Tiller has said all along he likes this team's toughness, and he feels his battle-tested squad could have a strong finish.
"Every team is as good as its senior class," he said. "And I think our senior class are good people and they're intent and they're interested in being successful each time they take the field. So I like the way our team's thinking."