Joe Tiller, who, in spite of a mediocre-to-poor showing at the end of his coaching career, probably does not get enough credit for being a pioneer of the “spread” offense in college football. It was utilized to great success when Drew Brees was quarterback, culminating in a Rose Bowl appearance in 2000 — Purdue’s second and last to date appearance in Pasadena. His replacement is first year head coach Danny Hope, who has largely shied away from Tiller’s offense. Spread formations still factor in, but this is a different offensive team now.
Quarterbacking the Boilermakers is Joey Elliott, the fifth year senior from Evansville, Indiana. He replaces Boilermaker mainstay Curtis Painter, the prolific passer for Purdue who may have declared for the NFL Draft a year too late. Elliott is a capable quarterback. He’s sparsely played in his collegiate career behind the aforementioned, but spending 5 years in the program will inevitably yield a quarterback on the field who has studied and learned a thing or two. However, he is no Drew Brees, Kyle Orton or Curtis Painter. Elliott has 1575 yards and 12 touchdowns so far, but it’s hard to look beyond his 9 interceptions and 9 sacks. These numbers are hard to look at and not be puzzled. He completes more than 60 percent of his passes, and distributes them well among his receivers. The three main targets for Elliott — Keith Carlos, Keith Smith, and Aaron Valentin of Connecticut, Texas and New York respectively — all have at least 15 catches. Carlos leads the way with 42 receptions and Valentin’s 16 catches, the lowest of his compatriots, is tied with Buckeye receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. And with all that, Elliott still gets sacked and distributes the ball well enough to find opposing defensive backs. This is suggestive of a lot of things. Elliott’s game clock may not be up to speed; he may be getting pressured more than his offensive line can handle and that the Boilermakers lose steam after the first quarter or play from behind. In this last case, it’s precisely where bad stuff like sacks and interceptions can happen. Whatever the change in offensive philosophy from Tiller to Hope, Purdue still throws the ball a lot. Thus, there are more opportunities for sacks and interceptions. May our defensive line and secondary take note accordingly.
Boilermaker tailback and Georgia native Ralph Bolden started the season as one of the surprise stories in the Big Ten. He tallied 234 yards in the opener against Toledo (at a clip of 11.1 yards per touch) and followed that with 134 yards on the road against Oregon (albeit in a losing effort). In the four games since, he’s topped out at 67 yards (against Notre Dame). Yes, the Boilermakers put themselves into passing situations late in the game, but that doesn’t seem to really account for the drop off in production. In those 4 games since Oregon, Bolden is averaging about 3.8 yards per carry with the 5.3 clip against Northern Illinois serving as the outlier. Still, Bolden is a good player for the Boilermakers and looks to be an improvement from Kory Sheets of yesteryear. Bolden also helps in the receiving game; he has 11 receptions for 173 yards and a TD (coming against Oregon). Opening running lanes for Bolden is a solid offensive line, listed as Dennis Kelly, Zach Reckman, Jared Zwilling, Ken Plue and Zach Jones from left to right. There’s a good balance with Purdue’s line. Jared Zwilling and the Zachs (Reckman and Jones) are 5th year seniors. Dennis Kelly and Ken Plue are sophomores. They also run the gamut from the big maulers in Ken Plue and the faster pass-blocker Dennis Kelly. Let us hope that their offensive line is a diverse brunch for our hungry, hungry defensive linemen.
Buckeye football fans were excited that all the reports of progress and promise of Terrelle Pryor in the offseason would result in an exciting offense to watch this season. After 6 games into this season, Buckeye fans want to know: where’s the beef? Pryor has a good vibe that this weekend could be the one where the Buckeyes turn it on. Better late than never, but what is there to consider about the Boilermaker defense?
Well, it’s been a rough going for them this season. They fork over 30 points a game, 380 yards a game, 170 rushing yards a game and all on a 1-5 team. Ouchies. I don’t care who you are, but if you can’t stop the run: you’re in trouble. The defensive line plays an important role in run-stuffing, obviously, and it would seem that Purdue’s interior would be up to the task. The tackles are the strength of the defensive line, methinks. Mike Neal and Kawann Short are solidly in that 6’4 300lb category. Neal is the senior, tallying 17 tackles and 5 TFLs so far. Kawann Short is a name to remember: he’s a redshirt freshman in his first year as a starter and has 18 solo tackles this season (29 total) to show for it. If Purdue can get Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes in a passing situation, expect to hear the name of Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is a 6’4, 235lb defensive end and a converted tight end. This isn’t exactly what you would conjur in a guy with 19 tackles and 4 sacks, but he must be accounted for nevertheless. The performance of the defensive line can do wonders to alleviate the pressure on the linebacker corp. The veteran of the linebackers, Jason Werner, is a former safety who fills in Anthony Heygood. The other two guys are weakside backer Joe Holland and middle linebacker Chris Carlino. From what I’ve seen this year, Holland and Carlino are a little undersized and very quick to lose sight of gap responsibility.
I don’t have much to add about the secondary. All 4 starters are seniors and the secondary is generally okay, statistically speaking. This may also be an artifact of every team the Boilermakers play being able to do serious damage on the ground. Corner Brandon King and free safety Torri Williams are 5th and 6th year seniors respectively. Californian Dwight McLean, the strong safety, might be the best player of the unit. David Pender is the other cornerback.
Here’s hoping that this year’s defense can actually avoid the garbage time TD that the Buckeyes gave up in their last visit to West Lafayette.