More like Poor-due, am I right?
West Lafayette is home to a knee-hating God who has struck down a seemingly endless amount of Purdue football players over Danny Hope’s tenure as head coach. I almost feel like this Purdue preview is going to have to be changed, because you know someone is going to go down with a knee injury in fall camp. It’s a wonder that Robbie Hummel didn’t play on the football team.
But heading into 2012, the Boilermakers are building a confidence. In 2011, Purdue won seven games, including their first bowl since 2007. As a result, Hope was rewarded with a contract extension. While Hope has proven himself to be a fairly decent coach, given the tough job that Purdue is, the Boilers certainly have put the Joe Tiller era in the rearview. Known for being the “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” Purdue has a cradle to work with this season. There isn’t a Drew Brees or Kyle Orton, but there are three players with different skill sets. The days of a big arm throwing 40 passes are gone. While there aren’t many playmakers that jump out, Hope and his staff have done a great job spreading the ball around.
While the Boilermakers aren’t expected to take any major leaps forward, there is enough talent, and a favorable schedule has made them a darkhorse candidate for the Leader division title. Is that a realistic possibility? Let’s take a look at some props to stat and track.
Different quarterbacks to start a game: Over/Under 2.5
As mentioned, Purdue has three quarterbacks that could make a case to be the starter. Caleb TerBush would appear to have the inside track. The senior TerBush is the most consistent of the three, completing 62 percent of his throws for 1,905 yards, 13 touchdowns and just six interceptions last season. He’s been a backup to both of the other two at times, but found a good amount of success last year. He won’t make many big plays, but he won’t make terrible ones, either. But the other two will surely get a chance.
Robert Marve likely is the No. 2 in this group. The Miami transfer will be a sixth-year senior and has the biggest arm. The opposite of TerBush, Marve is a high-risk, high-reward guy. In 2010 he tore his ACL (yup) in the fourth game of the season. Last year, he played in 10 games, throwing for 633 yards and four touchdowns, but had five interceptions.
The third option is junior Rob Henry. The athletic scrambler took over for Marve in 2010 and performed well down the stretch. But he tore his ACL (yup) in the offseason and missed last season. Henry gives the Boilers their biggest dual-threat among the three potential starters. All three will see playing time this year. Although Henry is the third option, Purdue will probably throw in some designed sets for him to take advantage of his running ability. The aforementioned injuries make this prop especially unpredictable, but I’m going to go with the under with the two seniors making all the starts.
Total team rushing yards: Over/Under 2,200
Despite the Cradle of Quarterbacks reputation and group of talented signal-callers, Purdue rushed for 2,361 yards, which was the most for the Boilermakers since 2002. That was good enough for fifth in the Big Ten. What made it more impressive was that there wasn’t one powerhouse back. Ralph Bolden led the team with 148 carries for 674 yards. Six players had at least 30 carries, with two of them being quarterbacks. Perhaps most incredibly, Purdue had nine players score at least one rushing touchdown. As mentioned above, Purdue does a good job spreading the ball around to its equally-talented playmakers.
The Boilermakers hope that the running game will be a little more focused this season, but there still will be plenty of options. Bolden would be in line to be the starter again, but a knee injury (yup) in the regular season finale and an arrest in the spring make his future questionable. In Bolden’s place, Akeem Shavers ran 22 times for 149 yards the Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Michigan. The 22 carries were a season-high for any Purdue ball-carrier. However, the senior has been limited in playing time for poor blocking and blitz pickup. The other top option in the backfield is sophomore Akeem Hunt, who rushed 10 times for 100 yards against Indiana after Bolden’s injury, then had 38 yards on four carries in the bowl game. If Bolden is good to go, Purdue could be another Big Ten team with a very talented backfield.
As for the blocking, there are two ways of looking at things. The first is that two experienced starters are gone, and two projected starters were sidelined in the spring. So there is some chemistry to be developed. On the other hand, the line wasn’t that great last season, anyway. So there isn’t much room for regression. Last year, Purdue was in the bottom half of the conference in sacks allowed (29), and it could have been more if not for the athletic quarterbacks being able to scramble and get out of some situations. The running game isn’t going to rely on any one position. Backs, receivers and quarterbacks will all get a good amount of carries. While one featured back draws the headlines, Purdue’s multi-formation offense has proven to be quite effective in the running game. If Bolden returns, I think Purdue hits the over quite easily. If not, it’s going to be close, but I’d still stick with the over.
Tackles for loss by Kawann Short: Over/Under 15
Taking over the load from Ryan Kerrigan, defensive tackle Kawann Short turned in an All-Big Ten junior season and is showing the potential of a first-round draft pick. Last season, Short racked up 17 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. He also had two passed deflected, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. And that came with him as the main focus of opposing offensive lines. Purdue returns some decent experience on the line, so that should help Short’s cause. Ryan Russell returns at one defensive end. The sophomore had 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack while dealing with a foot injury as a freshman. He also had, for what it’s worth, three fumbles (It’s not worth anything). On the other side of Short is tackle Bruce Gaston, who had seven tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore last year. There is depth in the middle so some backups could see some time on the outside. The line’s biggest struggles came early in the season. With three starters back, the hope is that the group will get off to a better start.
However, Purdue brought in a new defensive coordinator who wants to shift to more of a 3-4 defense. This will put Short at the three-technique. In a defense like this, Short’s role is more about stuffing the run as opposed to getting a pass rush. That’s what the linebackers are for. But Short’s athletic ability should be enough for him to still make plenty of plays. Given the lack of talented linebackers on the team, Purdue likely will still use plenty of 4-3 sets, which would be more beneficial to Short.
Like the offense, Purdue’s defense is going to throw out a variety of formations. Elite defensive tackles are rare, and usually find ways to make plays. Purdue puts its offensive playmakers in good positions, and I expect them to do the same with Short. I’m going with the over.
Total wins: Over/Under 7.5
There certainly are plenty of question marks surrounding the Boilermakers. But with Ohio State and Penn State down for various reasons, some in West Lafayette think Purdue could be a dark horse to contend for the Leaders division with Wisconsin. The schedule certainly will help.
As usually is the case with Purdue (and most Big Ten teams, really), the nonconference schedule is quite easy. The Boilers open with Eastern Kentucky at home, which should be an easy win. A road trip to Notre Dame probably will be a loss, but home wins against a rising Eastern Michigan and Marshall could give Purdue a load of confidence heading into Big Ten play, when Michigan comes to town. Purdue didn’t play terrible in Ann Arbor last year, but 339 rushing yards allowed is way too much. The Boilers have been solid at home, so I’ll make that a toss-up game. Wisconsin comes to West Lafayette the next week, and I’ll mark that down as a loss. The next three games are: at Ohio State, at Minnesota, Penn State. Winning all three would certainly put them in prime spot for a division title run. That’s unlikely, but two wins aren’t out of the question.
The schedule finishes with a road tip to Iowa (loss), a road game at Illinois (win) and a home game against Indiana (win). If this team was a little more talented, they might be a legitimate contender. It’s a shame, too. This would be the year for Purdue to make a run with other powers down and a favorable schedule, but the pieces just aren’t there. The offense has a good plan, but the defense still has too many questions outside of Short. I’m going to go with the under, but do expect Purdue to make another bowl game.