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Purdue Notches First Win of Season

Purdue played just well enough to win a ballgame today against an opponent that quite frankly won’t do a whole lot throughout the year.  Purdue put up 43 points, the most they’ve scored under Hazell, but allowed 34 which is not good.  The defense left much to be desired especially the run defense.  Purdue let a freshman running back from a MAC school run all over the field.  There was lots to work on and improve but there were also signs of growth from last year.  Rather than me boring you with a recap of the game which I’m sure you watched or followed on twitter, I’m going to jump into the good, the bad, the ugly.

Raheem Moster is a dapper man

The Good

  • Raheem Mostert gets top billing here for a fantastic game.  The guy who for whatever reason couldn’t see the field last year and was inexplicably put into a wide receiver role had a career day.  Mostert ran the ball 22 times for a total of 146 and 1 touchdown.  Mostert was effective off the edge as well as up the middle despite a lackluster offensive line.  A couple times Mostert made the first tackler miss and extended a play for extra yards.  Akeem Hunt was nearly as good for Purdue.  He had 15 rushed for 78 yards was a nice change of pace to Mostert. These two are going to be a hell of a duo if they can stay healthy and if the offensive line can give them room to run.
  • Frankie Williams was the MVP for the defense today.  He grabbed a crucial pick when WMU was threatening to take control of the game.  He returned it for 57 yards.  In addition to that he had multiple pass breakups including the one on fourth down that ended Western’s final series. To put a nice cherry on top of his day he was also returning punts and had two great returns for a total of 63 yards which may be more yards than the Purdue punt return team got all of last year.  That’s not an exaggeration.
  • Word from the twitterverse, and the in-laws, was that the beer garden area was quite a hit at the Purdue game.  People love to give Morgan Burke hell for nearly every decision he makes but you’ve got to give him credit on this one.  It’s not a permanent solution but while they decide on the final structure this should bring in some cash for the athletic department while also adding a little something for the fans.  It’s a win win.
  • Paul Griggs was 3-3 kicking field goals today which was quite a change from last year.  Griggs set a personal best of a 51 yarder which in fairness I did not think he would make.  Griggs improvement would be huge for this team.  You can see the offense will stall at times so to be able to put up points when the team gets close will be huge.  Can’t miss those extra points though.

The Bad

  • The offensive line still hasn’t improved to the level that we would have hoped.  They are young and for nearly the entire first half Western was able to get a push using just three and four man fronts without blitzing.  They looked good at times but still weren’t consistent and Purdue wouldn’t have gotten near as many rushing yards without some great moves by Mostert and Hunt.
  • Penalties especially delay of game penalties were far too frequent.  Etling is young but that’s not the kind of mistake you expect from such a smart QB.
  • Thomas Meadows is no Webster on the punting front.  A shank of a punt in the first half gave WMU great field position and allowed them to score a touchdown with just a 28 yard drive.  He will get better as the year goes on I’m sure but today wasn’t a great example of what he is capable of.
  • Danny Etling didn’t exactly inspire confidence.  There’s no QB controversy at this point but the guy has to play better.  He ended the day just 19-38, granted there were quite a few drops in there, and averaged just 4.8 yards per completion.  Purdue has to have a credible threat of a passing game if they want to be able to use Mostert and Hunt to their fullest.  Too many overthrows by Etling and simply not putting the ball where it needed to be.  On two consecutive plays, which were the exact same play, Etling overthrew his receiver by 3-5 yards at least.

The Ugly

  • Purdue’s run defense doesn’t seem to have improved with a year of work in the offseason.  Purdue allowed 251 rush yards including 163 to the freshman Franklin.  Franklin might turn out to be one hell of a back but today Purdue made him look like a Heisman contender.  The guy looked like a bowling ball breaking tackles and making defenders bounce off of him.  Imagine what Wisconsin could do to this defense (shudders).
  • The defense is going to continue to get picked on here as they showed some poor spacing and gap assignments for many of the big plays that WMU had.  These are things that can be fixed if the guys are disciplined enough.  Putting in the work is always hard but if Purdue really wants to improve they need to focus on getting better during the week.

 

So Purdue becomes the team that walks away tying their win total from last season despite the valiant effort of Western Michigan.  Purdue certainly doesn’t look like a titan out there but neither did the majority of the B1G.  Indiana’s offense fell back to Earth with a hud without some of their studs from last year and Iowa, Illinois, and even Ohio State struggled to put away inferior opponents.  If nothing else that should give Purdue fans a little more optimism than they had at the start of the day.  Purdue won a game today that they had to win if they want to do anything at all this season.  This was by no means a statement game but it was one that Purdue needed.  There are holes in this team but it’s clear that the offense is much better than last year and the defense shows flashes.  Turning those flashes into something more will be the challenge that Hazell and company face this year.  Next week will be a new challenge.  For now though let’s savor the win and watch some more football!

 

Purdue vs. Western Michigan Slap Fight Edition

It’s not often you can find a game where two teams come into the season after finishing 1-11 the season prior.  To top that off these two defenses were two of the worst in the nation last year.  Western Michigan’s defense was even worse than the statistically worst Purdue defense in history.  So there’s that.  basically this could be a high scoring game.  Neither team is going to set the world on fire this year.  I’m inclined to give the edge to Purdue here and I’ll give you a couple reasons then give you what I expect to see tomorrow at noon at beautiful Ross-Ade Stadium.  So let’s see what Purdue has going in its favor.

WMU Broncos

Positives

  • The Western Michigan defense is completely awful.  They allowed 3,000 rushing yards last year over their 12 games.  Again, I’m no mathematician but I know that’s bad.  That’s 250 yards allowed per game.  If Purdue gets 250 yards rushing tomorrow I’d expect the game to be quite a blowout.
  • The Western Michigan passing game could struggle.  Their starting QB Zach Terrell doesn’t have a strong arm so going downfield might be an issue for him.  Adding to that one of their best receivers is coming back from a torn ACL the season prior so it could take him a few games before he gets back into the swing of things.
  • To compliment point number one above Purdue has some stars in the making at running back so that could help power the offense against such a weak defense.
  • The Western Michigan defense only got to the QB seven times the entirety of last season.  This should give Purdue’s inexperienced offensive line a chance to ease into it and protect young Danny Etling.

Negative

  • We’ve honestly got no idea what to expect from the Purdue defense.  With the defensive line a gigantic question mark Purdue could still struggle to get to the QB regardless of who they are playing against.  Logic tells you that a B1G team should have the better, bigger, and stronger athletes but recent seasons have shown that’s not always the case.
  • Purdue’s defensive line is a question mark so who knows what kind of time the WMU offense will have to make plays.  Plus, can the linebackers make a difference for Purdue despite their youth?
  • With a few suspensions impacting the defense will they play disjointed?

Purdue’s not a great team make no mistake.  Neither is Western Michigan though.  This was a great bit of scheduling for the Boilermakers as they get to open the season against one of the worst teams, statistically at least, from last year.  If you never saw a Western Michigan game last season just remember every Purdue game you watched last year and then think how much worse it could’ve been if Purdue was slightly worse.  That’s how WMU fans felt all last year.

My expectation is that Purdue takes an early lead and maintains it throughout.  I don’t expect a blowout and I do expect WMU to put some points on the board but I don’t believe the game will be as close as the score at the end indicates.  Purdue’s offense should be able to showcase running and passing which will give us fans a chance to see what type of team this could be.  It won’t be a pretty game but I think Purdue pulls out a victory and ties its win total from a season ago after just one game.  That’s depressing to think about.

Purdue 31

Western Michigan 17

 

A Look at Special Teams and a Season Prediction

Special Teams has been a roller coaster ride for Purdue these past few years.  Danny Hope put a huge emphasis on special teams even going so far as to hire a special teams coordinator.  That paid dividends as Purdue’s kick return game become tops in the nation thanks to some great returns by Raheem Mostert.  To go along with that Purdue had Cody Webster punting the ball roughly a quarter mile each time and Carson Wiggs with his accurate leg.  Now though with Webster and Wiggs gone Purdue is struggling to find it’s identity.  We’ll take a quick look at each phase of the game. Then make our season predictions.

Kick Return

Purdue’s had no trouble in recent years getting decent starting field position and this year should be no different.  Assuming that Raheem Mosteret and Akeem Hunt are put deep to return kicks Purdue should have a solid return game once more.  If Hazell is concerned with keeping those guys healthy Purdue has a number of other options they could put back there as well.  Any number of the receivers or running backs would fit in perfectly here.  Punt returns are another matter.  Purdue hasn’t had a solid punt returner since Dorien Bryant was fielding them.  This doesn’t really bother me. The thing I look for in a punt returner is can you catch the ball?  Purdue’s struggled with that at times. I’d rather have someone back there who fields it cleanly every time than someone who might break one one out of ten times but also struggles to field it.

It’s here!

Field Goals

Paul Griggs is the likely starter here after holding the top spot last year.  He didn’t exactly set the world on fire last year, or the year before, from that position.  He is just 10-19 in his career and reading the camp updates he doesn’t seem to be doing too great.  He was apparently just 6-12 at practice the other day.  Thomas Meadows will be pushing him for the starting role.  Either way at this point it doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in the kicking game.

Punting

Thomas Meadows has locked down the starting punter spot with an apparently solid camp performance.  The guy has a tough act to follow in Ray Guy award finalist, and last season’s team MVP, Cody Webster.  Reports from camp say that Meadows has been able to get quite a few punts down inside the 20 with multiple being downed inside the 10.  Purdue constantly used their punt game as a weapon last year and there’s a chance that Meadows could continue that this year.

 

Now, as Woody Paige would say, let’s take a look at the schedule and make a pre-season prediction.  Keep in mind this is one man’s take on the season before we’ve even seen a game be played by Purdue or, most, of their competitors. The individual predictions that get posted could be different depending on how the season progresses.

Purdue vs. Western Michigan

Both teams went 1-11 last year.  I’m sure the networks were fighting over this game.  Despite Purdue’s awful season I’m still going to pick them here and say they squeak by Western Michigan and tie their win total from last season after just game one.  Purdue record 1-0

Purdue vs. Central Michigan

Central Michigan started their last night with a squeaker of a win over UTC.  Before you start thinking, isn’t that a typo?  No, it’s not.  They barely pulled out a victory over University of Tennessee Chattanooga.  Not exactly inspiring confidence for their fans as they pulled out the victory by the score of 20-16.  I’ll again pick Purdue here but again it’ll be close.  Purdue record 2-0

Purdue vs. Notre Dame (game in Indianapolis)

This one more than likely won’t go in Purdue’s favor.  Yes the game is at a neutral site but that still doesn’t strike me as a huge factor here since ND fans are everywhere.  Notice I said fans not alumni.  Purdue could keep it competitive here but in the end will fall short.  Purdue record 2-1

Purdue vs. Southern Illinois

Purdue finishes it’s pre-conference season with a third game against a directional opponent.  That’s just solid scheduling.  If only instead of Notre Dame Purdue played Eastern Illinois they would have won directional bingo.  I’ve gotten off track here but again I’ll pick Purdue as the optimism is beginning to flow.  Purdue record 3-1

Purdue vs. Iowa

Iowa looked much better last year and nearly defeated LSU in their bowl game.  Having a home game here should help against Our Most Hated Rival.  Even though the leaders and legends divisions are dead Purdue and Iowa’s hatred will live on forever!  Iowa wins this one. Purdue record 3-2

Purdue at Illinois

Purdue went 0-8 in conference last year.  Illinois went 1-7 with their only victory being over Purdue and that was just barely.  If Purdue is going to win an away game in conference it’ll be this one. I’m going to call this an upset and pick Purdue here.  Purdue record 4-2

Purdue vs. Michigan State

This one isn’t going to be good for our Boilermakers.  The extreme optimist out there might say hey Purdue generally plays these guys close and it’s a home game so it’s possible.  And yes it is possible.  Possible in the sense that it’s possible that I will win the lottery this week.  Michigan State will be destroying some people in conference this year and I have a sinking feeling Purdue will be one of them.  Purdue record 4-3

Purdue at Minnesota

Purdue played one of their worst games of recent memory against Minnesota.  Minnesota wound up 4-4 in conference last year and will more than likely be similar this year.  Purdue meanwhile will continue to rebuild and struggle especially on the road. Purdue record 4-4

Purdue at Nebraska

This is a game that gives Purdue a chance to make a statement on a national stage.  Sad to say they probably won’t.  Last year Purdue vs. Nebraska was ugly and I don’t expect this one to be very different.  Purdue record 4-5

Purdue vs. Wisconsin

This is a Purdue game against Wisconsin.  Purdue will more than likely lose. Purdue record 4-6

Purdue at Northwestern

Northwestern is slowly climbing the conference record to respectability.  Coach Fitzgerald, while still facing the occasional bump in the road, has really turned things around in Evanston.  Purdue continues to stumble and loses their fifth straight.  Purdue record 4-7

Purdue at Indiana

The Indiana offense is a sight to behold.  They put up points on everyone.  Their problem is defense and that they don’t have one.  Purdue let Indiana run all over them last year and it will more than likely happen again.  That said I think the Purdue defense will be improved and could contain the IU offense better than last year.  The Purdue offense is improved and plus it’s physically impossible for me to pick IU over Purdue in football.  Purdue record 5-7

So there ya have it.  Purdue finishes the season 5-7 and misses a bowl game yet again.  It’s a positive step for the team and helps fans a little bit but results for next season will be expected.  The rebuilding process isn’t yet finished and that will be reflected in the games.  Purdue could surprise someone and could have a letdown game at some point this season.  It’s the joy, and frustration of football season.

Let’s Get Defensive!

To say that Purdue’s defense was awful last year doesn’t really do it justice.  Purdue allowed more points last year, 456, than in any other reason during their history.  Let that sink in.  Granted yes teams score more points during the modern era of football than in the past so that must be taken into consideration but no matter how you slice it that’s just awful.  There are only 12 games in a season and Purdue gave up 456 points.  Quick math tells me that’s 38 points per game allowed.  Ouch.  I know the B1G had some good offenses last year but my oh my.  There really wasn’t an aspect of the team that was a strong suit last year.  The defensive line couldn’t find the QB if they had a GPS, the linebackers allowed roughly 538 passes over the middle to tight ends or slant receivers, and the secondary simply couldn’t make big plays.  Purdue is a year older at some positions but also infused with young talent particularly at linebacker and there’s hope that perhaps last season was rock bottom for the defense as they look to dig themselves out.  Let’s again take a look at the defense position by position.

Defense Line

This whole unit rests of the very broad shoulders of Ryan Russell.  The senior has been told his whole career, and by extension we fans have been told, that this guy could be special.  He’s going to be the next in a long line of the den of defensive ends.  He’s going to bring a real threat to the QB and allow the entire defense to get better.  So far that simply hasn’t materialized.  Before each season of Russell’s career his coaches and teammates have said all the right things.  This is going to be his year, he’s ready to break out, this is his time.  It’s now or never for Ryan Russell.  The guy has all the tools to be an NFL player but without more production in college it’s going to be a herculean task to make it to the next level.  In addition to Russell Purdue will more than likely start Jake Repologle and Ra’Zhan Howard at the other two line spots.  Not exactly a list of names that strikes fear in the heart of opposing quarterbacks but there’s hope there.  Repologle and Howard are both young guys and with another year in the system there’s hope that perhaps they can take the proverbial next step.  They’ll have to because Purdue isn’t exactly loaded with experience on the defensive line.  Gelen Robinson might play a bit here on the line but we’ll save him for the linebacker section which is coming up next.

Purdue’s future on defense?

Linebacker

Linebacker has been a weakness of Purdue’s defense for years.  I don’t know why but Purdue simply can’t seem to recruit a solid linebacking corps.  It doesn’t take a keen football knowledge to notice this as tight ends and slot receivers are easily open over the middle of the field and the Purdue linebackers are constantly burned for big gains here.  Need some evidence?  Look at any Purdue vs. Notre Dame game from the last five years and see how many times they run a drag across the middle for a big gain.  At least twice a drive I’d wager.  Knowing that coach Hazell went out and tried to recruit some linebackers that, well, look like linebackers.  Sean Robinson is currently the best linebacker Purdue has on the team and he’s a converted QB.  That’s really all you need to do.  That’s not meant to be a slight on Robinson but instead gives you an idea of the type of true linebackers Purdue has recruited if a converted, in college mind you, QB is the best at your position.  Two guys who will hopefully make waves here are true freshmen Gelen Robinson and Ja’Whaun Bentley.  Both come to Purdue with nice high school pedigrees.  We all know how much that means come time for college ball though.  Bentley however has apparently made a splash in camp.  After starting out with the fourth team defense Bentley know shows as a started on the depth chart.  Robinson is rising too but has apparently been splitting time at the rush end position.  Either way expect both of these guys to see the field.  Word came out earlier that Sean Robinson may miss the first game of the season with a knee injury.  It doesn’t appear to be anything serious but this opens the door for veteran Joe Gilliam to reclaim a starting spot.  Jalani Phillips will fill the final linebacker spot which is a rush end/linebacker/jack/whatever name we are giving the position this week.  Phillips has shown definite promise in his time at Purdue and like Russell needs to find a consistency if he hopes to be remembered.

Secondary  

Gelen Robinson looks smart

The last line of defense for this Purdue team is the secondary of which there are two suspensions for at least the first half of the first game.  If you’ll recall the bogus targeting call during the IU game it puts Landon Feichter out for the first half of the first game.  Austin Logan will more than likely be the one filling in for him.  In addition to Feichter’s suspension Taylor Richards is also out for two games due to some, ahem, extra curricular activities.  In his place will be Frankie Williams who is moving over from corner in order to help the team during the suspension.  There are no stars in the making in the secondary but the hope is that they will be solid.  They’ve not been given much a chance in years past due to the inability to get to the QB and inability to cover the middle of the field.  Each part of the defense relies on the other and the secondary gets dumped on the most.  If the rest of the defense improves it makes everything else that much easier for the guys in the back.  Let’s just hope Purdue’s leading tackler at the end of the season isn’t a safety.  That’s rarely a good thing.

 

So big picture what are we looking at here?  Will the defense be improved?  I’d say it would be nearly impossible for them not to be.  If nothing else they should be better adjusted to the system and executing much better.  The team needs to cut down on mistakes.  They aren’t going to be the monsters of the Midway by any stretch of the imagination but they can be serviceable.  How awful is it that serviceable is the best word I can use from an optimistic perspective?  This defense has to go up from previous years.  It just has to.  When you set the record for most points allowed you just have to assume things will get better.  Let’s hope they can begin moving in the right direction during game one this Saturday.

First Look- Offense

Purdue’s offense last season was seemingly non-existent.  The QB play of Rob Henry left much to be desired, the offensive line was abysmal, and the receiving corp had a case of the drops.  Long story short there was no bright spot for this offense.  Midway through the year Henry got the boot and Danny Etling was put in for good.  The poor freshman spent more time on his back than any QB should during his entire four years.  He showed flashes of skill and some nice touch on a long ball.  Despite improvement from the QB position the rest of the offense stayed as is and the team failed to win a game under Etling’s leadership.  Over the summer there was a QB competition between Etling and Austin Appleby with Etling coming out victorious to the surprise of basically no one.  Let’s take a look at the offense unit by unit to see where improvement can be made and what this offense might be capable of.

Danny Etling – No pressure this season young man…

Quarterback

Obviously Danny Etling is the starter and seems to have the faith of the coaching staff.  Some people might be grumbling because it seemed like Appleby had the better stats over the summer but still lost out to Etling.  If the coaching staff feels he’s our best bet it’s difficult for me to argue at this point.  I didn’t see any practices this summer but I did see the two play last year and while both were certainly talented I tend to lean toward Etling.  If the offensive line improves Etling gives Purdue a quarterback with a legit arm who can really sling the ball all over the field.  Etling continued to improve as the season progressed specifically with his completion percentage.  His last three games, two on the road, he had completion percentages of over 60%.  You can’t ask for much more from your QB.  At a certain point the receivers, running backs, and tight ends have to make some people miss.  He also threw 6 touchdowns compared with just 2 interceptions in these final three games.  Etling has the arm and the talent, and from everything I read, the leadership to take this team and mold it to his will.  Let’s hope he gets the chance.  While I know the backup QB is almost always the most popular guy on the team, in the fan’s eyes, let’s give Etling his shot and hope things move in the right direction.

Offensive Line

Without improvement from the offensive line Purdue’s improvement on offense is probably dead in the water. Etling needs room to move and time to make plays.  He didn’t have that last year.  Purdue added a pretty solid transfer who will be eligible to play in the fourth game of the season due to playing “professionally” overseas in Sweden.  David Hedelin is his name and he will be an assured started come game four.  Until then Purdue will be stuck with four redshirt sophomores and a redshirt junior.  Robert Kuglar is the stalwart returning at center who will hopefully provide some stability.  This is a young offensive line and one that has had it’s share of bang ups and nicks over the length of training camp.  They’ve left me pretty worried that any real change will come until at least the fourth week when Purdue adds Hedelin.  I have to assume the offensive line can’t possibly get worse than it was last season so I’m banking on that.  With that said I expect the coaching staff to do everything they can to hide this weakness using rollouts and finding other ways to keep Etling on the move and away from trouble.

Dolapo Macarthy

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

One of the more intriguing changes that happened over the summer was the move of Dolapo Macarthy from wide receiver to tight end.  If you read the blog at all you’ll know that I think Macarthy can be a game changer for this team.  He’s not the fastest guy and he saw precious little action last year but two years ago he was a bright spot in an otherwise blah receiving corp.  With Macarthy’s move it makes the tight end position possibly the deepest position on Purdue’s entire roster.  Macarthy should be able to come in as more of an offensive threat while Gabe Holmes continues to try and grasp that all elusive potential we’ve all heard so much about.  Justin Sinz continues to be an all around solid addition to the position and should offer Purdue the opportunity to constantly rotate for fresh bodies.  The tight ends will hopefully give Etling a handy dump off in case of danger from the porous line.

On the receiver side Purdue has a little bit of everything.  With Danny Anthrop and BJ Knauf Purdue has speed at the slot position that should cause mismatches across the middle.  On the outside Purdue has a nice mix of size and speed with DeAngelo Yancey, Cameron Posey, and Dan Monteroso.  Can they all stay healthy, I’m looking at you Anthrop and Knauf, and will they be able to hang onto the ball?  Plus, and not to beat a dead horse, will the offensive line be able to provide the protection to allow the receivers to get where they are supposed to go?

Running Backs

This is another position where Purdue has some depth and talent.  It’s depth and talent that Purdue hasn’t had for a little while.  The player I’m most looking forward to is the incredibly explosive Raheem Mostert who struggled at WR in the past.  After his impressive track season here’s hoping Purdue can get him the ball and provide a hole for him to run through.  He’s one of the fasted men in the conference so let’s hope, again, the offensive line can give him some space to get through.  In addition to Mostert who is expected to be the starter is the always reliable Akeem Hunt.  Not exactly a lightning and thunder pairing but Hunt does give Purdue the more experience, but not quite as explosive, backup that Mostert will need should he struggle.  In addition to these two someone like Keyante Green might get his fair share of snaps on a rotating basis.  For short yardage situations let’s hope that Brandon Cottom is given an opportunity.  He’s another guy that I think was grossly underused last season.  The guy is built like a bowling ball and could help cover up the weakness on the offensive line.

 

Overall I’d say the Purdue offense will be better than last year but the question is by how much?  Will they be able to sustain drives and give the defense a bit of a rest?  Will they be able to put the ball in the endzone rather than relying on the kicking game to finish things off?  The biggest question of all of course is the offensive line.  If they improve the offense will improve dramatically. You’d hope after another year in the program these guys would be bigger, faster, stronger, and have better mechanics.  Let’s hope Purdue’s offensive line coach is truly worth his salt.  Purdue has some good pieces in place specifically at the skill positions.  Will they be able to showcase that talent?  Let’s hope so.