Thursday, September 20, 2007

Guest Post: A Look At Purdue

PJS Note: Purdue blogger Travis from Off The Tracks has provided PJS readers with an insider's view of the Purdue Boilermakers. He suggests the tilt against the Gophers should be a good one Saturday. He's either being nice or he missed the fact we lost to Florida Atlantic.

By Travis
Guest Contributor

When looking at the Boilermakers so far this season the story on the surface is clearly the performance of the offense. Purdue has scored 52, 52, and 45 points in its first three games and if not for a five turnover day against Central Michigan last week would probably been over 50 points again. Purdue got up 24-0 with 300 yards of total offense in the first quarter alone last week and led 38-0 in the third quarter before putting it on cruise control and letting the Chippewas have a big second half. Only a fumble at the 2 yard line by Selwyn Lymon put a damper on an otherwise dominant first quarter.

Quarterback play:
Curtis Painter led the country last year in interceptions with 19 picks in 14 games. So far this season he has 13 touchdowns and 952 yards with zero interceptions. Only once in the Eastern Illinois came did he come close to throwing a pick, and it was dropped by the Panther defensive player. He is also completing his passes at a much higher rate this year, going 81 for 118. Even though he threw so many picks last season he still broke Drew Brees’ single season record for passing yards by 2 yards, although he did it in 14 games compared to 13 for Brees in 1998.

For video of Painter check out the clips from the Toledo game at Spoilermaker.com. This was his least consistent game of the season and he still had four TD passes. He’s playing at a very high level and much of that credit goes to an offensive line that has kept him very protected. Rarely has he even had to scramble yet, and with so many receiving options at his disposal he can pick teams apart now.

If he does need to run he has proven the last two years to be effective at it. We’ve only run our option play a handful of times so far, but it is still there and can be deadly when used.

Running backs:
This has been a strength so far, but Purdue suffered a huge blow Saturday when Jaycen Taylor was lost with a broken arm. Initial reports said he could be out for the season, but he responded to surgery well and now may be back in time for the Northwestern game. He was the starter and went almost all of last season without having a single negative yardage play.

Kory Sheets is now the starter, but he was pretty much splitting carries with Taylor anyway. Sheets has been a contributor since his first game as a redshirt freshman when he returned a blocked punt for a TD. He has 27 career TD’s now and ran for a pair of scores and 144 against Central Michigan. He’s also dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. I look for him to step into his vast potential now that he is truly the main man.

The only knock on Sheets is that he fumbles a lot at times. In fact he had three of them on Saturday and lost two of them with the other rolling out of bounds. If he gets over this he is dangerous. Third stringer and true freshman Dan Dierking will now get about 35-40% of the carries and he has played very well in garbage time so far. He is actually the son of Purdue legend Scott Dierking and has already rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns. On his second career carry he busted a 30-yard TD against Toledo.

Wide Receivers:
Where do I begin with this group? Dorien Bryant is a speedster, possession guy, can break almost any play, and sometimes lines up in the spread formation as a running back. Selwyn Lymon and Greg Orton are the outside receivers and can both stretch the field. Dustin Keller already has four TD’s at tight end and a great play to see him in action is his 80 yard TD catch at Toledo on Spoilermaker. His backup Kyle Adams is developing into a solid big goal line pass catcher as well.

For good measure even the backups are solid. Jake Standeford, brother of former Purdue record holder John, is a fifth year senior walk-on that may not have great physical tools, but does everything right and has simply earned his way to the field. He is a fantastic blocker downfield and has developed into a good pass-catcher as well. Desmond Tardy plays the same position as Bryant and is a converted option quarterback, so he’s dangerous with the ball and even threw on a trick play for a TD at Hawaii last year.

By the way, all seven of these guys have already seen the end zone this year at least once.

Defense:
This has been the real surprise so far, although many people are not giving us credit for it. Against similar competition in our first three games last season we were barely able to stop Indiana State, Miami (OH) and Ball State who were worse teams than we have played so far.

This season, except for about the first 20 minutes against Toledo and the second half against Central Michigan the defense has been solid. More importantly they have been more aggressive than the past two seasons, even though they are largely the same unit from last year. Justin Scott is developing into a hard hitting safety that has been in the right spot at the right time with five interceptions in his 17 games at Purdue.

One big change actually came from the offense, and Anthony Heygood converted from running back to linebacker and led the team in tackles the first two games this season. He has surprised nearly everyone and seems to be a natural at linebacker. The defensive line is bigger and deeper this year, allowing for a strong rotation between several guys.

I noticed for the first time in almost two years that the defense was much more aggressive and hard hitting than it has been. They haven’t forced a ton of turnovers yet (only six by my count), but they have been strong in the red zone. It’s the type of unit that doesn’t need to shut other teams down, but if they can limit a team to 20-25 points we should be able to win with our offense. The difference year is experience as so far it seems to be paying off.

Special Teams:
This is another surprise area as what we thought was going to be a strength, punting, has faltered while placekicking, which was awful last year, has been pretty good. Chris Summers was only 8 for 20 on field goals last season, but was automatic on PAT’s. He really improved his game in the offseason and though he missed his first field goal of the season by less than a foot, he has since made three in a row. Last season he didn’t make a single kick after the Wisconsin game.

Jared Armstrong had a great year last year and was expected to be one of the best punters in the nation but he is in a slump right now, shanking things left and right. In the return game we have Bryant returning punts and kickoffs and he has already returned a kickoff 91 yards for a TD against Toledo and nearly broke one all the way against Central Michigan. Last season our kickoff coverage was among the best in the nation and we do a lot of directional kicking with high kicks placed at about the 20 to get the coverage downfield and prevent a long return. It’s been fairly successful all year.

Overall:
This Purdue team really coming together right now, but the turnovers in the second half and the way the defense slacked off against Central Michigan are the first pangs of concern I have had. Also we haven’t really had a good game at getting to the quarterback yet, but the defense is at least causing pressure and several incompletions. This team is starting to look really good and if they can knock off Ohio State at home on October 6th the stage could be set for a very special year. Still, I don’t want to look past the Gophers because you guys always play us close.

Two years ago I went to the game in the Metrodome and left shocked when we couldn’t pull off one play on defense that could have one the game. As a result we went on a six game slide and never truly recovered. You guys never seem to be dead, as the last three weeks you’ve managed comebacks from late deficits to be right there. It should be a good game on Saturday.

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