Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Purdue @ Illinois: Third Down

Third Down: These 2 teams actually do have some strengths...

I promise, they do.  Purdue's strength is obviously it's defense (how weird is that) and it's kicking game. The Illini have a pretty potent offense behind transfer QB Wes Lunt. So in an otherwise lackluster billing, this game actually pits two teams relative strengths against each other.

In a game that might as well be featured on ESPN8 "The Ocho" we will see an Illinois offense led by a hometown kid that has taken a little bit different route to become the signal caller in Champaign. Lunt was a successful true freshman QB at Oklahoma State for Mike Gundy, and no Lunt is not the guy Gundy went on a rampage defending. But 2 years ago Lundt was involved in a concussion issue that ended up putting him on the outside looking in on the Cowboys quarterback situation. So he transferred closer to his hometown of Springfield to play for Illinois.

He is good. When he's healthy, he is good. On the year Lunt is completing 65% of his passes and has thrown for 11 touchdowns in just 4 games. Overall, the Illini offense has shown flashes of being potent. Even in the defeats they have still put up some points, so I expect them to be able to move the football against Purdue.

On the other side of the ball, Purdue's defense has without a doubt been a very pleasant surprise and one that would be making much more noise if the offense weren't so anemic. Last week the Boilermaker defense held a Big Ten team to under 50 yards in the first quarter. When was the last time you could say that? They were more than competitive with Notre Dame as well. Yes the final statistics don't paint the same picture I am here, but come on, do you really think that defense wasn't completely gassed after being trotted out over and over after 3 and outs?? This is the strength of this team right now, and had the offense been able to carry even a little bit of the weight we might be talking about a team sitting at 1-0 right now in B10 play. But they didn't, and we're not.

Definitely worth noting is the progress and performance of both Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows.  Meadows looked like a fish out of water punting the first 2 weeks, but man has he turned it on. He doesn't have the biggest leg in the world but has shown a great knack for placement and consistently hits it 40-45 yards. Griggs has now taken over kickoff duties as well it would seem, and has been a revelation as the placekicker. I wrote early on that the kicking job was a huge question mark coming off of a year where Griggs was wildly inconsistent and did not show the same pop in his leg he has so far this year. He has answered that question and then some. Again, if we were just able to move the ball I think PG can give us points.  We cannot continue to take so many empty possessions.

The common theme for Purdue is obviously what jbrunner wrote about yesterday, the offense has to improve drastically for this team to ever really compete. But there are areas of unquestioned growth for the Boilermakers, and one of them is defense.

This weekend pits 2 bad football teams against each other; who's weakness will make the most progress and give their strength a chance to truly shine? What we find out will have one team thinking all hope is not lost, the other will go away still winless in conference and with a much more bleak outlook of breaking that streak.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Purdue @ Illinois: 1st/2nd Down Double Dose

Double Dose: Assessing This Offense

Sigh. 

Yeah, Conner and I were pretty off with our Iowa predictions. Both of us thought the Boilers would have enough offense to hang with an Iowa team that looked pretty unimpressive in its first few games. 

I was sure Danny Etling would at least be average. I wasn't asking him to be perfect, but it was a major mistake saying in Prediction Time that he might throw three touchdowns. 

Is change from No. 5 in the air?
(photo is property of
the Associated Press)
From what I observed in that game, combined with everything from the first four games as well, I've come to the conclusion he simply just doesn't have the ability. A better game against Southern Illinois a few weeks ago, instead of measurable improvement for Etling, now looks like just a flash in the pan against an FCS opponent. 

Maybe it's time to give Austin Appleby a real chance. 

By that, I mean four full quarters and a full week of practice before the game. He's struggled when entering games for Purdue this year, but I think a lot of that comes from the situations the coaching staff puts him in. High pressure situations in which the Boilers are in a hole won't help him develop. 

A change is the right move even if Appleby also proves to be mediocre. The coaches need to show fans that they recognize when something isn't working. I completely understand the coaches doing everything possible to ensure David Blough gets his redshirt season - it's important that he has a year to learn the offensive playbook. 

Purdue OC John Shoop
(photo is from Rivals.com)
Speaking of the playbook, I've changed my tune about the offensive coodinator Darrell Hazell hired when he arrived at Purdue in 2013. 

I want John Shoop fired. 

His playcalling continues to be horribly uninspired. It often seems like Purdue will run on either one or both of first and second down before getting behind the chains and passing on third down. This is not a formula for success. The Boilermakers do not have the big bodies on their offensive line to run out of the shotgun as much as they do. 
Attempts at throws that would vertically stretch the field also seem few and far between. A woeful offensive line doesn't seem to help matters much, as an indecisive Etling will often fail to see what's open. 

Maybe some of this comes from a distrust between the coaches and Etling's ability to consistently make throws, and if that's the case it's not any good either. 

I'm not sure what to expect against Illinois offensively. Their defense ranks No. 104 in the FBS, giving up 35 points a game. The Illini were crushed against Nebraska last week. 

Purdue doesn't have a weapon like Ameer Abdullah at running back. But this team needs to find something. 

Even if it's drastic. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Purdue vs. Iowa: Prediction Time!

Both jbrunner and Conner Clinkenbeard have confident things to say heading into Big Ten play on Saturday. 

It's that time of week again: Prediction Time!



The Boilermakers are turning a corner. 

After a strong showing against Notre Dame and the subsequent demolition of Southern Illinois (which should have been by a wider margin), it's clear that the program is making progress. 

But just how much are we seeing? How might this trend continue?

I think the schedule to start Big Ten play really favors this Purdue team. Iowa isn't the strongest opponent - the Hawkeyes could only score 17 points against Ball State and lost to Iowa State. 

The Purdue defense, led by standout freshman Ja'Whaun Bentley, plays physical and fast. Defensive backs have been strong in coverage. The only real concern is an apparent difficulty in rushing the passer. 

It's the offense that has to show it can move the ball with consistency. I'm looking for Danny Etling to make an early mistake with an interception; he'll follow it, however, with 3 touchdown passes. 

The Boilers will show fans why they need to return to Ross-Ade against an Iowa team that has plenty of its own questions.

Purdue 28 
Iowa 20 

-jbrunner 




I don't know what it is, but I have a good feeling about this one guys.  Maybe I'm taking too much away from a loss followed by a win vs an FCS school, but I really think this team is showing some nice growth.  I also think that Iowa is a nearly perfect homecoming opponent. 

The Hawkeyes are solid, but nobody on either side would classify them an unbeatable. Purdue has to play really well to win, but I don't think they have to be perfect and that's big. I think Purdue will play well, and can see them really get the offense going with a running game that seems to be finding some more open holes. 

If the defense can continue swarming to the ball and making the fundamental plays like gap assignments and tackling in space, we are going to enjoy this homecoming. Drink one for this prediction:

Purdue 27 - Iowa 24

3-2

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Purdue vs. Iowa: 4th Down

4th Down: OMHR 

I hate the Hawkeyes with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. 

The other day I thought about Iowa football and became so angry that I wanted to punch a hole in the wall. 

There's a reason why Iowa is called Our Most Hated Rival (trademark of T-Mill at Hammer and Rails). It's not just because Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney assigned them to us as a cross-division rival in the short-lived "Legends" and "Leaders" era of our beloved league. 

Here are several reasons for why Iowa stinks:

1. They live in a flat and boring state. What do they even farm? 

2. Iowa men's basketball

3. It's one of the few places in the country where college wrestling actually matters. 

4. I can't imagine students have much to do other than go to bars. What does Iowa City have for tourism other than college football? 

5. They paint the visitor locker room pink.

6. The name "Hawkeyes". Why can't they just be called the Hawks? At least it's better than "Golden Gophers". 

I kid. This is all in good fun, of course. There were several people asking me on Twitter about this "rivalry", wanting to know why we talk about it as if it's a serious thing. It isn't. Ask Iowa fans...they're on board with the joke as well. 

After all, at least the Hawkeyes wear yellow and black. 

It's better than red. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Purdue vs Iowa: Third Down

Third Down: Momentum = ?

I was almost timid to say so, but last week in 3rd/4th down I mentioned that a nice showing vs SIU could lead to a little bit of momentum heading into the homecoming clash against Iowa.  Well, we're here and after the most convincing win under Coach Hazell's regime to date I think this team has some legitimate momentum and confidence.  They are starting to be able to execute a game plan and follow through on what the coaches have been preaching since the beginning of camp last year: play hard, minimize mistakes, and make the easy plays look easy.

Iowa, on the other hand, is 3-1 but aside from a pretty good win vs Pitt has looked very pedestrian.  They barely beat FCS Northern Iowa (and no Ali Farokmanesh did not turn to football to try and spring the upset), and then barely beat Ball State who promptly lost to FCS Indiana State last week.  The Hawkeyes do not have a definitive starter at Quarterback, as incumbent Jake Rudock has been just ok and is now battling injury as well.  This is a team that is going to go 1 of 2 ways this year: they will either roll over and die leading the way to the end of the Kirk Ferentz era in Iowa City or they will band together to cement the position of the longest tenured head coach in the Big Ten.

This is a big, er, huge week for Purdue.  A win here could really change the outlook for the rest of this season.  If you get this win, all of a sudden at Illinois looks more winnable. At Minnesota looks a lot more winnable. And home to Northwestern becomes one you almost expect to win.  A win here and we can get start to realistically look at that 5 win mark, with which nearly everyone with close knowledge of this program would deem a success. A win vs Iowa means that Darrell Hazell can win in the Big Ten; it hasn't happened yet but it's coming.  Getting this win would light a fire under this fan base that I can just sense is yearning for a reason to come back and support their Boilermakers like crazy.  It's a big ask and a huge leap up in performance, but I think this one is within reach for Purdue.  It will be very interesting to watch the Boilermakers take on their first Big Ten opponent of the year, but I for one am actually excited to see what's in store.  I really hope this team is able to keep the train rolling with the successes of the past 2 weeks.

If so, we might just be getting a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Purdue vs. Iowa: Second Down

Second Down: Musical Running Backs?

It appears that Coach Hazell is looking to go in a slightly different direction at the running back position.  Coming out of camp it seemed clear that Raheem Mostert was the #1 guy, and he has been featured as such through the better part of 4 games.  The coaches love his big play ability; a national champion sprinter he can literally take it to the house from anywhere, and I love that about him as well. But he's just that, a home run hitter.  In John Shoop's offense the conclusion I am drawing is that Purdue needs a back that can

1) Always fall forward and get positive yards
2) Protect the football
3) Run between the tackles to eat up clock

Because of this, I do believe that Mostert may not be the best fit for an every down back for the Boilermakers.  The only problem is, we know for a fact that the newly named starter Akeem Hunt is not either.  Last year Shoop tried to feature Hunt as the primary tailback and it worked about as well as Mostert has this year.  There are some home runs for sure, but when it comes to big boy football and getting that 1 yard when you really need it, he's not your guy.

One of the most encouraging things I took away from the Southern Illinois game was the play of redshirt freshman Keyante Green.  He ran really hard and was very productive in running some clock and salting away a relatively impressive victory.  What I really liked about him was the ability to quickly identify the hole the offensive line created, and get through it; fast.  Our line is clearly not going to open Mack truck sized holes like those at Wisconsin, but there has been some running room this year.  Mostert did a little too much dancing at times and it led to a lot of no gain or negative yardage plays.  I really liked watching Green pick a hole and attack it, immediately getting to at least the line of scrimmage.

It looks to me like the coaching staff is slowly going to work Green into a more featured role, but my question is why make the change at #1 right now? Hunt and Mostert are in essence the same back, except that Mostert is a little bigger and has shown some nice physicality whereas last year I though Hunt had a tendency to go down quickly after being hit.  I would either continue with Mostert getting the lions share of the carries and interject Green in sporadically, or just go with the freshman all together as the feature back.

He may or may not be ready to carry that type of load, but really, do you know until you try?  He sure looked the part last week and I hope we get to see more of that in the coming weeks. If Purdue can have a running game to lean on for the times Danny Etling is inaccurate (and there will continue to be periods of inaccuracy even though he's improved significantly) I think this offense could be in business.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Purdue vs. Iowa: 1st Down

1st Down: A Call To Action 

Folks, I'll just come out and say it: This is the biggest home game for the Boilermakers in the last 10 years. 

I have several reasons for saying that. Purdue has been trending upward in the last several weeks, playing Notre Dame very tough in Indy before eventually running out of juice and losing by a 30-14 score. 

After that, they did what I was hoping beyond all hope to see: They won in convincing fashion against a team they were supposed to beat handily. 

Before the SIU game had even started, a respected college sports analyst by the name of Pat Forde went on record via Twitter as having Purdue on upset alert. I suppose (given recent history) that such a prediction makes sense: a team that won its first two games by a combined 83-21 margin should be able to compete against a program known for not showing up against smaller teams. 

When the Boilers were prepared, focused and playing angry, however, Forde took it all back. He said it was a clinical error. 

Personally, I'd chalk it up to the hard work of Purdue players finally showing itself on the field. Darrell Hazell knows how to turn around a program...he had Kent State a game away from a BCS appearance...and an attitude change is in the works. 

It would mean the world to the Boilermakers, hyped and excited as they'll be for a chance to move over .500 and start Big Ten season with a clean slate, to enter Ross-Ade Stadium and see a packed house of fans who believe like they do.

The power of belief is a huge thing. I think Purdue is starting to think it can win. 

Let's show up and prove that we have this team's back on Saturday. Let's leave no doubt. 
Bring this back, Boiler Nation.