Monday, October 20, 2014

Bye Week Thoughts: I Was Wrong

John Shoop, I owe you an apology.

For the first five weeks of the season, I blamed Shoop's playcalling for the Boilers' struggles. I often thought his approach was too conservative. Purdue's offense was constantly stalling, and frustration after weeks of failing to move the football boiled over (pun intended) after a complete no-show at home against Iowa.

It turns out quarterbacking was the problem.
Appleby with Trent Dilfer at the Elite 11 camp






Danny Etling was simply incapable of executing the plays Shoop called. I don't mean to call him out or put him in a bad light, but these are just the facts. It's been a completely different ballgame after the switch to Austin Appleby, whose hard work really seems to be paying off.

I found an article on ESPN.com that details Appleby's tireless work ethic. I'm not saying Etling didn't do his homework; he certainly did, otherwise the coaches wouldn't have given him a fair shot to prove his worth. But Appleby seems to have an unrelenting desire to be great.

And it translates to the field.

You could hear it when rising sophomore Danny Anthrop commented on the difference between the two quarterbacks in an interview with BTN.com:

"He takes control of things. He has a lot of confidence and a lot of command in the huddle ... When he's in there and saying stuff, you know it's not fake."
That might have been some kind of shot at Etling, but it really just speaks to a night-and-day difference in leadership. Players believe in Austin Appleby in the same way that he believes in them.

Just take a look at the Appleby's numbers in three games as a starter. He's thrown five touchdowns to three interceptions. He's completed 55 of 83 passes (66 percent) of his passes, which is obviously pretty good.

This offense has become explosive, lighting up Michigan State and Minnesota in losses. The next step for the team as it learns to win will be developing a pretty young defense, but for now the offense has shown progress.

I was wrong about you, Mr. Shoop. Now let's forget about that poll, eh?

Note: We'll post several more times throughout the week with thoughts during Purdue's first of two weeks off. The "four downs" posts will be back before Purdue plays at Nebraska next week.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MBB Scrimmage Notes

Today's season ticket holder scrimmage provided both highlights and lowlights, just depends on what exactly you were looking for as to which turned out more important.

For me, the 5 points I posed last week were what I was looking for. Here's what I took away from today's open practice/scrimmage.

1) Point guard has not been solved at all. Bryson Scott looked much more under control, but honestly, I'm not convinced that's a good thing. When he's not uber aggressive he really doesn't make much of an impact. He still struggled mightily with his jump shot (which was a theme for Purdue today) and did not do much outside of 2 solid finishes in the paint. Unofficial stats had him 2-10 FG, 2 assists, 1 TO.  I thought PJ Thompson was solid, meaning he didn't really do anything dumb or counterproductive; which in the end might be enough to win him the job. He was more efficient than Scott (2-5 FG, 2 assists, 1 TO) but only connected on 1-4 behind the arc. The biggest reason in my opinion the PG has not been solidified is because I didn't see what Jon Octeus brings to the table. He did not participate today because of a class conflict. If he brings the ability to be a lockdown defender (which Thompson's physical limitations are going to prevent), can go get his own shot when needed, and also be efficient like Thompson he could be the solution. But if I had to name a point guard starter today between Scott and Thompson, it's PJ and it's not really close.

2) JUMBO. That describes not only the twin towers look that CMP used for 10 straight game minutes but also the 7'2'' freshman in general. Holy cow that is a large man. I'll get into Haas' performance shortly but overall the jumbo package looked very viable. The two bigs had a little trouble staying out of each other's way in the paint, but when they got their spacing it was a pleasant surprise. I counted twice where the ball went to Haas in the deep post, he held it high, and hit a dive cutting Hammons for a powerful dunk. Just really good basketball there big to big.  Whether it's alongside AJH or not, Isaac Haas is going to see the floor as much as his massive frame and stamina can handle this year. He is so much more mobile than in his "highlight" videos from high school and on a few plays just bullied Hammons, and that's not a knock on AJ either. Lastly, next time you're at Walmart pick up a youth nerf basketball and try to shoot free throws. That's about what it's like for Haas and he was a really really solid 11-13 from the charity stripe today. Impressive.

3) AJ Hammons might just surprise people with his all around game. He has really put work into his perimeter game and his conditioning. He hit 2-3 three point tries and both looked effortless. Didn't touch the rim with either. Sounds like he's going to have a soft green/hard yellow light on that shot this year; if he's open don't be surprised to see it go up (and in).  In addition to the perimeter improvement he really looked light on his feet. He still seems to legitimately enjoy shooting layups, but got off the floor really really quickly for numerous two-handed flushes. While he didn't win best dunk of the day (which hands down goes to Stephen Toyra and his double fisted thunder chunky on a fast break), he was an above the rim player today and looked comfortable being there. It was exciting to see, and here's guessing going against Mr. Haas every day hasn't been a bad thing in any way, shape, or form.

4) No way to sugarcoat it, Kendall Stephens and Raphael Davis were not good today. I'm sure it was more of an anomaly than anything but man, it wasn't pretty. Stephens was not the aggressor I thought we would see right out of the gates, and his shot was really off. He had one nice drive and finished through contact, but overall didn't give much. 1-13 FG and 0-8 3s. Yeesh. Davis wasn't much better. We have all heard about the time he's devoted in the offseason to his jump shot and explosiveness, but neither showed up today. He appeared to be trying to re-brick the Mackey exterior while missing on 9 of his 10 FG attempts, 6 of those misses of the clanking 3 point variety. He did not attack the rim that I saw either. If it weren't an early season scrimmage the performance of these 2 would be pretty troubling to me. But it is, and I have to think they will both be better going forward.

5) Shield your eyes. The following stat is definitely NSFW: 5-40. That is the line this Purdue team had on 3-point field goals today. For those of you doing the math, stop. It's 12.5% and it was every bit as gruesome to watch in person. The only positive I took from a shooting perspective was a very deep 3 that Vince Edwards hit and the 2 that AJH made. Outside of that, it was an abomination. Not going to cut it, but again I have to think this was more of an outlier and hopefully not the norm for a team that is undoubtedly more skilled than the past 2 teams in West Lafayette.

Overall, I think there is reason for optimism coming out of the scrimmage today. The freshman all look poised and confident, and while they didn't shoot the ball well, nobody did.  Haas, Edwards, and Thompson will all play huge roles this year, and depending on what Purdue gets from Octeus at the 1/2 position Dakota Mathias might carve out a nice chunk of PT as well. I liked what I saw from the jumbo lineup, but honestly I liked what I saw from AJH and Haas individually even more. If those two are able to provide Purdue with a dominant post presence in both the first and second units I would be hard pressed to play them much together if I was Painter. They can do some serious damage wearing down opposing front lines over the course of a full game. It's a work in progress for sure, but I like what I saw today and I think issues like shooting and assist-turnover ratio will improve as this team is able to start playing their best 5 at one time and not splitting into inter squad teams. I don't know if I'll be able to go next Saturday's scrimmage, but hopefully the arrival of Octeus Prime will shed some light on our guard situation. If you're not drinking the kool-aide yet, better get your glass ready. This team could be good.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

-cclinken

Friday, October 17, 2014

Purdue @ Minnesota: Prediction Time!



Things are looking up in West Lafayette.
The Boilermakers have shown a resolve and fight in the last few weeks that I'm not sure anyone thought they had.

Minnesota is a team that's won five games by pounding the football between the tackles and wearing people down. Can it do that to Purdue?

Austin Appleby's fantastic poise and leadership remind me of the "old days", when Brees and Orton were in God's Country.

Minnesota's defense doesn't beat itself.  It will be up to the Boilers to take what's given to them and make positive things happen.

I think Appleby makes more mistakes early - with an interception by halftime - but comes out and leads Purdue in the second half.

Minnesota is good. This is a difficult game, but it's also winnable. I want the Boilermakers to show me improvement is continuing to happen.

Maybe this prediction will be wrong.

Minnesota 31 Purdue 27

- jbrunner




I said in my preview that I don't think Minnesota is everything you would expect in a 5-1 team and I still think that. But, they do a few things very very well.

The Gophers own the turnover battle, boasting a +6 margin on the year. So they don't turn it over, and they take advantage when you put it on the deck.

Also, Minnesota runs it and runs it well. Their back is not a home run hitter, but he will hit for average all day long; pounding out 5 and 6 yard carries until when you look at the stats after the game he's racked up 120 yards without one single play that made you say "wow".

This ball security and running approach make Minnesota a very good team when they have a lead, but also can lend itself to being vulnerable to explosive offenses.

I didn't think we would be saying this, but Purdue's offense has looked to have every bit enough explosivity to make this an uncomfortable game for the Gophers.

I too think Austin Appleby probably throws a first half pick, but I think Purdue will be able to put enough points on the board early enough to put pressure on Minnesota's offense.

I think we're going to be looking at a game in the upper 30s and it will come down to either Purdue stopping the Gophers running game in the 4th quarter or Minnesota forcing a timely turnover with the game on the line. I like what I saw last weekend and if the offense plays like that we might just be able to get Coach Hazell another Big Ten road win tomorrow.

38-34 Purdue

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

- cclinken

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Purdue @ Minnesota Preview

I can't in good conscience say that Purdue nearly upset Michigan State; they didn't. But what the Boilers did do was put a solid scare into the #8 team in the country deep deep into the 4th quarter. Raise your hand if you saw that coming. 

Also, Purdue is one of 2 teams in the past few years to put up at least 31 points on Sparty. The other? Oregon. Again, raise your hand if you saw that coming. 

I mention all this to illustrate one huge improvement that has not coincidentally gone along with a change at the quarterback position: John Shoop's offense looks fast and downright potent.  He was masterful Saturday getting the Boilers playmakers on the edge and in space to stretch and exploit MSU's vaunted defense. I really don't see any reason this type of offensive revolution shouldn't keep going, it's the same plays that were called in the first 5 games only now the passes are being completed which gives everything else a chance to be successful. 

Austin Appleby hasn't been perfect, but what he has been is intuitive, energetic, and accurate; all of which are things this team sorely needed. 

I feel very similarly about Minnesota that I did about Illinois going into that game 2 weeks ago. They have an OK resume to date, a few wins but nothing mind-blowing.  The Gophers are better than Illinois I know that, but they really haven't done a whole lot all that great in getting to 5-1.  Beating Michigan and Northwestern is 2-0 in league play yes, but really does anyone see those as statement wins? Their one loss was an absolute shellacking at the hands of TCU, who is a really really good team. 

Another similarity Minnesota and Illinois have is in their respective offenses being very one-dimensional. Illinois threw and threw and threw, to the point that their QB got seriously injured from being hit so much. Jerry Kill's group likes to run and run a lot. The Golden Gophers are averaging 212 yards per game on the ground as opposed to just 119 through the air. They want to run and are going to run all day long unless Purdue shows it can body up and stop it. Defense in general has been a sore spot for Purdue the past 2 weeks, but for the most part it's been aerial assaults that have done in the Boilers. If Coach Hudson's bunch can stay gap sound I think they have be bodies and the physicality to slow down Minnesota I really do. And if we can get the Gophers into obvious pass situations guys like Frankie Williams and Ryan Russell can be very opportunistic. 

I'll have an official prediction on Friday, but for now I see no reason why Purdue won't go up to Minnesota and compete for 60 minutes.  The point spread set for this game is just asinine, but I suppose crazier things have happened. I look for Minnesota to really try and take the air out of the football with their run game not only because that's what they are good at, but to keep Purdue's all-of-a-sudden high octane offense off the field. Should be fun to watch. 

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Purdue vs Michigan State: 4th Down

4th Down: Come On Boilermaker Fans!

This Saturday is a call to arms. The Boilermaker players have shown an ability to grow and adjust and improve as the season has gone on, and it's time for the fans to do the same. This team has played hard for the majority of this season and in the past few weeks has started to actually play some very good football.  It's like they have heard the call of all Purdue fans: play hard , play smart, and give 100% effort. We are finally seeing what can happen when our student athletes buy in. 

This week is not going to be easy; quite the contrary to be exact. It will be a tough game. It will take a  truly mature and great performance from our Boilers to make this a good competitive contest. I for one believe they can do just that. An inspired performance is not out of the realm of possibility. But, our Boilermakers will also need an inspired performance from this fan base as well. 

Jbrunner has alluded to this already this season, but the fan support is so incredibly crucial to our current football team. They are young and are still learning to trust in their coaches system. A great supporting home crowd would really go a long way in keeping morale up and keeping our team on edge to outperform their expectations. 

There are really no excuses Saturday. Can't make it up to God's country for a noon game? No problem. Kickoff is 3:30.  Looking for tickets? Average attendance so far this year can't be more than 40,000 so there will be plenty to go around. 

Saturday's game will be televised nationally on ABC so let's show them what Purdue football can be and not necessarily what it has become in the past 2 years. Let's get a crowd like the great ones for night games against Notre Dame. Why not?? This could be a great showcase for our school, our football program, and our student athletes who are trying like crazy to get better each week. 

I don't know if we will win this game, or even if it will be close. But this team deserves our support and needs a great home crowd Saturday to try and offset the stout Spartans. This is a call to arms. Join or fall by the way side. 

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue. 

Purdue vs. Michigan State: 3rd Down

3rd Down: Has Appleby Changed Things? 

Austin Appleby is a different player from Danny Etling.

Austin Appleby
Photo is from 247 Sports
It's not just in talent. The redshirt sophomore has shown that he possesses some intangibles that No. 5 simply doesn't have.

Danny Anthrop told the Big Ten Network in a recent interview that Appleby has a command in the huddle. There's a trust factor, which is essential. Receivers need to know they'll have a shot at getting the ball when they line up to play.

Early and often in the Illinois game, Appleby would show a commanding presence in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield before finding an open receiver. If the pocket broke down, he scrambled and made something happen.

Etling played the game scared. Not only was he afraid of making mistakes, but he crumbled every time a rush came his way. This can partially be blamed on what's been a lackluster offensive line, but he didn't seem able to get rid of the ball.

But how will Appleby perform against a Michigan State team that promises to provide a much, much tougher test? Hazell said this week that Appleby needs to "play within the system" and stay calm. He needs to take what the Spartans give him.

I'm not expecting Appleby to light the world on fire this weekend. I'm looking to see signs that what we're seeing might be continued growth.

It was easy to tell in the locker room that the energy has changed. People inside of that locker room are starting to believe. Hazell said he called Purdue's performance a "validation win" in that it showed the players that their hard work was paying off.

Changing quarterbacks did something. Think about what former safety Albert Evans said in his weekly GoldAndBlack.com column: If your quarterback and offense are struggling, sometimes it can create a frustrated and divided locker room.

What I do know is Purdue was convincing on offense against the Illini, made stops when it had to on defense, and showed that a new member of the Cradle of Quarterbacks may have arrived.

Appleby said he had worked too hard to get a chance to start and play uptight.

I think he meant it...and the Boilermakers will be playing loose in the hope of an upset bid on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Purdue vs. Michigan State: 1st/2nd Down

Double Dose!

Not often am I excited about being wrong, and by not often I mean never (just ask my wife). But man was I wrong about Saturday and man does it feel good today.  I really thought this team wouldn't look a whole lot different with an unproved QB making his first start. For one, I severely underestimated how atrocious the Illinois defense it is. I mean wow, those were pop warner assignments they were missing. But a lot has to be said for what Austin Appleby was able to accomplish in his first start.

What are the 2 biggest things John Shoop has said since day 1 that he has to have from his quarterback?

1) accuracy (15-20 is very very solid)
2) ball security (zero turnovers)

Appleby was able to do both of those things to a T. I honestly don't know how or why he has not been named the permanent starter yet, but one has to think it's coming eventually right? I know it was just one game but it was one game that was so much more disciplined, confident, and executed that I find it hard to think he wasn't the best option all along. I'm not going to anoint him the starting job for the next 2 years after this, but for this team right now no question he has to be the guy.

Another more unfortunate result of Saturday's win was the loss at least for now of Sean Robinson.  It sounds like the coaching staff is going to move Ja'Whaun Bentley over to the MLB position which I like, but that's so much to ask of a true freshman. That spot is the quarterback of the defense. He has to know not only his job but the job of everyone else on the field and get them into the correct sets. Long term Bentley is going to be a helluva MLB, the guy is built like Ray Lewis, but short term I'm afraid that's a lot to put on him. We will see. I think more than actual tackle numbers will show, the Purdue defense will miss Sean Robinson in the experience and leadership areas a lot. Let's hope the freshman gets up to speed fast.

Looking ahead to this week, obviously it's a gigantic step up in competition.  I know everyone is saying "but they played them so well last year!" and I agree, that was a very solid game for the Boilers. Problem is, that were still installing a new quarterback as Connor Cook was slowly supplanting Andrew Maxwell and at the time Cook really wasn't much of a passer. He could throw but he was not a good passer. Clearly he grew into a very nice quarterback very quickly and long story short they went on to win the Rose Bowl.

Fast forward to this year: Sparty looks like the Big Ten's one true hope to make it into the College Football Playoff. Purdue, while they were praised today for having really cool helmets, are deeply entrenched in a full on rebuild. I am extremely encouraged by the performance of the defense in weeks 3 and 4, and equally encouraged by what I saw from the offense last week. But make no mistake, this weekend will be an uphill battle from the word go. I think we can compete, but I would not be surprised to see a bit of a regression just solely because of the opponent. There are winnable games left on the schedule to get to the number of 5 wins that I predicted pre-season, this just doesn't seem on paper to be one of them. Hopefully I'm wrong and I can again be excited about being wrong, as odd as that may seem.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.