Thursday, October 30, 2014

Purdue @ Nebraska: 4th Down

4th Down: A Guy Can Dream...Can't He? 

I've heard other Purdue blogs and media mention this before, but everyone in Boilermaker Nation is still searching for that first marquee win of the Darrell Hazell era. 

Hazell called the victory a few weeks ago at Illinois a "validation win" for all of the team's hard work in helping turn the program around. Obviously, Purdue football hasn't quite opened that door yet. 

You can't say there's been a turnaround until folks take notice. 

That's the atmosphere that awaits Purdue at
Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. The balloons are a
nice touch. (Photo belongs to unl.edu)
Isn't Saturday an opportunity? 

Look, I know it's not likely. I said before on 2nd Down that Ameer Abdullah is probably going to be too much for a shaky Boilermaker defensive line to handle. The guy is a freak of nature. 

But what if...what if...Purdue is able to keep up with them in scoring? 

Nebraska's defense hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. The Cornhuskers are just above the middle of the Big Ten pack in total defense, giving up 19 total touchdowns and 339.8 yards per game so far in 2014. 

When it comes to the main thing that matters in the result of a football game - points - Nebraska is better. They're tied with Northwestern at fourth in the conference with 20.4 points per game given up. 

Purdue's never been to this stadium. From what I've seen over the years, it seems obvious that the crowd will be rocking and the environment Purdue faces will be difficult. 

My gut tells me Nebraska beats Purdue by a good two or three touchdowns.

It's not my viewpoint that counts, though. It's what the coaching staff is telling its players. It's what seniors leaders like Ryan Russell, Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are telling their teammates. 

It's about what this team believes. 

Think about what Austin Appleby said: this team needs to make plays that will get them "over the top". 

"We're so close," he said. 

Maybe he's right. Why not us? 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Purdue @ Nebraska: 3rd Down

3rd Down: Boilers Inaugural Trip to Huskerland

Purdue and Nebraska have met twice in history, both times in West Lafayette with Purdue winning in 1958 and falling last season.  If you connected the dots there that means this Saturday is the Boilermakers first ever trip to Lincoln for a football game.

This is not the same Nebraska program that were world beaters on NCAA Football '97, however, they have been more than solid under Bo Pelini and continue as such this season starting 7-1 and currently finding themselves ranked #17. A close road loss to Michigan State is their only blemish, and there's really no shame in that.

Darrell Hazell's group will walk into a big time environment Saturday, not unlike that seen on trips to Columbus, Happy Valley, and Ann Arbor.  Memorial Stadium is home to the nation's longest running sellout streak: 338 games.

The streak began in 1962. Really. Capacity is about 90,000 screaming, red-clad, corn shucking cronies, and it's just a really cool scene and environment for football.

Earlier this season the Memorial Stadium single game attendance record was set against Miami with 91,585 people packed in there.  I'm not expecting quite that many, as a "mere" 90,000 constitutes a sell out, but regardless it is guaranteed to be rocking.

Purdue will not only have to deal with a really good football team on the opposing sideline this week, but also with a very intimidating home field advantage surrounding those sidelines. Purdue has been there before in hostile environments, they just haven't been here before.

Here's hoping the first trip to Huskerville is a good one.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

Who Here Likes Podcasts?

It's already been announced on Twitter, but Conner and I have discussed launching a weekly Purdue sports podcast. 

The show will be about an hour long and hosted through BlogTalkRadio.com on each football weekend through the end of the season. 

We'll be on the airwaves soon.
No worries, kids. 
We're GREATLY encouraging Boilermakers everywhere to call in. We might even have a guest on every once in a while, but it'll mostly be passionate discussion among fans. The call-in number will be provided by us. 

I would imagine we'll continue to do this into basketball season as well. 

Just so people know, this is in no way meant to compete with other Purdue websites that do podcasts. It's a chance for Conner and I to really get our thoughts out there to the public. As stated above, we'd love to have people join in. 

Expect more details on Twitter. If you haven't done so already, follow jbrunner (@BoilerOfLegend), Conner Clinkenbeard (@cclinken) and BoilermakerBlitz.com (@BoilerBlitz) for updates. 

                                                         
We can't wait to discuss our favorite team with you. Boiler Up! 


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Purdue @ Nebraska: 2nd Down

2nd Down: That Abdullah Guy Isn't Too Bad

Remember when Minnesota running back David Cobb destroyed Purdue's defense?

You know...with a whopping 195 yards on the ground?

That isn't a good memory - especially when we take the time to remember how devastating that comeback loss was. There's some salt on the wound to add here:

A much, much better running back awaits Saturday.

The Huskers' Ameer Abdullah is a beast, rushing for 1,249 yards so far this season with 17 touchdowns. A Boilermaker defense that has greatly (understatement) struggled against the run will have its hands full - especially considering that Nebraska, much like Minnesota, utilizes a zone read scheme.

If Purdue stacks the box, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong will pull the ball back and look downfield. At that point, senior receiver Kenny Bell will likely get open.

Despite that strong risk, Abdullah absolutely must be Purdue's main focus. Rutgers, which has a much better record than the Boilers at 5-3, couldn't slow down Abdullah - he scored three times and gained 225 yards on the ground.

In the game before that, Abdullah scored four touchdowns and ran for 146 yards on the road at Northwestern. The Wildcats rank only two spots ahead of Purdue in rushing defense at No. 9, giving up 158.3 yards per game.

I think I've made my point.

Consider one more thing: Abdullah ranks No. 2 all-time on the Big Ten's all-purpose yardage list. To pass Wisconsin legend Ron Dayne (7,429 career yards), he needs less than 1,000 yards (currently at 6,604). The Huskers have four games left to play.

Unless defensive coordinator Greg Hudson shores up Purdue's rush defense, it's going to be a long day.

Don't help hand him a record.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Purdue @ Nebraska: 1st Down

Putting the Bye Week to Good Use

Bye weeks are rarely a bad thing in football, both college and in the NFL ranks, and this most recent one for Purdue is no different. While the Boilermakers made great strides in their last 3 games there continues to be a few fatal flaws that have kept this team from really turning the corner in terms of wins and losses. Here are a two things I'll be looking for on Saturday, hopefully seeing improvement.

1. Pass coverage.  I know that our linebacking corp has become a bit of a hodgepodge with the injuries to Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam, but this group has to be better at protecting the middle of the field in passing situations.  Seems like every time we get the other team in 3rd and long something over the middle opens up and they convert. Everyone knows it's going to be open and everyone sees it. Like clockwork, when 3rd and 10 comes up just check twitter to see all the couch coaches predict an over the middle conversion; and unfortunately often times they're right. On the season the opposition is converting 49% of their 3rd down tries. I have been impressed with the physicality, mobility, and speed of Ja'Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechekwu but it's no secret they can both get a little lost in pass coverage. The raw ability and talent is there, and the bye week should have been a great opportunity for them to make some strides in their execution in preparation for this weekend.

2. 3rd Quarter point differential. Purdue has been outscored 85-38 in 3rd quarters this season... ouch. By comparison, Purdue is +23 points in the other 3 quarters combined. For some reason this football team does not come out of the locker room for the second half as the same team they went in as. I think a lot of that is on the coaches; either they are pushing the wrong buttons in their adjustments or they aren't pushing any buttons at all and are just assuming what works will keep working. I don't know the answer, but for Purdue to stop having to claw out of holes when the 4th rolls around it's going to have to be better in the 3rd quarter. The other option is that Purdue just isn't executing in that one period for some reason. Plays that went for 6 yards before all of a sudden are for 2 yards or no gain, and before you know it the Boilers string together 2-3 3 and outs and end the quarter with little to no time of possession. This has to improve to turn good starts into great finishes and that's the next step for this team.

More will be discussed about the specific matchup between the Cornhuskers and Boilers as this week goes on, but for Purdue this is what I think they need to get out of their bye week. The offense has continued to look potent, special teams have been rock solid, and the energy and belief in winning is back. But for this team to really climb to the next level and start winning games in the Big Ten it has to start putting it all together, and a bye week is a great time to get it to start clicking.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

- cclinken




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