Getting Back On Track: How Purdue Can Save Its Season

By Drew Wooden

The season is still young. We’re only two games in, but many Purdue fans have gotten down on our Boilers after the disappointing 1-1 start. The good news is that the motivation should be there. Coach Hope is playing for his job and the players still have bowl hopes even if it’s not going to be easy.

Thus begins the list of adjustments that Purdue needs to make in order to get back on track. Here goes:

  • Establishing some success throwing downfield. When a defense knows that the offense cannot complete a throw longer than 10 yards, the defense can sneak up and play a shorter field. While some may think that as long as we’re both passing and running the ball that we’re keeping the defense off balance, we’re not. If the defense can limit Purdue to short passes and runs, then the element of surprise is really limited. Is TerBush the answer? I don’t know, but I think Marve could allow us to take more shots downfield.
  • Feeding Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. I honestly believe Purdue has a special duo of running backs between Bolden and Shavers. However, I thought Offensive Coordinator Gary Nord could have given Bolden and Shavers more touches early against Rice. Bolden didn’t really have success until the final drive of the ball game. I realize that Purdue will not have the same kind of success running the football against teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn state, but it’s disappointing for a Big Ten team to abandon the running game early when it has a chance to dominate the line of scrimmage, which I thought Purdue should have done against Rice.
  • The playcalling has to open up. It’s clear that MTSU and Rice did their homework and knew what to expect (slip screens, misdirection running plays, outside dink and dunk passes, quick reads to the tight end over the middle). It’s impossible to rewrite an offensive playbook in week three, but plays certainly need to be added because the opposition knows what to expect and is keying in on those plays.
  • Getting pressure on the quarterback. Obviously, Ryan Kerrigan’s absence is deeply felt. Gerald Gooden and Ryan Russell/Robert Maci have been okay, but I was expecting more than just 2 sacks this year by that trio. Kawaan Short and Bruce Gaston have adequately bottled up the run game, but offenses can double team Short because there’s no legitimate threat on the defensive line. This is where the coaches need to develop some different blitz packages. Whether it’s from the linebackers (Beckford, Holland, Lucas) or the safeties (Evans, Charlot, Link), Purdue needs to find ways to bring pressure to the quarterback. I think Gooden is athletic enough to step outside and cover a running back or tight end while a linebacker or safety blitzes. If we’re playing nickelback (which we have done for a high percentage of plays this season), then the coaches have to find ways to get Normando Harris pressuring the quarterback while a safety or linebacker picks up the slot receiver. Let’s hope Coach Emmanuel can figure out ways to bring pressure and mix up the blitzes while not sacrificing good pass coverage. It’s always a game of finding the right balance, but the defense hasn’t found it yet.
  • Solving the coverage problem. Whether it’s a slot receiver grabbing a pass against the coverage of Will Lucas/Joe Holland/Normando Harris or a running back slipping past a linebacker, or a wide receiver beating our nickelback, Purdue was continuously beaten over the middle with passing plays. The offenses are exposing mismatches. We’re just not great in coverage when it comes to 1-on-1. I’m not a guru when it comes to pass coverage, but the appropriate adjustments need to be made.
  • Game management: this falls squarely on Coach Hope. I wouldn’t say that any of Coach Hope’s decisions were the reason why Purdue lost, but he has certainly made some questionable decisions. Why didn’t Purdue kick and take the points in the 3rd quarter against Rice? Why didn’t Purdue kick the FG on 3rd down against Rice instead of rush the field goal unit on 4th down with little time left? Why did Hope burn his timeouts so quickly against Rice? Hope doesn’t always look confident when making these calls. In fact, his body language shows some confusion. I don’t know if in-game decisions will ever be a strength for Coach Hope, but he needs to start seeing the forest from the trees and think of long-term game management rather than knee jerk reactions.
  • Reducing penalties. Purdue did a much better job in the Rice game, but it’s a sign of a poorly coached team when so many penalties are committed even if it’s the season opener. I realize that an inexperienced quarterback contributed to those penalties, but the preparation did not get done to prevent these basic mental mistakes.
So that’s the long list of grievances. If Purdue can make improvements on these things, I think they’ll have a chance to get back on track.

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