Posted: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013
By Matt Brown
There is always one game on the schedule that worries fans for irrational reasons. On paper, it should be a blowout, but in real life, things never seem to turn out that way. For many Buckeye fans, that game is Purdue, especially when the teams meet in West Lafayette, which is legitimate BAT COUNTRY, where anything can happen. The Boilermakers are breaking in a new head coach with Buckeye ties, and are trying to build the program back up after the forgettable reign of Danny Hope. Does Purdue have what it takes to hang with the Buckeyes for four quarters, and maybe spring another upset? Will Urban and company be pissed that this game was so close last year, and that sports radio and bloggers will undoubtedly push the 'WATCH OUT FOR THE SPOILERMAKERS AMIRITE???' narrative that the Buckeyes will just crush them?
Saturday, November 2nd, 2013
Kickoff time and TV schedule both to be announced.
Heading into their October 6th matchup with Michigan, the Boilermakers were 3-1, with their only loss coming against eventual national runners up, Notre Dame, in a game they came within a whisker of winning. They scored 51 points against Marshall, completely blew out Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, and had a fair reason to be a little confident for the rest of the season. Purdue wasn't going to be compete for the division championship, but they had every reason to expect they'd be competitive in Big Ten play, and make a bowl.
A combination of inconsistency at the quarterback position (Purdue shuffled three players throughout the season), and multiple letdowns from what was thought to be a strong defense ,let to a complete crapping of the bed in October. Purdue was blown out by Michigan and Wisconsin, and after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Ohio State, Purdue then let themselves get killed by Penn State and Minnesota. MINNESOTA. Whatever hopes they had of being a player in the Big Ten were dashed, as their season quickly ran off the rails.
Purdue did rally by beating similarly punchless Iowa, Illinois and Indiana to grab a bowl bid, setting up a matchup against Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas bowl, one of the most lopsided bowl pairings in recent memory. Most tapes of that game have been destroyed, since the 58-14 blowout probably violated the Eighth Amendment. Purdue then hired Darrell Hazell, and tried to move on.
It should. Hazell was the head coach of Kent State last season, where he turned a completely desolate football program at a school familiar to many Buckeye fans for only being a place where kids who didn't get into OSU sometimes went, into a exciting team that legitimately almost made a BCS bowl.
Darrell Hazell is Ohio through and through though, even before Kent State. He went to college at Muskingum, which is about an hour away from campus down 70, and coached at Oberlin and a slew of colleges in the east before landing on Ohio State's staff from 2004-2010 as wide receivers coach. Had Hazell not left for Kent State, it's entirely feasible that he would have replaced Tressel instead of Luke Fickell, and who knows, maybe in this alternative universe the Buckeyes would still have Coach Hazell.
Purdue might have been known for developing strong quarterbacks and throwing the ball all over the field, but this year might look a little different. For one, Hazell is deeply steeped in the virtues of Tressel-ball, and his offensive coordinator, John Shoop (formerly of UNC), while not as conservative, isn't exactly a disciple of the air raid.
The biggest reason for a possible shift is the current personnel. The guys most likely to be key playmakers for Purdue this season are at the running back, particularly a potential Thunder and Lightning pairing in Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom. Hunt, who ran for 355 yards and 2 TD last season, was probably underused before, and has the speed and breakaway potential that is already getting him compared to Dri Archer, Kent State's electric back from last season. Cottom is a bigger back that could do work between the tackles, freeing up space for Archer. Purdue has a trio of potentially interesting 3-star freshmen at running back, but unless somebody gets hurt, Hunt and Cottom will probably be the guys getting most of the touches.
At QB, the Boilermakers will either give the keys to Rob Henry, or 4-star freshman Danny Etling. Henry is one of the most experienced players on the roster, and is a dual-threat option. Etling is probably better suited for a more pro-style offense and has better throwing mechanics, but is, you know, a true freshman. My gut tells me that Henry will probably start the first game of the season, but I expect we'll see plenty of Etling, either in mop up duty, or if Henry is ineffective and the Boilers get off to a slow start.
Purdue has some question marks at receiver, a position they struggled with last year as well. Gary Bush is the leading returning player (41 catches, 385 yards), but picked up only 5.7 yards per target. Big target Dalapo Macarthy (28 catches, 280 yards) and tight end Gabe Holmes (25 catches, 185 yards) round out the rest of the experienced corps, and while Macarthy could present some matchup problems, nobody really has a profile that sets the world on fire. Hunt has the capability to catch passes out of the backfield, but the Boilermakers will really need somebody to not just catch the ball, but to get behind defensive backs and make plays.
The offensive line was pretty mediocre last season, but at least it can count on experience this year. Purdue can count five seniors in their offensive line rotation, and sophomore center Robert Kugler started seven games last year and will find himself in the mix as well. This unit did not do a very good job of opening holes for running backs though, and if they struggle again, Hazell will dip into a pool of young candidates, like redshirt freshman Jordan Roos or Jason King, to spell the old timers.
All in all, there are a lot of questions or uncertain positions, which is not a good sign generally, but especially not with this schedule.
Yes, we should all officially be on #PrayforPurdue watch. Here is the opening slate for the Boilermakers:
At Cincinnati, vs Indiana State, vs Notre Dame, At Wisconsin, vs Northern Illinois, vs Nebraska, at Michigan State, vs Ohio State. By my count, that's four Top 25 teams (or close to it), and seven bowl teams. That's probably the hardest schedule in the Big Ten, and one of the toughest of any BCS conference team.
It's not a stretch to think that Purdue heads into the Columbus game at 1-6, already starting to rotate youngsters in at key positions to prep for next season. With an improved Indiana squad *and* a road game to Penn State still on the schedule, even with significant improvement, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Purdue is going bowling this year.
That'll be the plan, but it might be a tall order. According to SB Nation's Bill Connelly, Purdue struggled a lot with preventing big plays in the run game last season, despite getting strong pressure behind the line of scrimmage. Kawann Short is off to the NFL, but basically everybody else on the line returns, including big defensive tackle Bruce Gaston (23.5 tackles), who will probably headline this group.
The problem is probably with the linebacking corps. One of the top returning players, Sean Robinson (22.5 tackles, 3 PBU) is a former QB. He'll probably be joined by Will Lucas and Joe Gilliam, who combined for 109 tackles last season, but their claim on a starting spot is much more based on experience and seniority than production. All five returning linebackers combined for a whopping single sack (from Gilliam). Redshirt freshman Andy Garcia might be seeing real playing time by the time Ohio State shows up on the schedule. If Purdue doesn't see greater discipline and production out of this unit, they could be in for a long year.
The good news is that Purdue's secondary should be pretty okay. Losing Josh Johnson will be tough, but Landon Feichter and Ricardo Allen aren't bad players at all. Purdue returns just about everybody except Johnson from last year's unit, and while it's mostly dominated by upperclassmen, sophomore Frankie Williams might be able to take a big step forward at corner after a strong freshman showing. if Purdue isn't able to get any kind of pressure on a QB, or if they consistently fall behind schedule on defense, this unit probably isn't strong enough to save them, but it is probably their strongest part of the defense.
When you're driving to Purdue from the west (say, Chicago) at night, you drive through this giant windmill farm on Route 65 first. When it's dark, all you see are glowing red lights everywhere, and if you didn't know it was coming, you could be forgiven for thinking you were driving into some sort of alien invasion. It's creepy, it's weird, it's disconcerting, and you feel a little bit better once you start to finally see signs for the Indianapolis outer belt, signifying you're out of Purdue Country.
Purdue taps into that weirdness, and maybe that's why strange things see to happen in West Lafayette. Really, that sort of bizarro-voodoo effect seems to be the only compelling reason to think this game should be close. The Boilermakers don't really have anything, personnel wise, that suggests they'll be able to limit the big plays from Ohio State's rushing attack, or be able to score enough points to keep up with their newfound speed. The Buckeyes have more playmakers and a more balanced offense than they did last year (or at least they do on paper), and barring an injury, there really aren't too many places on the field that Purdue can point to and say "we're close here". Their only hope is that they can force a few turnovers and ugly up the game to win a close one – and that's still a tall order.
But, the Buckeyes' struggles at Purdue are a well documented phenomenon. Basically, I see two possible outcomes here: Either the ghosts are real, Ohio State struggles with turnover luck, Akeem Hunt plays out of his mind, and the Boilermakers are in the game with just a few minutes left, or Meyer and the Buckeyes are sick of hearing yapping from a team that will have won *maybe* two games at that point, and knock Purdue into next month winning by a sizable margin.
I don't believe in ghosts, and I don't really believe in the supernatural. On paper, it looks like the Buckeyes should have advantages all over the field, assuming everybody is healthy.
In a GIF?