Big Ten Countdown - Leaders Division - Fifth Place
By Tony Gerdeman
5. Purdue Boilermakers
A starting quarterback who wasn't expected to be a starting quarterback. Two talented tailbacks, one returning from an ACL tear. Untested receivers. Veteran offensive line. A defensive line with possibilities, but still looking for a pass rusher. A very good back seven, anchored by two lockdown cornerbacks.
Six on offense, nine on defense and both kicking specialists.
Sept. 3 Middle Tennessee (W)
Sept. 10 at Rice (W)
Sept. 17 Southeast Missouri State (W)
Oct. 1 Notre Dame (L)
Oct. 8 Minnesota (W)
Oct. 15 at Penn State (L)
Oct. 22 Illinois (W)
Oct. 29 at Michigan (L)
Nov. 5 at Wisconsin (L)
Nov. 12 Ohio State (L)
Nov. 19 Iowa (L)
Nov. 26 at Indiana (W)
"We only regret that we have but two ACLs to lose for our team."
A bowl game. That was goal before starting quarterback Rob Henry's torn ACL, and that is the goal after as well. The talent on defense is too good to simply pack it in and sulk.
Before Henry tore his ACL, the best case scenario was probably nine games. Now, it's probably seven or eight.
Three wins. With Henry going down, the game at Rice got much more difficult.
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. Can quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Sean Robinson display any form of consistency?
2. If quarterback Robert Marve finally gets healthy, will he stay healthy?
3. Can running back Ralph Bolden regain his 2009 early-season form where he was briefly leading the nation in rushing?
4. Will a defensive end emerge as a pass rushing threat?
5. Can the defense hold up despite the fact that they may be on the field for a very, very long time every single week?
Best Chance For a Big Loss
At Wisconsin. The Wisconsin game follows the Michigan game, so the Boilermakers could come into Madison feeling a little full of themselves. A left and right from Montee Ball and James White could change all of that in a hurry.
Most Important Game
Ohio State. Let's face it, better Ohio State teams have come into West Lafayette and had their issues. In fact, the Boilermakers are 3-2 against the Buckeyes at home since 2000. A win against Ohio State in this one would do wonders for Purdue's season.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Michigan. If you haven't been there recently, they are apparently installing more rock music to get the kids more involved in the games. Also, if you're lucky, you may get to help pick an eventual mascot. If you go, remember to vote for Probation Pat, the Wolverine that can't stop exercising!
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
At Rice. It's the second game of the season. The offense will still be going through an awkward phase, and the Owls have a slew of starters returning. If it was a trap game before, what does that make it now?
Something To Look For
Very good special teams. Kicker Carson Wiggs might have the best leg in college football. He has a 59-yarder in a game, and booted a 67-yard field goal in the spring game back in April. Punter Cody Webster won the job last year as a freshman, and should only be better this season. Now there is talk that cornerback Ricardo Allen may return punts. He's one of the most explosive players in the conference, so this could be something to watch.
Cornerback Ricardo Allen. Allen exploded as a true freshman last season with 73 tackles and three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns). He's one of the hardest workers on the team and is an example for the rest of his teammates. He was a second-team All-Big Ten pick last season, which probably won't be good enough for him this season.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short is an NFL prospect who finished last season with six quarterback sacks. For a 300-pound defensive tackle, that's very impressive. Clearly he was helped by Ryan Kerrigan's presence, so it will be interesting to see how he fares this season without him.
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Cornerback Ricardo Allen. Regardless of what was just said about Allen above, no matter how much Purdue fans want to laud him, he's still just one man. If there isn't a pass rush, his impact will be somewhat neutralized. He's a very good cornerback, but can we please allow him to have a sophomore season before we crown him? Also, he's not going to continue taking 67% of his interceptions back for touchdowns, so let's just forget about that right now. He had a tremendous freshman season, but opponents know about him now. Let's see how he reacts.
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Linebacker Will Lucas. Lucas started two games last season as a true freshman and finished with 43 tackles. He picks things up very quickly and is an active linebacker. Now that he's in the starting lineup, he will show even more of his playmaking abilities. The coaches are pretty enthused about Lucas' possibilities.
Defensive end Ryan Russell. Russell is a redshirt freshman who very well may end up starting in Ryan Kerrigan's old spot. He's a big kid (6-5 241), and has been impressive in practice. Obviously, he's not going to step in and take Kerrigan's place, and they're not looking for him to. All Purdue wants from him is consistency. He doesn't have to dominate, he just needs to not be out of place. So far the coaches like what they're seeing in that regard.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
The quarterback situation. It's bad. The likely starter is now Caleb TerBush, who hasn't played since garbage time against Wisconsin in 2009. He missed all of last season because of academic ineligibility. He's the best passer of the existing candidates, but without Rob Henry in the lineup, the read option portion of the offense is likely scrapped when TerBush is in the game. There's also Sean Robinson, who was forced into action last season about three years too early. He's still not ready, and he's probably the number two. Justin Siller has once again been moved from receiver and is the third quarterback. Last season's opening day starter Robert Marve is dealing with knee issues of his own, and it's unknown how soon he can be ready to get in the mix.
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
The defense. It's going to be hard to move the ball on these guys. It won't be impossible, but offenses will certainly have to work for it.
Something They Do Well
Stop the run. Granted, this is a "relatively speaking" type of answer, but the Boilermakers have a front seven with some seriousness to it. Last year they held the Spartans to 95 yards rushing, which is pretty darn impressive. Returning both defensive tackles and a very good group of linebackers should help them continue their sometimes stoutness.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Stay healthy. It's better to be a drummer for Spinal Tap than a quarterback for Danny Hope. It's not much better being a running back.
The running game. With a healthy Ralph Bolden, the Boilermakers have a homerun hitter that they can rely on. The passing game wasn't expected to be stellar, so the running game has to respond. Bolden is a 1,200-yard back when he's healthy, and a backup or two have impressed so far. Junior college transfer Akeem Shavers got tons of work this spring, and is intent upon sharing carries with Bolden. Both are talented backs, and right now Purdue needs all the help it can get on offense.
What's Gotten Worse?
The passing game. This has as much to do with the receivers as it does the quarterbacks. Antavian Edison is the most experienced receiver, and he's got a total of seven starts under his belt. While TerBush is a better passer than Rob Henry, the loss of the running threat at quarterback will also hamper the passing game on options and rollouts.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
The cornerbacks aren't the only solid part of the secondary. Safety Logan Link led the team in tackles last season with 91, and nobody is expecting a dropoff in 2011. Starter Albert Evans also returns, and if he doesn't top his 37 tackles from last season, then it means everybody in front of him is doing their jobs.
Purdue has a veteran offensive line. They return four starters from last season, though most of those starters may be in different spots when the season starts. Right guard Ken Plue has started 28 games in his first three years, but he is currently out of the starting lineup and in Danny Hope's doghouse. Center Peters Drey may be at left guard. Junior Rick Schmeig, who has started games at both guard spots, may end up being the team's center. Dennis Kelly returns at left tackle, and he may be the only player who is back in his old spot this season. Though keep in mind that things are still fluid as coaches wait for Plue to get out of the doghouse and set the line straight.
Make a Wish
An assistant coach who can do the hand-rubbing thing that Mr. Miyagi does and heal the injured Boilermakers that hop to the sidelines. Then also that same guy can restore old cars and fix toilets during the offseason for some reason.
The total points scored in the Ohio State game will be under 25.
Scandal Most Likely To Rock the Program
Cadaver-gate. Due to the amount of torn ACLs that the Boilermakers have suffered over the years, a medical breakthrough was sought in the form of baboon ACLs. Things appeared to be going well until it was found out that the ACLs weren't actually coming from baboons, but instead from cadavers from a local Victorian-era medical college.
If The Head Coach Was a Superhero, What Would His Super Power Be?
Super death stare. Ask a stupid question and Danny Hope will stare you to death. Even Darth Vader had to make a pinching motion with his fingers. Not Danny. Just full-on death stare.
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