Game Week Q&A is back, and it's Purdue week. Travis Miller from Hammer & Rails was able to take time away from turning toward basketball season to talk about the football team. You can see my answers to his questions here.
1. The Boilers are last in the Big Ten offense, by a lot. There was no doubt going to be some troubles changing the style of play, but what's been so wrong? Is the rest of this season all about the development of Danny Etling?
I think the biggest issue has been the offensive line, and Rob Henry bore the brunt of much of the criticism until everyone saw that the line sucked for Etling on Saturday against Nebraska. Neither quarterback has had any time to throw and the line is not opening holes in the running game. That leads to three-and-outs with too much frequency, and the defense has to go back out on the field.
The defense has played well in some spots. The Cincinnati game was within a touchdown at halftime and Purdue led both Indiana State and Notre Dame into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the offense has done it no favors because, to quote one of my co-writers on Twitter Saturday, "Has been as protective as a broken condom."
That's about the best description I can give.
2. Defensively, things are a little better, and there is talent in the secondary. Is that the strength of this defense? What are the biggest weaknesses?
That is a strength now? The secondary has been decimated by injuries with Taylor Richards, Frankie Williams, and Ricardo Allen all missing time and they are playing banged up. Starting safety Landon Feichter, who led the Big Ten with four picks last year, played two games, somehow broke both hands, but still played against Notre Dame before breaking his leg (insert the Black Knight jokes here).
The defensive line hasn't gotten the push it was expected to get with both Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell being held in check. Purdue announced wholesale changes this week, abandoning the 4-3 in favor of a 3-4 look with Gaston on the outside to get more of a rush. The redshirts have been pulled off of freshmen Evan Panfil, Ra'Zahn Howard, and Jake Replogle as well.
Leroy Clark and Austin Logan have been forced into action in the secondary as true freshmen and have shown a little promise. On top of all this, Purdue's linebackers are still awful and the Boilers are TERRIBLE at covering the middle of the field, especially on third and long.
Other than that, the defense is great!
3. What are three keys to victory for the Boilermakers?
1. Investigate to see if Drew Brees and his offensive line from 2000 still have any eligibility left.
2. Seriously, the offense has got to find a way to protect Etling and open up something in the running game. Asking them to do so against one of the best defenses in the nation, when they couldn't open holes against 1-5 Indiana State, is a very tall order.
3. Find some way to stop letting receivers roam wide open on Third and long. It is maddening that we're giving a 10-15 yard cushion to outside receivers, then they get soft stuff underneath or cut over the middle for easy completions. It's been going on for years too and no one sees it!
4. What's the state of the program right now? Certainly, people were ready for growing pains, but this can't be what was expected, especially coming off back-to-back bowl seasons. Are people second-guessing the changes, or is this a step back for a step forward?
I am really hoping it is a step back before a step forward. Danny Hope needed to go, because his teams never really grew and looked less prepared in year 4 than they did in year 1. That said, no one expected Purdue to be this bad. We knew it was a tough schedule and a 1-7 start was certainly possible, but we expected to at least be competitive. The offensive line has four seniors and couldn't be playing worse if they turned around and tried to tackle Etling themselves. The defense cannot get a third down stop, and even if they did, it is not like we have confidence the offense can do anything with the ball.
Our hope is in some of the recruits Hazell has lined up. This is a big weekend because Drue Tranquill, a player that could be Purdue's best linebacker or safety right now, is visiting Notre Dame this weekend. He is currently committed to Purdue, but the Irish are trying to steal him. Gelen Robinson (the Big Dog's other son) has also committed as a 4-star LB/DE, and promising safety Tim Cason from Clarkston, Michigan just committed. We also have Denzel Ward, a massive offensive tackle, on board to go with Elite 11 QB David Blough and speed Texas receiver Trae Hart. We're very excited for these guys, and Purdue is playing A LOT of freshmen and sophomores right now. Hopefully there is some development and improvement in these beatings they are taking.
Eventually there has to be some improvement though. Purdue might go 1-11 this year and struggle again next year with freshmen and sophomores all over the depth chart, but it hopefully will pay off in 2015. That season is... favorable with only Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin as teams that, on paper, look super tough.
5. What's your score prediction, and why?
I think Purdue will struggle to score at all, mostly because the offense only managed 13 points against a bad Indiana State defense that gave up 73 to Indiana. Michigan State is far better, and if you gave me an over/under of points scored for Purdue of 3, I am not sure I would take the over. Nebraska's defense has struggled all year, and Purdue couldn't even get over the 50 on them until very late. It doesn't bode well.
Thanks again to Travis for answering some questions.