Big Ten Football Previews - Purdue Boilermakers
Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Stay tuned for the next review at a time and date TBD...
Team: Purdue Boilermakers
2005 Prediction / actual: 7-4, 4-4 (T-5th), Outback / 5-6, 3-5 (8th)
2004 Prediction / actual: 7-4, 5-3 (4th), Outback / 7-5, 4-4 (T-5th), Sun
2003 Prediction / actual: 10-2, 6-2 (T-2nd) / 9-4, 6-2 (T-2nd)
2002 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 5-3 (T-4th) / 7-6, 4-4 (T-5th)
2001 Prediction / actual: 9-2, 6-2 (T-1st) / 6-6, 4-4 (T-4th)
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 4 defense, no kickers
Key Returnees: QB Curtis Painter, RB Kory Sheets, WR Dorien Bryant, LT Mike Otto, DE Anthony Spencer, LB George Hall, CB Zach Logan
Key Losses: C Matt Turner, TE Charles Davis, SS Bernard Pollard, DE Ray Edwards, DE Rob Nikovich, DT Brandon Villarreal
Looking Back ... Crash and burn. That is the best term to describe what was being touted as Purdue’s year. Twenty starters returned last season and yet the Boilermakers got annihilated by the Fighting Irish and before winning out over the last three games, were sitting at a rather ugly and highly dissatisfying 2-6. To say that there was some unrest among fans and alumni is an understatement. But, (isn’t there always a but?) those last three games gave the same folks a glimmer of hope going into 2006.
It may not officially be do or die time for Coach Joe Tiller, but you can bet that what happens on and off the field this year will be more scrutinized than at any point of his tenure. The players seem to be making the headlines for all the wrong reasons and Tiller needs to put a halt to that or he will lose his team again, and maybe this time, his job. Honestly, I think he’s safe and that last year was an aberration, but in this day and age, the only way to make sure of that is to do one thing – WIN.
Outlook - Offense ... Somewhere over the past few seasons, and why I really don’t know, the Purdue offense went from its basketball on grass approach to a more traditional, smash-mouth style of football. The Boilermakers have had the personnel to do so, but again, why they did it remains a mystery. Fact is, the gold and black attack has been at its best when it was pass first, pass second, and run to surprise teams. Will that return with a new offensive coordinator joining the staff? We’ll see…
When Purdue has been good, it has been in direct correlation with a stud quarterback. First it was Drew Brees, then Kyle Orton. Last year, many thought that Brandon Kirsch, who showed flashes while sharing time with Orton earlier in his career. That wasn’t the case and Curtis Painter got his chance. Painter did all he could to salvage what was, by then, a wasted season and in the process helped keep Purdue fans engaged and looking to the future. The trouble is, if he goes down, there is little in the cupboard, at least in terms of experience. If Painter stays healthy, he is a threat to run and if work on his mechanics comes to fruition, Purdue could raise a few eyebrows this fall.
Depth is also a bit of an issue in the backfield. Kory Sheets has what it takes to be a great Big Ten running back, but if he gets dinged up, things get a little dicey. Anthony Heygood is a physical back that can offer up a change of pace, but he might not be ready to carry the load if something happened to Sheets. Back to Kory, he is fast and has experience and with the line he has in front of him, could be just what the doctor ordered on the offensive side of the ball. Another name to watch, unless he gets scooped up by the receivers coach, is JUCO transfer Jaycen Taylor. He is small but fast and gives the Boilers at least a little more depth in perhaps the second most important position for a Big Ten offense.
One thing that will really aid in the continued development of Curtis Painter is the experience of the receiving corps. Dorien Bryant is the most underrated receiver in the Big Ten, if not the nation. He is highly productive, has fantastic hands and great speed. He is a go-to guy who could end up as one of the best ever to don the gold and black. However, for Bryant to be as effective as possible, those around him need to step up – namely 6-9 senior Kyle Ingraham and senior Andrew Chattams. Beyond this pair, there is some talent on board but it isn’t very experienced. A big hole will have to be plugged at tight end as well, where Charles Davis was the dream safety valve for a young quarterback. Dustin Keller has the talent to fill those shoes completely.
The absolute strength of the Purdue offense, as it often has during the Tiller era, lies with the offensive line. NFL talent churns out of this line all the time, or so it seems, and there is more of that heading into this year, namely left tackle Mike Otto. The next player to take that title might be junior right tackle Sean Sester. The bookends have plenty of help inside as Uche Nwaneri returns from a suspension and Jordan Grimes and Robbie Powell round out the starting five. The only trouble, surprise, surprise, is if the injury bug bites as there is little experience on the depth chart
Outlook - Defense ... Lost in all the hype that typically surrounds the Purdue offense is the success that the defense has had over the years – last year being an exception. Despite returning several defensive starters last year, the unit never gelled and it took its toll. Look for things to be different in ’06 however, with guys like Torri Williams and George Hall leading the way.
A sure strength of this defense each and every year has been along the front four. Well, only one starter (Anthony Spencer) returns and the depth chart is full of first year players. There is potential in Eugene Bright who is big and has nice acceleration as well as tackles Ryan Baker and Alex Magee. However, as mentioned, you must have good depth to have success on the defensive front. Three youngsters have that ability, but can they step in and be difference makers? Keyon Brown, Mike Neal and Jared Zwilling will all get their time in the rotation. How they develop will be what determines the overall success of the Purdue defense this fall.
The foundation of this defense lies at linebacker. George Hall might be the best returning middle linebacker in the conference and Stanford Keglar is speedy and has added needed bulk to be an every down player. Cliff Avril rounds out the starting group but injuries have plagued him over his career. That means guys like Dan Bick, Josh Ferguson and Jason Werner need to be ready to play and do so at a high level. Again, stay healthy and this unit has a load of promise. If not, Purdue might have to put too much reliance on a still young quarterback.
Much like the defensive front, the secondary doesn’t return much in the way of starting experience. Safety Torri Williams has the potential to be a superstar, but he’s been battling a slew of injuries. Cornerback Zach Logan is the lone starter that returns and he was a pretty good cover corner but not as sure-handed a tackler as you’d like in your last line of defense. Brandon King (CB) and Brandon Whittington round out the starting four but will be pushed for time Aaron Lane and JUCO transfers Jonte Lindsey and Brandon Blackmon. In a conference that brings back a ton of firepower in its pitch and catch tandems, this secondary is going to have to become a force in a hurry.
This defense doesn’t have the makings of some that have made Purdue so good over the past several years. Then again, last season’s “D” was highly touted and fell flat on its face over and over again. If it can be serviceable and the fresh talent can get good fast, Purdue should be better than it was during last year’s disaster.
Outlook - Special Teams ... The kicking game is such a question that Coach Tiller brought in a load of JUCO and freshmen talent to compete with penciled in starters Casey Welch (PK) and Jared Armstrong (P) for their jobs. Ben Jones and Dave Brytus depart and while neither was as consistent as you’d like, they had experience. A player to watch out for might be freshman recruit Tim Dougherty.
9/2 – INDIANA STATE
9/9 – MIAMI-OH
9/16 – BALL STATE
9/23 - MINNESOTA
9/30 - at Notre Dame
10/7 – at Iowa
10/14 – at Northwestern
10/21 – WISCONSIN
10/28 – PENN STATE
11/4 – at Michigan State
11/11 – at Illinois
11/18 – INDIANA
11/25 – at Hawaii
Key Games: 9/23 – Minnesota, 9/30 – at Notre Dame, 10/7 – at Iowa, 10/14 at Northwestern, 11/18 - Indiana
Prediction ... Purdue seems to be taking the Minnesota approach to out of conference opponents this fall. Aside from Notre Dame, Purdue should have no problem with any of the OOC foes it faces – just the confidence booster a team on the rebound needs. The Boilermakers also miss Michigan and Ohio State again. The first four games are at home before a showdown in South Bend. How the gold and black come out of that game will set the tone for the rest of the season. I’m banking on enough time to get the depth chart some experience and no disastrous injuries this fall. Otherwise I will be overshooting Purdue’s actual finish…
OOC: 4-1 (loss to Notre Dame)
B10: 4-4 (wins over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois & Indiana)
Overall: 8-5, T-6th in the conference, Insight Bowl berth