The Purdue Boilermakers of 2016 have a big hill to climb after a 3-9 season in 2015, and a lot of that hill comes from a defense that simply couldn’t stop the other team from scoring. Even in the lone Big Ten victory over Nebraska, Purdue’s defense still gave up 45 points.
Change has to happen internally, and without the two best players from that defense last season in defensive backs Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown. With those two out of the picture thanks to graduation, Purdue has to find other ways to stop opposing offenses from going nuts on them once again.
Can time and reps help a pass rush that was pretty brutal? What about a rush defense that was second to last in the B1G last season? Simply put, the Boilermakers have a lot of holes to fill and production improvements to make in 2016.
But, how will that happen if at all? Let’s look at those who may make it happen here in 2016.
There are two sides to every coin, and that certainly is the case with the Purdue defensive line. On the one hand, it has some star potential up the middle and on the other hand the stats say it needs some big time work on pass rushing and rushing defense.
A great example of that is junior defensive tackle Jake Replogle, who had 60 tackles and 14.0 tackles for loss last season. But, he had just 2.0 sacks and no one on the team had more than 4.0 sacks total (21.0 as a team). He needs to step up, especially with former fellow starter Ra’Zahn Howard opting to transfer from the program following spring football. That means names like sophomores Eddy Wilson and Keiwan Jones have to step up to the plate.
As for the ends and the hopes of creating some pass rush? Just like Replogle needs to step up inside, so does fellow junior, Gelen Robinson, on the outside. He’ll be joined by another underwhelming performer that needs to step up in senior Evan Panfil.
There also isn’t a lot of quality in depth and the hope will be that names like JUCO transfer Austin Larkin and incoming freshmen defensive tackles Anthony Watts and Lorenzo Neal step up quickly to fill the voids on the depth chart.
One name and one name only should be on your mind when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers linebacking group — Ja’Whaun Bentley. That’s not saying much, considering he racked up just 49 tackles last season…until you realize that total came in just five games. He’s back and better than ever after a stellar spring.
If Purdue’s defense is going to up the ante in rush defense, Bentley’s presence in the middle is going to have a lot to do with it.
Surrounding Bentley at linebacker will likely be senior Jimmy Herman (SAM) and junior Danny Ezechuwku (WILL). The latter comes in to this season as the second leading tackler from last season (79), but had just 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks last season. Again, numbers that must change if this team is going to do anything defensively.
Depth on the outside could come from Markus Bailey, who got his feet wet as a freshman last season with nine tackles in just two games played. Outside of that, this a group that doesn’t have much to write home about and a lot to prove.
Purdue could really have used another season out of star defensive back Frankie Williams, but that isn’t going to happen. Neither is the return of last seasons best defensive back, Anthony Brown, who led the team with four interceptions. Life without him will be interesting for the Boilermakers defensive backfield without them.
Leading this group has to be senior safety Leroy Clark, who finished last season as one of just three Boilermakers with multiple interceptions to his name. Stepping in to Williams’ shoes will be senior Robert Gregory who did have 50 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in backup duty last year.
Cornerback will be a real interesting situation for this team, but it appears junior Da’Wan Hunte will take over on one side and Tim Cason will be on the other side. Depth is a concern based on a lack of experience across the cornerback position, but inexperience doesn’t mean there isn’t quality necessarily.
We’ll all get to find out together as the season goes on, that’s for sure.
Questions Still to Be Answered
Can Jake Replogle Be Enough in the Middle?
If there is a star on the Purdue defensive line, it is Replogle and even that could be a stretch. While he can get behind the line of scrimmage, the lack of help around him led to numbers that were completely out of whack. He clearly couldn’t do it alone last season, but with his fellow starter from last year gone he may have to find a way to do it again or this team will suffer the same bad pass rush and porous rush defense it did a season ago.
Are Youngsters Ready at Cornerback?
After putting out some of the best cornerbacks the Big Ten has seen over the last decade or so, Purdue turns that spot over to a lot of potentially talented but equally inexperienced cornerbacks. The good news is that Da’Wan Hunte showed out in the spring and could be the next star at cornerback for the Boilermakers. Beyond that, this group has a lot of unknowns that need to show quickly they are capable of handling Big Ten wide receivers.
Our Projected Starters
DE: Gelen Robinson, Jr.
DT: Jake Replogle, Jr.
DT: Eddie Wilson, So.
DE: Evan Panfil, Sr.
CB: Da’Wan Hunte, Jr.
FS: Leroy Clark, Sr.
SS: Robert Gregory, Sr.
CB: Tim Cason, So.
Purdue’s Moore puts Big Ten on notice in record-setting debut
There are no moral victories in college football. So, don’t expect the Purdue Boilermakers to be happy about a 31-27 loss to Northwestern in the 2018 season and Big Ten opener.
But, despite the loss at least one individual showcased an ability to tear up Big Ten defenses nearly at will.
That person is true freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore.
All that Moore did was go out and set a single-game record for the most all-purpose yardage with 313 combined yards. He broke Otis Armstrong’s school record, set in 1972 of 312 yards.
It wasn’t just one part of the game that stood out either, as Moore did it as a receiver, a running back and a kick returner too.
Just how impressive was Moore’s debut? He nearly broke the record in just one half of his college football debut. Moore had 302 of his 313 yards in the first half alone.
That first half total broke down like this — 79 rushing, 98 receiving and 125 on kickoff returns.
HIs big night almost looked like it wouldn’t get off the ground though. On the first drive of the game, Moore broke loose up the middle of the Northwestern defense, only to drop a good pass from Elijah Sindelar.
Moore made up for it quickly though. He single-handily put his team back in the game after watching the Wildcats go up 14-0 quickly in the first quarter.
First it was a 32-yard touchdown reception and less than three minutes later it was a 76-yard touchdown run. The rushing touchdown was the longest by a Purdue player since an 82-yard effort from Akeem Hunt back in 2014.
Clearly the stats are impressive, but it was the how it happened that also matters. Moore had the Ross-Ade crowd oohing and awwing and on the edge of their seats every time he touched the ball.
When was the last time that happened?
Brohm being able to get Moore wasn’t just getting lucky with an underrated recruit either. Purdue won a major battle to get him on campus and he came to Purdue as the highest-rated recruit to ever done the black and gold.
He had just about every school in the country seeking out his talent, with Ohio State, Alabama and the like in the mix. Now, some believe those schools soured on him as he didn’t sprout up height wise over the final two years of high school, but that speed man. That speed.
But, it was Purdue that overlooked his lack of height and saw his blazing speed as an asset that could be used.
It was on full display on Thursday night against a quality Northwestern defense and special teams units.
Moore plus Jeff Brohm’s innovative offensive mind could be a very dangerous combo.
It also put the rest of the Big Ten on notice — Purdue isn’t going to go quietly in any game this season.
Early Big Ten results remind us why bowl season matters
Don’t tell Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue that their bowl games and wins were meaningless, because they sure weren’t.
Bowl season is usually a cruel, cruel mistress to the Big Ten. Let’s just say hopes always start high and results crash fans of the teams in the conference back down to earth quickly.
There are a myriad of reasons and excuses often given, and some of them are valid (or at least used to be). Examples usually include the fact that 90 percent of the games are played well outside of the Big Ten footprint and the old reliable of huge disparities in caliber of opponents (addressed a bit by the last change in bowl alignment).
So, as the 2017-18 bowl season got underway it was hard to expect much from the Big Ten. After all, the conference teams managed to go just 3-7 last year and only one of those three wins was very meaningful (Wisconsin over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl).
Then the games were played and we here in Big Ten country have been reminded just how meaningful bowl season really is.
Purdue not only got to a bowl game, but it won its bowl game against another offense-first team in Arizona. Sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar overcame injury and threw for nearly 400 yards (396 to be exact) and four touchdowns, while running back D.J. Knox had 101 yards on 11 carries.
If you believe bowl games don’t matter, just talk to anyone on the Purdue or Arizona sidelines following that game. Going 7-6 in season one under Jeff Brohm was huge, but most importantly it sets new expectations for the program’s floor going forward.
When is the last time there were anything but dreadful expectations surrounding the Purdue football program? If anything, that should tell you just how meaningful bowl games are.
But, it was just Purdue’s three-point win out in the Foster Farms Bowl that showcased the importance of winning so-called meaningless bowl games.
Michigan State not only rebounded from a 3-9 season to go 9-3, but it just beat a fellow top 25 program in Washington State. Sure, you can point to Luke Falk being out of the game, but the Spartans looked like the Spartans that climbed their way to the College Football Playoff just two years ago again.
Dantonio’s crew pounded the ball down the throat of Wazzu’s smaller defensive line and that led to LJ Scott putting up 110 yards on just 18 carries. Meanwhile, the Spartans defense held the Cougars high-scoring offense to just 17 points in the 42-17 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Think MSU will be overlooked by bowl games in the future again?
Even Iowa, who had the most maddening up and down season of any Big Ten team, pulled off a win in the opening game for a Big Ten team this bowl season.
It wasn’t always pretty, but in a matchup of two 7-5 teams, what else would you expect? Most importantly, the game showed that Iowa could win a close game against a quality defense. For a team full of young players at key positions, it’s a win that builds momentum heading in to the offseason.
All three wins set up increase expectations for next season and there’s nothing better than expecting quality football and increased competition within the Big Ten at all.
Of course, the rest of the Big Ten teams in bowl games have some huge matchups to play in.
It’s a nice start to reversing the trend of horrible bowl seasons for the conference, but there’s a lot of work still to be done for the rest of the conference. With three teams in New Year’s Six bowl games, winning them puts the conference at the forefront of the offseason discussion and as much as we hate to admit it — perception is reality these days in the college football world.
That was the lesson we were supposed to take away from the College Football Playoff committee’s selection of Alabama over an actual conference champion, right?
With a snub from the College Football Playoff committee this season, a huge turnaround in bowl game results would mean a whole lot to the reputation – fair or not – of the conference going forward.
Let’s see if the early momentum can be maintained by the big dogs of the B1G.
Jim Harbaugh vs. Purdue heats up, but are both sides right?
Jim Harbaugh has made Purdue public enemy No. 1 on his list, just a few weeks after the Boilermakers hosted the Wolverines. Apparently he is still miffed at the treatment of Wilton Speight following a potentially life-threatening spine injury and the locker rooms at Ross-Ade Stadium.
He brought it up a few times since, but continued to hammer on both situations this past week.
Our Andy Coppens takes a look at the accusations leveled by Harbaugh, Wilton Speight’s dad and Purdue’s answer back.
Could it be that both sides have valid points and what are the solutions to this issue?
10 Things to know about Wisconsin vs. Purdue
Wisconsin takes on Purdue this weekend, here are the 10 things you need to know about these two teams heading in to Saturday afternoon’s contest.
The Wisconsin Badgers are only two games in to their Big Ten journey, yet they are seemingly firmly in the driver’s seat. However, Saturday sees a different kind of challenge come to Camp Randall.
UW will face off against Purdue, which with a 1-1 record in B1G play to date come in as the only team not down by two games to the Badgers. Can Wisconsin stand tall and seemingly put the West division race to bed or will Purdue pull of a potentially program-defining victory?
It might seem easy given Wisconsin owns an 11-game win streak in the series. But, this Purdue team isn’t the doormat it once was. There’s life to the bunch from West Lafayette, Ind. these days. So, what do we need to know ahead of UW hosting the Boilermakers?
Let’s check out 10 things you need to know…
1: Alex Hornibrook is No. 1 in the Big Ten in passer efficiency rating
This is a number that may surprise some people given a few up-and-down performances. However, his passer efficiency rating of 167.2 tops the Big Ten and is No. 8 in the country. Hornibrook has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,011 yards and has 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions on the season. Those numbers suggest a highly efficient passer, and it should be noted that his 107 attempts are the second-fewest amongst all quarterbacks in the nation’s top 10 of passer efficiency.
2: That is the number of weekly Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards earned by Jonathan Taylor
It’s an impressive start to Taylor’s career at UW to say the least. He earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season after rushing for 249 yards in Wisconsin’s win at Nebraska last week. He also has won two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards as well. All of that in just five games so far this season. Taylor’s 767 yards also leads the Big Ten, as does his nine touchdown runs and his 153.4 yards per game average.
3: Purdue ranks 3rd in the Big Ten in passing offense
There’s no doubt the Badgers defense is going to get its biggest challenge, at least in terms of the passing game this week. Purdue comes in averaging 265.2 yards per game in the passing game, while the Badgers pass defense is just fifth in the league and has been susceptible to the big play. However, Purdue’s yardage doesn’t tell the whole tale about its passing game. They’ll use two quarterbacks for part of the game, with David Blough and Elijah Sindelar both seeing snaps. That’s created some inconsistency at times, as Purdue has 13 passing TD’s to six interceptions. Three of those came against Louisville, while Michigan’s pressure got a pair of interceptions.
4: Jonathan Taylor’s 153.4 rushing yards per game sits 4th nationally
For all the talk of Saquon Barkley as the best running back in the country, the raw rushing numbers suggest a very different tale. Taylor not only leads the Big Ten with 153.4 yards per game, he is fourth in the country behind Stanford RB Bryce Love (206.7 ypg), Navy QB Zach Abey (174.0) and San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny (165.5). With some of the worst Big Ten defenses coming up, Taylor has a chance to really cement himself in the national picture heading in to key battles against Iowa and Michigan later this year.
5: Through 5 games this season, Wisconsin has allowed only 48 rushing yards in the second half.
Just how dominant are the Badgers in the second half? Defensively you can’t even think of running the football, because it just doesn’t work. 48 rushing yards on 55 carries in five games speaks volumes, it also means about 1.1 yards per carry for opponents in the second half of games. Purdue may be a pass-first team, but they are also averaging a decent 4.1 yards per carry so far this season.
6: That is Wisconsin’s rank in tackles for loss thus far in the Big Ten
One of the hallmarks of Wisconsin’s stingy defense has been its ongoing ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Badgers have racked up 35 tackles for loss so far this season, on pace to top last season’s 75 tackles for loss. UW has also put up two games with 10 or more tackles for loss (Florida Atlantic and Northwestern). Last weekend was a low mark, as the Badgers had just two TFL’s. Let’s see if that changes against Purdue’s pass-happy offense.
7: Wisconsin has allowed just 7.0 sacks so far this season
It’s an impressive number considering the moving parts for UW’s offensive line. Only David Edwards and Tyler Biadsz have avoided the injury report so far this season. Injuries have run deep beyond the starters as well, and so it is impressive that UW ranks 5th in the Big Ten in fewest sacks given up.
8: Purdue spreads the ball around a lot in the pass game, with an average of 8.8 players with a reception per game.
Wisconsin’s secondary has been pretty good at taking away multiple passing options this season, but the Boilermakers throw a lot more bodies at teams than UW is used to facing. Can an already thin Badgers secondary stand up to the pure volume of bodies the Boilermakers will throw at them?
9: UW ranks ninth in the nation in scoring defense
The Badgers defense has been stingy to say the least, allowing opponents just 14.2 points per game on the season. In fact, no one has scored more than 24 points on them all season long. Purdue comes in to this game averaging 29.6 points, so that should make things interesting at Camp Randall on Saturday.
10: (x2) That is the number of red zone chances Purdue has had on the season.
Purdue has been the best team in the Big Ten when it reaches the red zone, converting on 19 of 20 opportunities inside the opponents 20-yard line this year. Wisconsin’s defense has been the second best against opponents in the red zone, allowing just 10 of 15 possessions to end in a score. Something is going to have to give in this matchup, and the red zone is going to be a key factor on both sides of the equation it appears.