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2007 Big Ten Previews - The Purdue Boilermakers

Only two more of these go to. Let's knock out the Purdue Boilermakers today.

Team Overview

Joe Tiller enters his 11th year at Purdue and he hopes to improve on the Boilermakers' performance in 2006. They didn't have a bad year finishing 8-6 and going 5-3 in conference, but they didn't have a single impressive win. They beat a Div I-AA team with a 1-10 record and seven other teams that finished with losing records.

After starting out 4-0 they went on a slide that saw four losses in five games. They finished up winning three of the last four and earned a bid to the Champs Sports Bowl where they were manhandled by the Maryland Terrapins and lost 24-7.

The Boilermakers had a golden opportunity to win the conference in 2005 and 2006 when they missed Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule but they couldn't get it done. This year both teams come back. Despite the harder schedule, improvement is expected since eighteen starters on offense and defense return.

The Offense

A decade ago Joe Tiller took the conference by storm with his spread offense. Purdue bubble screens aggravated defenses to death to the tune of relentlessly unstoppable eight yard gains. They have caught on now but this hasn't stopped Tiller from throwing at will. At the Big Ten preseason media day last year Tiller promised the Boilermakers were going to pass on first and second down, and then they were going to pass it again. And that they did. Purdue averaged 291 yards through the air (#6 NCAA) while averaging 124 yards on the ground (#76 NCAA). Overall they were better than respectable on offense averaging 415 yards per game giving them the #13 ranked offense. But then accumulating yards doesn't win games. Scoring points does. And that's where Purdue struggled only averaging 26 points (#46 NCAA). Precision offenses need to be perfectly precise in the red zone. Otherwise they are sound and fury signifying nothing. Purdue finished dead last in the conference in red zone execution. Pay no attention to the team that finished next-to-dead last.

Purdue QB Curtis Painter

Curtis Painter returns to lead the offense. He threw for an eye popping 3985 yards and 22 TD completing a respectable 59% of his passes. But if Purdue is going to be successful he has to cut down on the 19 interceptions he threw.

He'll have plenty of targets to throw to since the top seven receivers from last year all return. Dorien Bryant is his favorite target catching 87 balls last year for 1068 yards and 6 TD. But it's not like there is a huge drop off after Bryant. Greg Orton and tight end Dustin Keller each caught over 50 balls. Throwing the ball will not be a problem for the Boilermakers.

But Tiller is smart enough to know they need more balance. He has hinted that he would like his team to be tougher and do a little more power running. We may even see...a fullback? This pleases Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor who shared the load at running back last year. They each got 100 carries and combined 1357 yards and 15 TD.

If anything kills the offense this year it's going to be the offensive line. They have to replace both the guard and tackle on the left side. If that wasn't bad enough, injuries over the offseason have devastated the guys who are coming back. Projected starters Jordan Grimes and Eric Hedstrom are sitting out preseason practices. Projected left tackle Garrett Miller sat out the spring and is still not playing. Tiller is shuffling guys around like a subway con man hiding the queen while Curtis Painter is waking up at 3 AM in a cold sweat.

The Defense

Good God was Purdue bad on defense. Check out their NCAA rankings.

Purdue returns nine starters on defense which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. It's good in that they have a lot of experience. It's bad in that they have a lot of experience in giving up a lot of yards and points.

Much of their woes fell on the shoulders of the defensive line which was basically Anthony Spencer and the Speed Bumps. This year Spencer is doing his thing in the NFL leaving the Speed Bumps without a front man. It's like The E Street Band without Bruce Springsteen. They suck. Alex Magee is going to move from tackle to end to make room for sophomore Mike Neal. Unfortunately as I write this both guys are injured and not practicing as is end Mike McDonald. Like the offensive line, Tiller is scrambling for bodies. So if you're a 300 lb freshman at Purdue reading this, you might want to show up for practice this week. They could use you.

The linebackers will have to replace George Hall who earned All Big Ten honorable mention. Stanford Keglar plays the strong side. He has the most starting experience but temporarily lost his job for a few games last year. Middle linebacker Dan Bick suffered a neck injury and missed the spring. He's just now returning to contact but his health is obviously a concern. The weakside linebacker spot has red flags all over it. Anthony Heygood played running back the first half of last year before switching sides. Now he's starting. His backup is Jeff Lindsay, a redshirt freshman that has never really settled on a position.

You would think the defensive backs would be pretty good after practicing against that high flying offense every week. You would be wrong. But in their defense they started two true freshmen last year. CB Royce Adams and safety Brandon Erwin are a year wiser now so improvement is likely, but Erwin is nursing a groin injury. Cornerback Terrell Vinson is a smurf standing only 5'9". Key reserve and nickelback Torri Williams is recovering from a dislocated knee. This group has some serious issues.

Special Teams

Jared Armstrong returns to do the punting. Last year he averaged a pretty decent 43.1 yards per punt. Chris Summers was absolutely horrible last year only going 8-for-20 as the field goal kicker. And you thought Kevin Kelly was bad. Dorien Bryant returns the kicks. He was fantastic in 2005 but pretty pedestrian only averaging 19.6 yards in 2006. He may get a chance to return punts as he's battling Royce Adams for the job. Adams returned 22 punts last year for a 6.4 yard average.

The Schedule

They had their chances in 2005 and 2006. Now Michigan and Ohio State come back on the schedule. The out of conference schedule features three cream puffs and Notre Dame who they get at home. They get Ohio State at home and play Michigan and Penn State on the road. They are fortunate to miss Wisconsin and Illinois this year.

Call it a good year if...

Painter throws half as many interceptions as he did last year. All of the injured bodies heal and nobody else gets injured. They manage to score in the red zone and Summers hits three quarters of his field goals. The defense somehow comes together and holds opponents to 20 points per game.

They start out 3-0 against Toledo, Eastern Illinois, and Central Michigan. They beat Minnesota on the road and squeak by a rebuilding Notre Dame at home. Holy cow! Could the Boilermakers start out 5-0? They could. But then the tough part of the schedule hits. They have to play Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, and Penn State in a five game stretch. I can't see them winning any of these games. But they can beat Northwestern, Michigan State, and Indiana. Best case scenario I could see Purdue going 8-4.

Put Tiller on the Hotseat if...

Painter matches his interception extravaganza of 2006. The running game is non-existant. The offensive line turns into a revolving door of injuries. The offense sputters in the red zone and Summers can't make any kicks. The defense blows like last year.

After their 3-0 start they go on a tremendous slide losing to Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, and Michigan State. Though highly unlikely, I could see Purdue going 4-8.

BSD Says...

So many questions on this team. Can the makeshift offensive line hold up and come together? Will they have any kind of running game? Who is going to step up on the defensive line now that Spencer is gone? Can that unit overcome the early injuries? Will the two senior linebackers suddenly get better? Can Dan Bick stay healthy? How much of a liability will the converted running back playing weak side linebacker be?  Will all of the players in the secondary who got torched last year suddenly get better?

But still they do have some positives. Curtis Painter is a legitimate quarterback that can throw. If he can just limit the mistakes the offense will light up weaker opponents. The schedule is difficult but they miss Wisconsin and get Notre Dame, Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State at home. This team can win some games.

They should sweep through the early going against Toledo, Eastern Illinois, and Central Michigan. They stand a good chance of beating a Minnesota team in a throw away year. I think their experience on defense and high powered offense will get them past Notre Dame this year, but just barely. Then starts the brutal stretch of the Big Ten. They play Ohio State and Michgan back-to-back before playing Iowa. Then they get an up and coming Northwestern team before they play Penn State. I think they will lose all five of these games putting the season in jeopardy at 5-5. But they will finish up strong with wins against Michigan State and at Indiana. Magic Eight Ball says chances looking good at a 7-5 finish.

2006 Purdue Defensive Statistics
Category Statistic NCAA Rank Big Ten Rank
Rushing Defense 191 ypg 114 11
Passing Defense 241 ypg 104 10
Total Defense 432 ypg 114 11
Pass Efficiency Defense
133 81 8
Scoring Defense
26.7 ppg 90 8