Too Early Preview: Oregon vs. Purdue

Purdue Boilermakers
Location:  West Lafayette, Indiana
Enrollment:  39,228
Coach:  Joe Tiller (83-54 @ Purdue, 106-73-1 overall)
2007 Record:  8-5 (3-5 Big Ten)

I am really looking forward to September 13, when Oregon will take on Purdue in West Lafayette, IN. I’ve heard good things about the stadium and its environment, and it should be a fun time for all Duck fans (myself included!) making the trek.

When I first started to think about Purdue, I assumed them to be a very mediocre team. From what I’ve read since then, this appears to be an accurate assumption. NYTimes preview had them pegged at 43. And while their senior QB (Curtis Painter) has received a lot of hype, he seems to be the team’s only decent player. Phil Steele’s rankings agree:  he ranks Painter #2 in the nation, but ranks every other offensive and defensive unit in the latter half of the Big 10. Really, there are no standouts on the team besides Painter.

Many others have done a more adequate job of breaking down Purdue, and I will not go into that detail. The always great Brian over at MGoBlog has an extensive breakdown that shouldn’t be missed, and Travis over at the OffTheTracks has been previewing all of Purdue’s positions, with very little prejudice. Both previews are worth a read.

Instead, I am going to focus on how Oregon stacks up against Purdue, and the important battles to watch...

When Oregon’s offense takes the field:

Oregon has an excellent offensive line, with both experience and depth. They will have a strong running game. I see no reason why Purdue will be able to stop, or even slow, the Oregon running game, and the offense as a whole.

In all likelihood, the Purdue defense line will not be improving. They lost their best player (defensive end Cliff Avril) to the 3rd round of the NFL draft, and none of the replacements (or players still around) seem likely to significantly improve the 54th rushing defense in the country. At linebacker, Purdue lost three of its top four backers. The two names to remember are Jason Werner and Anthony Heygood. Both should be solid linebackers but will not be blowing anyone away. Basically, the front seven of Purdue is incredibly mediocre. This trend continues into the secondary, with a couple of juniors that have been torched early in their careers, and could progress, but it’s hard to predict.

What this means is that Oregon should be able to move the ball without significant trouble. The problems for Purdue come down to the fact that they have few playmakers. They don’t have any player on the defensive side of the ball that can take over a game. And they don’t have a defensive lineman that can create pressure consistently, a linebacker that will be able to adequately cover the running backs or tight ends, or a cornerback who can shut down Jaison Williams.

They will be forced to react to the Oregon offense. And if I know Chip Kelly, this is what he loves. Even if the whole game were boiled down to one-on-one matchups, I would like Oregon’s chances. But the game rarely works like that. You can bank on the fact that Kelly will position Oregon players to get every possible advantage. If Oregon starts running the ball early for 5 YPC or better—which is roughly what Purdue gave up last year—then everything else will fall into place. A lack of pressure will give Costa (or whoever is at QB) all day to throw, and the Purdue CBs will not be able to handle Oregon’s receivers and tight ends for very long. Blitzing will simply open up opportunities. If those can be taken advantage of (and the Oregon QB will have 2 games under his belt at this point), that will lead to huge plays.

Granted, we could see the offense implode, but in my mind, this is not likely. Oregon is no longer coached by Andy Ludwig, and I don’t see whoever is quarterbacking the team throwing 3-4 interceptions.

Either way, Oregon should be able to set the tempo. Purdue doesn’t have the talent to force the issue with their defense, and if they attempt to, they will open themselves up for the big plays. But again, I don’t think they have the talent to simply play Oregon one-on-one. If Oregon doesn’t score 35, I’ll be surprised.

When Oregon’s defense takes the field:

Curtis Painter has garnered much praise. But at this point, he’s a lot like Matt Ryan, and in my opinion, that’s not a good thing. He has a great arm, looks like a pro QB, and puts up gaudy numbers. But, he also throws too many interceptions and has a low pass rating. Though improved last season, this was exaggerated by a horrendous schedule, which included powers like Toledo, Eastern Illinois, and Central Michigan twice. They also played the worst Notre Dame team of the last 40 years.

In the big games, Painter didn’t fare well, with numbers falling across the board. In games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, the offense managed only 2 meaningful touchdowns. This was partly due to the Purdue offense, which runs a short, precise passing game. When facing teams that can easily disrupt this, it falls apart. This drop-off is witnessed in Painter’s stats. In Big 10 games, he averaged a mere 5.8 yards per attempt. This is obviously not an explosive offense. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad had it produced in previous years, but in many games, it did not. Facing a good defense, it can become a struggle to score. Painter didn’t make it work, and I don’t know why this year will be any different than last.

The rest of the offense is mired in mediocrity as well. Purdue no longer has the strength of receiver they had last season. They have a fairly solid running back tandem, but run the ball less than 40% of the time. Their receivers are nothing to write home about and will have trouble gaining separation downfield from Oregon’s defensive backs. The offensive line is, as the story goes, quite average. I don’t know if they give up a whole lot to the Oregon defensive line, but our boys will be able to at least keep them busy, which is usually enough.

To move the ball, Purdue will rely on short passes, which may be allowed by the Oregon secondary. But if so, I would imagine Alliotti will blitz a good deal. If Reed and Tukuafu can get pressure themselves, which is fairly likely, things will fall apart incredibly fast for the Purdue offense, with receivers that will be smothered and underneath routes eaten up by linebackers. And with how little the Purdue offense runs the ball, it is not a huge concern either. But even if the front four cannot get consistent pressure, blitzing will surely get to Painter quickly. And this is one receiving corp that should be easily handled. One of the benefits of the Oregon secondary is that they tackle. They tackle well, and the Purdue receivers will not be able to turn 5 yard passes into 15 yard gains. Thus, Purdue drives will turn into a short passing game slog at best. A couple of turnovers or 3 and outs, and things could grow out of hand quickly.

Prediction:

When I came into this game, I thought it would be fairly close.  But as I looked into it, I have very little confidence in any of the positions. The strength and weaknesses of the Purdue team will be able to be exploited by this Oregon team. Barring an Indiana-like collapse, Oregon wins this game running away, 41-23.

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