Its that time again, another the first rousing edition of five questions this season. We check in with our favorite Purdue blog, Off the Tracks, where T-Mill drops some knowledge for us:
1. Obviously, Northern Colorado is not an opponent that offers a real test. Did you find out anything about your team against UNC?
We found out that we still have quite a bit to work on, but here were some nice positives. Keith Smith, a converted quarterback and safety, made his first start at wide receiver. He gives us a big, physical presence in the slot we haven?t had at Purdue. He led us with six catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Desmond Tardy also proved to be very elusive with 3 catches for 112 yards and one big kickoff return he nearly took to the house.?
The other big thing was our special teams play. We had two big kickoff returns, blocked two punts (one for a touchdown), and nearly got to a third. Our true freshman punter and kickoff specialist also had no major problems. After years of struggles on special teams, it is nice to have this as a strength.
2. Your defense was much maligned last year. Are they really that bad, or is there reason to believe that they've improved? What are some weaknesses and bright spots?
I truly think the defense is much improved this year. We have a very deep, big, and talented defensive line. Alex Magee, who moved over from tackle, is the biggest D-end we?ve had in years. Our secondary, because it was forced onto the field very early the past two seasons, is both young and experienced. The emergence of former walk-on Frank Duong and JuCo transfer Dwight McLean gives us some depth to. Three defensive players (Keyon Brown, Nickaro Golding, and Josh McKinley) will also be coming off of one game suspensions to play.?
Our weakness is linebacker. Anthony Heygood is pretty good on the outside, but Kevin Green continues to be overmatched in the middle and Jason Werner, who is allegedly our best linebacker, is out once again. He had recurring back issues before this season that kept him off the field. They were supposed to be solved, but they suddenly flared up before the Northern Colorado game and he is out again. He likely won't play Saturday.
3. Jaycen Taylor is out for the season with a knee injury. What does your running game look like without him?
I think it looks pretty good. Kory Sheets is the feature back and he ahs been playing for four years now. He is actually 4 touchdowns away from breaking the Purdue career touchdown mark. He is elusive and has some breakaway speed, but has struggled with fumbles throughout his career. Frank Halliburton started as a fullback, but showed last week he can do a little bit of everything. He blocked both punts last week and had a 12 yard gain on one of his two carries. Dan Dierking will likely carry the ball more than him. He is a true sophomore that is a pretty good young talent, but he may be a tad undersized. Former quarterback Justin Siller is huge for a running back, and could be a great short yardage guy.
4. Much like Oregon, Purdue runs a no-huddle spread offense. What does the Purdue spread look like (as far as pass/run ratio, quarterback as a running threat, etc.).
Well, to be honest, if we're behind you can likely forget about us running the ball. This has been a frustration for years. Even when behind by the smallest of margins we completely abandon the running game. Normally we're probably a 65/35 team in favor of the pass.
As far as Painter being a running threat, he was early in his career. During his freshman year we ran an offense very similar to Oregon's and he put up good numbers on the ground. Now he has a tendency to stay in the pocket a little too long. As I said in my Oregon preview this week, we're a better team when the quarterback isn't afraid to tuck and run when the opportunity presents itself. He ran for 251 yards in seven games as a freshman, 107 as a sophomore, and -20 last year. He does have an impressive 13 touchdowns though.
5. We know that it's likely to be rainy with a possibility of thunderstorms, that Purdue is looking to grow out the grass, and that it doesn't have lights. We don't really know about the noise levels. How will these stadium conditions affect the game? And what happens when a game goes long (not having lights and all?).
We don't have permanent lights, but they have brought in portable lights several times before. They have been at nearly every late afternoon kickoff I have ever been to, so they will most likely be there on Saturday. We played Ohio State last season in an 8pm kickoff, so a night game at Ross-Ade is not unusual. We usually need the lights for at least one game per year and its fine.
As far as the grass and weather, Purdue is interesting in that it is the only Big Ten Stadium that has always featured natural grass. Everyone else has gone to turf at some point or another, and many have gone back to the field turf. We actually developed Prescription Athletic Turf. It drains very well and supposedly can handle rain up to an inch per hour, so the field should hold up. It may slow down Oregon, but if it is raining hard it will likely hurt our passing game more.
As far as crowd noise, I don't think it will be an issue. Ross-Ade can get pretty loud, but this won't be a sell out. We normally only sell out against Notre Dame, Ohio State, and sometimes Indiana. The rest of the time it takes a pretty special game to sell the place out. It is embarrassing, but so many Purdue ticket holders sold their tickets to the big Ohio State game last season the Buckeye fans were able to do the O-H-I-O cheer in the round in our house.
Honestly, Purdue is desperate for a big win like this to get some of the crowds back.
Big thanks to T-Mill for taking the time. Here's to a great game on Saturday.