Bringing Down the Hammer: Q&A with Hammer & Rails

Travis over at Hammer and Rails has graciously agreed to do a little question exchange to talk a little Purdue Football and we let him have it. Last year, we saw injuries take out Justin Roper and Jeremiah Masoli, but we still pulled off the win behind Chris Harper at quarterback and a touchdown run in double-overtime by Lagarrette Blount. This time, Purdue comes to Autzen Stadium in the home opener for the 2009 season. Check out Hammer and Rails for my answers and read on to see what the Boilermakers are up to. If you need a review of what happend that game, check out this video.

Oregon Ducks at Purdue Boilermakers 2008 (via kabuman)

Addicted to Quack: Back in April, news came out that sophmore quarterback Justin Siller was dismissed from Purdue for the 2009-10 academic year for a violation of the university academic policy. How much did that news impact the QB situation at Purdue?

Hammer and Rails: The main thing is that we now have a no doubt starter in 5th year senior Joey Elliott. Elliott was Painter’s backup the past three seasons, patiently waiting for the 2009 campaign. When painter struggled early last season many fans were clamoring for him to start then. He came in for Painter midway through the Northwestern game, but his season ended because of a separated shoulder in that game. Since then, Siller emerged as a promising player and dual-threat quarterback. He torched Michigan in one of his three starts while Painter was hurt, but was still raw.

I am one of the fans that is excited to see Elliott. When he starts the 2009 season it will be very much like Joe Tiller’s first season in 1997. That year, a 5th year senior quarterback named Billy Dicken came out of nowhere (after a shoulder injury, no less) to have an All-Big Ten-type of season. We went 9-3 and won the Alamo Bowl after missing bowl games for 12 straight years. I don’t know if Elliott will have that kind of instant success, but I feel very good that he knows the system and is not totally inexperienced.

His backup will likely be redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush, with true freshman Rob Henry as our #3 guy. Elliott is a more mobile quarterback than Painter, but less than Siller. I look for him to have a respectable year before TerBush, Henry, Siller (if he returns) or potentially Robert Marve takes over in 2010. 

ATQ: How many night games will it take for Ross Ade Stadium to get permanent lighting?

HR: There has been some discussion of installing permanent lights if an upper deck is built on the east side of the stadium. We have never had the permanent lights, but when they bring in the portable ones it is a special event. This year’s Notre Dame game has an 8pm kickoff, so it will be exciting. Until we get the upper deck, though, I expect to be lightless like much of the rest of the Big Ten. I think that is just old-school tradition kicking in. Very few stadiums in the conference have permanent lights, so virtually every night game has the portable ones brought in. The Big Ten also has a rule that there are no night games (that is, after dark kickoffs. 3:30 ones still happen that need lights) after November 1st. 

ATQ: Oregon fans are generally very excited about the new Chip Kelly regime in Eugene. What they may not know is that Purdue is going to have their own first year head coach in Danny Hope. What is the general mood of the Purdue fanbase on this change? 

HR: We generally feel that it was needed. We had leveled off and even declined during Tiller’s last few seasons. Last year, injuries to our offensive line and quarterback struggles led to a 4-8 season. Coach Hope brings a new energy to the program that was sorely needed. I was at our spring game and I got the sense that we are going to be much better than people think. People are excited that Hope is bringing in some better recruits and is aggressively going after South Florida guys. I think they even are willing to give him a few years to get back to a bowl, but personally, I don’t think we’ll have to wait that long.

ATQ: From what you can tell, are there any major differences in offensive/defensive schemes under Danny Hope versus Joe Tiller?

HR: None, really. Hope was Tiller’s assistant for years and has already said we will have the same general offensive scheme in place. I think we might rely a bit more on the running game this season, but that is for two reasons. First, we have very little experience returning in our receiving corps. Second, we have four quality running backs that give us some serious depth at the position. 

ATQ: Running back Ralph Bolden has absolutely gone off this spring. How we will he do replacing Kory Sheets in running the rock?

HR: Bolden was a bit of a shock, as he is expected to be about third or fourth on the depth chart. Jaycen Taylor is in line to be the starter. Taylor has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in his career, but tore his ACL before last season started. He is back for his final season because he still had a redshirt to use. Our top recruit, Al-Terek McBurse had enrolled early to go through spring practice, but missed it because he hadn’t cleared the NCAA Eligibility Center yet. He cleared just after spring practice ended, so we at least get to see him go through summer conditioning.

Junior Dan Dierking, son of one of our best running backs ever, has also improved. He has seen some spot duty the past couple of years, but it looks like he has finally grown into the size of a Big Ten running back. He had 181 yards and two scores as a freshman two years ago, but dropped off last season. Bolden, McBurse, Dierking, and Taylor will all do quite well in replacing Sheets.

ATQ: From the outside, it looks like the Boilermakers have a pretty good schedule. Playing Oregon at Eugene is tough but you get Ohio State and Michigan State at home, plus you skip Penn State this year. In your estimation, could Purdue be heading back to a bowl game this year?

HR: I certainly think so, but I am alone in that opinion. I was granted pres access for the Spring Game and it was actually a disheartening experience many of the members of the press that were there openly mocked the team and felt like we would battled Indiana for last place in the Big Ten. I believe we can get the six wins needed to make a bowl. Toledo, Northern Illinois, and Indiana have to be wins. I think we’ll also be slight favorites against Northwestern and Illinois at home. From there, we just have to pull off one other game such as at Minnesota. The Big Ten is not going to be very strong this season, so the opportunity is there to make a bowl. 

I know you’ll disagree, but I actually really like our chances at Oregon after the way we played you last year.  (ED note: Purdue scares me in their short passing game. I think this will be a closer game than people think)

ATQ: The NCAA recently released the Academic Progress Rate (APR) report showing Purdue at 926. Is there any concern among the Purdue faithful about the potential to dip before the magic 925 cutline?

HR: I actually haven’t given it much thought. I know Football is one of the harder sports to stay above the line, but as long as we are above it I am happy. 

ATQ: Gary Nord was brought in to be the offensive coordinator at Purdue and has a long history with Coach Hope. He was ranked No. 20 on the top 20 coordinator hires during the offseason. What can we expect out of Gary Nord offensively?

HR: I expect that he’ll improve the quarterbacks we already have on the roster and hopefully spice an offense that has been stagnant at times lately. Some of the coaching decisions last year that were made were downright absurd. One in particular was running a no huddle against you guys when we led 20-3. To me, that just didn’t make sense. We were making a killing on the ground (which runs the clock), but we decided to pass from the no huddle and play right into your hands. I honestly want a coaching staff on both sides of the ball that realizes it is completely legal to make in-game adjustments rather than continue to try what hasn’t been working. 

ATQ: What are your main concerns coming out of spring ball?  

HR: Our receivers. We have only two coming back with real in-game experience: Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin. We have added a couple of JuCo guys and there is some serious talent coming in with our freshmen in the fall, but other than there is very little experience. Our passing game may take awhile to get moving, but I think we can make up for it in the running game. I am also excited to see what should be a vastly improved defense. That is what will win us games.


Final Thoughts: Special thanks to Travis for entering the "No Husky Zone" and providing some great insight into the Purdue Boilermakers. Coming after the Boise State game, the Purdue game scares me on a number of levels. I still think Oregon will pull it out though, despite the outcome of the Boise St game but it will be closer than most people will think. 38-30 Ducks.

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