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The Enemy: Purdue Boilermakers pt. 1

Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 1-0 (0-0)

Last Game: Northern Colorado  W 42-10

Conference: Big Ten

West Lafayette, Indiana

On TV: ABC @ 12:30 p.m. Pacific

Part 1 of 2 – Purdue on Defense

We’ll get into the Purdue offense soon enough. The real question is: If the Boilermakers get into a spread-attack shootout slash chess match between Joe Tiller and Chip Kelly, are they capable of slowing down the most productive offense in the country? The numbers don’t lie.

Purdue returns six starters from a defense that ranked seventh in passing defense and seventh in rushing defense in the Big Ten last season. The 2007 Boilermakers gave up 26.5 points a game and 389 yards in total offense. They wrapped up an 8-5 season with a 51-48 win over Central Michigan (you get a gold star if you know CMU’s mascot without looking it up) in the Motor City Bowl. No defense played there.

You’d figure Purdue’s D might show signs of improvement in their season opener versus Northern Colorado, mediocre even by Big Sky Conference standards. Didn’t work out that way. Purdue won 42-10, but their effort was lackluster. The not-so-mighty Bears ground out 122 yards rushing and threw for 216. The Bears had more first downs (22) than Purdue (17), and for three quarters they moved the ball consistently between the 20s. The only thing keeping N. Colorado from scoring was a rash of untimely penalties, dropped passes and miscues.

Here’s who you can expect to see on the field Saturday:

LE Alex Magee (#71, 6-4, 295 lbs., Sr., IL) Magee is one of the studs on Purdue defense. A legit pro prospect, he’s played in every Purdue game since his freshman year and started every game last season. He tallied 38 tackles in 2007 and had a handful of pass breakups and forced fumbles. Magee also has three blocked field goals to his credit. Against Northern Colorado he had two tackles and recorded one of two sacks for Purdue.

DT Ryan Baker (#90, 6-5, 280 lbs., Sr., IN) Each season Purdue honors one player with the “Pit Bull” award for tenacity and intensity in spring practices. Baker earned that in both 2007 and 2008. Like Magee, Baker has played in or started nearly every Purdue game since his freshman season. He had 22 tackles last season, and matched Magee’s stats versus NC last week with two tackles and a sack.

DT Mike Neal (#92, 6-4, 293 lbs., Sr., IN) Neal had 22 tackles in 2007, with a couple sacks and a pass breakup. He had three tackles in last week’s win over the Bears.

RE Gerald Gooden (#97, 6-3, 235 lbs., So, TX) Gooden is the pup of Purdue’s D-line. He was relatively highly touted as a linebacker out of high school, but finds himself playing the role of a smallish defensive end to start his college career. Seems to be working out so far, as Gooden recorded six tackles, include one for a loss, against Northern Colorado.

WLB Joe Holland (#30, 6-1, 211 lbs., So, IN) Another newcomer for Purdue, Holland did not play as a freshman. Maybe a sign that Purdue is trying to piece together a defense…Holland was a 3-star safety coming out of high school, but now joins Purdue’s front seven. He made three tackles in Purdue’s opening game.

MLB Kevin Green (#27, 6-2, 236 lbs., Jr. IL) Green enters his first year as a starter, anchoring the middle of Purdue’s D. He appeared in eight games last season and made seven tackles. Green totaled five tackles against Northern Colorado.

SLB Anthony Heygood (#42, 6-2, 230 lbs., Sr., PA) Heygood is arguably the most dynamic player on Purdue’s defense. As an honorable mention Big Ten player in 2007, he was second on the team with 81 tackles. He started 12 games, had 15 tackles for a loss and forced three fumbles. Expect to see Heygood bring some speed to the table…he was a top-20 rated running back coming out of high school. Heygood recorded six tackles last week.

CB Brandon King (#7, 5-11, 192 lbs., Sr., GA) King makes the move from starting free safety in 2007 to cornerback this season. His 2007 stats include 44 tackles and one interception. King recorded three tackles and broke up one pass against Northern Colorado.

FS Torri Williams (#2, 6-2, 208 lbs., Sr., TX) A talent at safety, Williams has had a string of hard luck as a Boilermaker. He missed the entire 2005 season after breaking a leg in spring practice, then suffered a season-ending knee injury in Purdue’s first game of 2006. Williams appeared in seven games in 2007 making 17 tackles and two interceptions before suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon versus Michigan.

SS Frank Duong (#3, 5-8, 178 lbs., Sr., IN) Duong may often find himself the smallest guy on the field, but he stood tallest last week against Northern Colorado. Duong led the Boilermakers with 8 total tackles, with seven of the solo variety. He played in nine games last season as a walk-on, then earned a scholarship after receiving Purdue’s “Hammer Award” as the biggest hitter in spring practices.

CB David Pender (#9, 6-1, 180 lbs., Jr., GA) Two cornerbacks from the state of Georgia, find their way to Purdue? Evidently. Pender started about half of Purdue’s games in 2007 and showed up big with 44 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception versus Ohio State. He made just a single tackle against Northern Colorado, but did break up three passes.

More experience than Washington. More talent than Utah State. What does it all add up to?

I sat through three quarters of the replay of Purdue v. N. Colorado on the Big Ten Network. It wasn’t pretty. Purdue played uninspired, gave up a lot of yards – though few points – and only led 14-0 at home with 3 minutes to go in the third quarter. The Boilermakers gave up rushing yards, sometimes in big chunks. They didn’t get much pressure on the Bears QB, a former Florida wash-out who at times picked Purdue apart with a fairly simplified spread approach.

What Purdue will face Saturday will be far from simplified. With the outlook that Jeremiah Johnson should see the field, Oregon will be bringing the full arsenal.

The Boilermakers showed some flashes last week. Frank Halliburton, a 6-3 fullback and special teams star, blocked two Northern Colorado punts. Purdue defenders also displayed a clear focus on trying to strip ball carriers as they fight for extra yardage. Oregon will have to play a clean game to avoid giving up opportunity points similar to the gratuity provided to Utah State.

I think we can expect Purdue to put up a better effort this week…home crowd should be buzzing with a ranked opponent in town, lots of pre-game hype, Pac-10 statement week and all. Purdue has had very little success against top-tier teams in recent years – 14 straight losses to ranked opponents. This is an opportunity for the boiler boys to show they’re ready to drive the train in a new direction.

If Purdue is looking for motivation, there’s an abundance. What there probably isn’t enough of is speed, size, experience and athletes who can shut down all of the Ducks’ many explosive weapons.