Tag Archives: Purdue

Bye Bye Bielema, Hello Hazell

Two coaching moves in the Big Ten this week are interesting particularly from a standpoint of program ceilings.

Before this season I had already begun to think Wisconsin’s program had peaked. The 7-5 record certainly did not change my mind despite the blowout of a wishy-washy Nebraska team in the Big Ten championship game.

I never really felt Bret Bielema was a good game day coach, but he obviously did a good job of running a program overall. I think a lot of the success on the field had to do with the fact he knew what type of guys to recruit for Wisconsin and where to find them. A lot of credit for that no doubt goes to Barry Alvarez as he laid down the blueprint and left plenty of players behind to help him get off to a good start. (Bielema’s soft landing also benefitted from missing Ohio State in 2006.) Continue reading Bye Bye Bielema, Hello Hazell

Ohio State Football Week 8: Stop Breaking Down Blues

This week the column takes its title from a Robert Johnson standard that The Rolling Stones (among others) do a great version of. I think it sums up the feelings of Ohio State fans, players and coaches alike as the Buckeye offense roars and the defense struggles.

What we learned last week: Postseason bans don’t do much to dampen expectations at a place like Ohio State.

Sometimes waiting an extra day to write this column pays off in a little extra perspective. Sometimes it might suffer from that, too, but I’ll take the good with the bad.

In this case, the first inclination is to look at the last image of Ohio State’s 52-49 victory over Indiana and hold that up as the representation of the entire night. I’m not quite sure that’s wise, though.

To be sure, this is no great defense Ohio State is fielding in its 100th season in the Big Ten. “Inconsistent at best” is probably the kindest way I could accurately describe it at this point in time.

However, things might not be as dire as some are making them out to be.

I just think in general this team is still working out some of the mental issues that came with the NCAA-related strife of the end of 2010 through last season.

Many of these guys have been through a lot, and those who haven’t are too young to know what they don’t know.

The schizophrenia of this team is mind-boggling at times, but maybe it shouldn’t be. My theory now is that these guys are just showing the signs of any team that falls behind early in a game.

Rallying takes more energy than holding steady or running in the lead. At least that is the conventional wisdom, so let’s take it as fact for the sake of this discussion.

The thing about falling behind is it is stressful. Having stress is more energy-consuming than not because it necessarily means we have more to think about than when we aren’t worrying. And so as a consequence of this stress there is a never-ending desire to exhale. That is where rallying becomes difficult. It is not only an energy drain but also a distraction.

I think the core of this Ohio State team has just been trying to catch up so long it can’t ever get an even keel. Then throw the added stress of having to learn a new system and to adjust to the new psychology of a different coaching staff, and perhaps there just isn’t enough energy to go around.

And so you get what we had there last week.

One of the most easily forgotten parts of sports is the role of human nature. Why do you suppose that is? Shouldn’t it be the first thing we consider when we analyze our games? After all, that’s the stuff that draws us to them in the first place. The raw, honest emotion and the unpredictability of an event without a script. Nothing brings out human nature more freely than that, so why fight the result? But we all do, myself included.

Did the Ohio State defense let up with a big lead last Saturday night? You bet it did. Is that a big surprise? I suppose not.

Is it a bad sign for the future? That remains to be seen. Perhaps it turns out to be a positive. Maybe it’s a wakeup call and such a thing won’t happen again.

Maybe this wounded pride will provide motivation to work harder later this season and yield better results against better opponents.

Or maybe it will go in one ear and out the other, another potential lesson flittering away with the ashes of a disastrous finish to last season when the defense never could seem to get a good grasp on anyone as injuries took their toll down the stretch.

Seeing the same mistakes repeat themselves is striking. I think there are problems with the scheme, but I think they can be worked out. I think there are players who probably should be replaced sooner or later, even if that means next year is the soonest it could happen in some cases.

Such is life in college football, where there are not trade-deadline deals to bolster a roster but sometimes a 19-year-old has the light go on in November. Suddenly things that did not make sense in the heat of August click with the falling of the leaves. Sometimes they don’t.

I guess we’ll have to watch next week to see, either way.

What we can expect to learn this week: Maybe nothing more than what’s next.

Ohio State has defensive deficiencies that aren’t going to be worked out in one week’s time, but the Buckeyes can start the road back to respectability without hesitation if they tighten up their effort and focus.

And as far as troublesome schemes, Purdue practically provides a mulligan for the Buckeyes this week following the Hoosiers’ success with their spread offense.

The Boilermakers bring a better scoring unit (and Indiana’s wasn’t bad) to the Horseshoe this weekend, and they will play a similar style to the one that has been giving Ohio State fits for much of the season. Actually, to be more accurate, Purdue brings better skill players while the scheme might be a bit inferior to that of hurry-up spread guru Kevin Wilson at Indiana. That is really probably splitting hairs, though.

Purdue was also just decimated on defense by a previously struggling Wisconsin team, so there should be another good chance for the Ohio State offense to continue to evolve.

One would think the motivation that was lacking last week is built in this week. That the Buckeyes would have a hard time getting fired up to face Indiana after back-to-back revenge games was practically guaranteed.

By contrast, they play host this week to a team that has tormented them twice in the last three years and therefore could be cruising for a bruising.

There is so much to deal with in a year of transition that expecting all holes that pop up to be filled is probably unrealistic. That’s why teams don’t win national championships in the first year of a new coaching staff.

That said, I think those calling for Luke Fickell’s head on a (pizza) platter are being irrational. The scheme needs some tweaking, but the bigger problems are in execution, experience and talent on hand.

Some of the older players aren’t executing, and some of them don’t have the talent necessary to make an elite defense. Others have the ability but not the knowledge, at least not yet. Again, this is life in college football, and Ohio State is operating on a shorter leash than a lot of teams that fancy themselves top-10 squads thanks to scholarship reductions and attrition from the coaching change.

There seems to be some problems connecting the styles of defense each coach prefers, and that has not helped matters.

They seem to want more than anything to install a system that depends on individuals making reads and winning battles. That is great if it happens, but it can be a pretty big disaster if not.

Then what do you do? Well applying pressure via scheme is not so easy as pressing a button with a controller. It still has to involve players playing off each other, a cohesive plan for a cohesive unit.

And somewhere in there, Fickell and company seem to be getting lost.

They certainly could still find their way, be it now or with the benefit of an offseason to reevaluate things.

I do think he needs to learn to let it go a little more, to trust his guys, be they old or young.

With nothing really to lose this season, one would think that wouldn’t be tough to do, but then again I guess we already learned about expectations, now and forever.

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Ohio State-Purdue final thoughts

I re-watched the Buckeyes’ loss to the Boilermakers so you didn’t have to! 

 

Braxton Miller is going to be so good if he can just get his footwork and mechanics right and throw the ball with consistent accuracy. He has all the intangibles and the talent. He’s young and seems to drift at times, but there is a lot to grasp that he just needs to make second nature with muscle memory. I had him down for nine negative plays where he missed a throw, missed an open man, held the ball too long and took a sack, etc., but 11 pluses where he did something above average or better. When he’s just “ballin” as Troy Smith called it, he is fun to watch.

Both tight ends continued to do good things as blockers even though Miller missed Stoneburner open a couple of times. T.Y. Williams was surprisingly solid blocking and hauling in a couple of passes.

In Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley, Ohio State has three really good college guards. Norwell will slide out to left tackle next season, but it will be really interesting to see what they do with the other tackle spot. I think Mewhort can handle it, but he’s best inside. I’m not sure how Antonio Underwood, who has generally been projected as an inside player, could have looked less ready to play before he was pulled. I had him down for six negative plays and no positives. Purdue did a good job of getting its best defensive lineman, Kawann Short, lined up against him regularly.

I don’t think Boom Herron was fully healthy. He didn’t have quite the same explosion, but he was solid. I liked what Hall brought from an all-around standpoint, both in terms of drifting to an open spot on a pair of touchdown catches and making his own holes a few times in the Wildcat. He even converted a couple of short-yardage situations when it looked like he would be stopped, so it’s harder to ask why Carlos Hyde wasn’t in at those times. (More on that later)

Going wide is a great way to exploit Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein. They just don’t get out there on screens and swing passes or zone read stuff. It also seems to neutralize Tyler Moeller’s playmaking ability. Moeller has grown into a solid edge defender and force guy, but he’s better blitzing and in pursuit than having to take on plays at the point of attack. I think he’s been a good soldier this year, but I’m not convinced they’ve maxed out what he can do.

Obviously Ryan Shazier brings a lot to the table. It’s a moot point now with Andrew Sweat out, but you can see why they would be wary of adding another guy who might make some mistakes to the mix before they had to. Hopefully he will make more plays than he gives up. He does have a good knack for the game, it seems.

Bradley Roby had a tough time in the first half making plays in the open field on some of the short stuff in front of him, and he lost leverage on a toss play, but he bounced back to turn in some nice plays in the second half. That included one fantastic play where he beat a blocker and made a tackle with one arm on a bubble screen. He also came up with two clutch plays on the Boilermakers’ first drive of the game. He continues to be Ohio State’s best corner. Travis Howard’s biggest impact came in overtime when he had a chance to bring down Robert Marve short of a first down and just kind of threw his body at him instead of hitting him and wrapping up. Shazier was also in pursuit there and seemed like he could have done more.

Christian Bryant continues his ups and downs, but C.J. Barnett seems to have regressed a bit from a strong start to the season. He hasn’t tackled as well lately. He might be overcompensating when things start to go badly with other players.

Johnny Simon had a pretty quiet day. I guess he is human.

Johnathan Hankins could be a huge loss, but Michael Bennett is going to be a very, very good player. He can make plays outside his frame already, and he plays with good leverage and violent hands.

Meanwhile, Garrett Goebel had a couple of bad moments early but overall had another fine day. He’s getting better at sorting through traffic and making something happen as opposed to just taking up blockers.

Random Observations:

  • Purdue’s touchdown drive midway through the second quarter was really a killer. The defense started with a pair of good plays then gave up an easy short throw to convert a third down. They got help from Purdue with a holding penalty then gave it back with a personal foul, and they gave up a 15-yard pass after getting a big first down tackle for loss when the Boilermakers pulled out a reverse that turned into a disaster. At that point, OSU pretty much just caved in mentally as the next three plays were all big gainers that featured multiple Buckeyes grasping for air or sliding off tackles. Multiple good chances to stop a team that had come out red hot on the early downs but didn’t have as much to show for it yet as it should.
  • The ball that bounced off C.J. Barnett’s chest was big, too. Could have been shades of Illinois when they really took control after an early turnover in the third quarter. Even if they had recovered TerBush’s fumble caused by Shazier on the same drive they could have picked up about 25 yards of field position.
  • On the touchdown drive in the fourth quarter we saw a zone-read mini bootleg pass to Devin Smith for a first down. That’s a play I don’t understand why we don’t see more given the current state of the passing game. I should also point out Miller actually throws pretty decently rolling to his left, all things considered.
  • As far as the running back situation, I find it odd that they so often run the “Dave” or power play for Carlos Hyde because he does not seem to have a good feel for that. Better to get his feet moving and let him feel for a hole. I don’t think the team really runs that play all that well, either, so it’s a double-whammy for him. I don’t have a problem with the rotation as it is as long as everyone is healthy. Hall and Herron bring some intangibles that are really necessary, and honestly, their uncanny ability to make people miss is essential as long as people are going to load the box. They have a better chance to make yards in those situations.
  • Overall, I think the game plan could have been salvaged with a few tweaks, such as a couple of basic screen passes or bubbles when they had eight in the box. They tried to go over the top and Miller just could not execute, whether that was a case of his rawness, the wind or something else. They also tried to bring back the fake Dave rollout tight end throwback pass that worked for a touchdown at Nebraska, but it was covered and Miller ended up being sacked. That was in overtime.
  • On the flip side, I’m not sure why they seem to fall into a defensive playcalling black hole at that stadium. Most of the things that hurt them on the last trip to West Lafayette – quick passes, bubble and jailbreak screens, draws and zone read runs – had them flummoxed again. They were on their heels all day, and playing to prevent the big play, which made it all the more unfortunate they missed so many tackles and chances at turnovers. I think Purdue does have a nice set of skill players and competent quarterbacks, but it’s fair to expect more from Ohio State defensively despite its youth.
  • Of course the most elementary of special teams plays made a major difference in a pivotal game in this post-Tressel season.
  • Props to the play by play man for the Edwin Moses hurdle reference on Miller’s fourth quarter touchdown pass. Think he knows Moses and Miller both come from the Dayton area?

Overheard at Ohio State Football: Purdue Week

Cleaning out my reporter’s notebook after another week of game preparations in Columbus… 

 

FICKELLISMS

The Ohio State head coach said the Buckeyes got back on track in the second half against Indiana by being physical offensively and finally making a big play on defense.

Turnovers are big these days because of the rise of offenses like Indiana that excel at biting off little chunks of yardage at a time.

He thinks his team has been decent at protecting the ball so far this year but the defense does not have enough takeaways.

Someone asked a dumb meaningless question about the team’s identity and he gave a fitting answer that meant nothing. It ended with the idea they are still growing as a team but Ohio State has had an identity for more than 100 years before this team was assembled.

Asked about the team’s struggles on the road, he said they need to make sure these players understand the challenge of every week no matter where the game is played.

He remembers from the 2009 upset by Purdue that Ohio State committed five turnovers, dropped a punt and gave up a touchdown on a screen pass. Also, Purdue played well. The team will be reminded they are 2-2 in the last 10 years (2-5 in last 11). That will be pounded into their heads. The lesson of the near-loss in 2002 will come up as well.

They know the passing game needs to improve for them to accomplish all their goals for this season. They ran so well against Indiana it made sense to keep running. The defense also needs to play better on third down.

He said sometimes young players are prone to slow starts in games because they have a harder time adjusting if something happens they did not see in preparation during the week. They have to come over and have the coaches show them on the board or explain it to them before they get what is happening. That is not true of Christian Bryant, though, because he is just a natural football player.

He said a couple of kickoffs out of bounds the past two weeks by Drew Basil are the result of a lack of concentration.

No biggie with Braxton Miller taking a big hit at the end of the Indiana game. It’s going to happen. He liked that Miller did not flinch about it, he made a good throw. He is used to taking shots from high school and has a good way of rolling with the punches. You cringe when you see him get nailed, but it’s part of the deal if the quarterback is going to run.

He stresses turnovers because it’s a topic that the whole team has to deal with – offense, defense and special team, then he referenced how it makes a difference with the way offense has evolved lately. He also mentioned the 2006 team was young and used turnovers to mask some things (plus that offense never put the defense in a bad position until the last two games of the year).

The receivers are still coming along, but it takes a while for them to get going in Ohio State’s system because they are very demanding. There is a lot to learn. That also helps them when it comes to draft time, though. It’s different than some places where they throw you on the field and say to find an open area.

Seeing Boom Herron excited for Carlos Hyde running in the last touchdown of the game against Indiana is what being on a team is all about. They are part of something bigger than themselves.

He sees Purdue as a pretty balanced offense if you count screens and bubble plays as runs, which he does. That’s different than last year when they were more run-oriented.

There is no one specific thing causing the defense to struggle in the fourth quarter at times, but the unit needs to keep working on putting bad things behind it quickly. That’s been an issue all year. They have very high standards and go into shock when one thing doesn’t go their way.

PLAYERS SAYETH:

Senior running back Boom Herron said Zach Boren (who was sitting next to him at the time) is a great blocker who opens a lot of holes for him. Boren in turn said it is fun to block for Herron.

Herron said Hyde seems happy after having a big game against Indiana. It is good to have two good backs available for a team. He has been working hard in practice.

Herron’s ankle felt good at practice and he figures he will be fine this weekend. He first hurt himself against Wisconsin. He said Jordan Hall looked good at practice, too.

He is a different person on the field, crazy and talkative and fired up, than in front of reporters.

He has seen Miller come out of his shell a little bit since the start of the year. Most players speak more the older they get.

Junior fullback Zach Boren said a lot of people also change when they get out on the field. They get fired up and go nuts.

Miller is a mellow guy. They used to have a hard time hearing him make the play call in the huddle, but now he sounds more confident. He doubts Miller will ever be a hoot-and-hollar guy, but that’s OK.

He remembers feeling awful leaving Purdue in ’09 after the Buckeyes were upset there. The Boilermakers took it to them and got a lot of pressure on the quarterback.

Their biggest focus this week is on starting fast. They have to be there ready to go. Purdue is a good home team.

The team liked seeing Miller bounce back from the big hit he took late last week.

Purdue does not have another individual standout like Ryan Kerrigan, but their defense is strong overall. They are aggressive and like to attack. They also have a big defensive line.

He loves that Herron runs north and south.

Boren never heard that he was considered as an option as the third tailback at the beginning of the year when Herron and Hall were suspended and Jaamal Berry was hurt. He’ll do whatever the coaches ask, but he doesn’t think fans would be happy with what they saw if he was back there.

The team is having a lot of fun now that they are are winning. It has been fun watching the growth.

Sophomore guard Jack Mewhort said he has refined his technique pulling on the “power” play (“Dave”), working to stay tighter to the line when he goes, and he has gotten better.

Antonio Underwood, who worked as the starting right tackle with J.B. Shugarts nursing a knee injury, is a good athlete. He is intense and physical and he keeps his feet moving when he is blocking. He does a good job keeping his composure. Mewhort and Marcus Hall also saw some time at right tackle. They have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions up front.

He joked he calls center Mike Brewster, “The Professor” because he knows everything about the line calls and the offense.

He was not at the Purdue game in ’09 because he was redshirting, but he can tell it sticks with the coaches and the older guys who were there.

Spirits are high with the team on a winning streak now. The Big Ten championship game is becoming a more tangible goal as they get closer to it. Guys are excited about playing for that.

Miller is always calm and never shows any ups and downs. He always has a smile and stays composed. He is confident but not cocky.

Mewhort doesn’t have any favorite plays, but he likes when they call trick plays. He also gets excited when they are on the goal line or in short yardage situations and they can mash people.

Moving to right guard from left guard was weird at first but now feels fine.

ASSISTANTS ADDED:

Assistant defensive coordinator and safeties coach Paul Haynes said they always look back at a game and find things they could do better. They made some defensive calls that could have been better, but the players played hard. Indiana’s offense was tough to prepare for.

Purdue is somewhat similar to Indiana in that it does some spread and will run the quarterback. They will throw it more and have some playmakers on the outside though.

Christian Bryant had some nervous days last year when the doctors could not figure out what medicine to use to treat the foot infection he was suffering from, but eventually they did. He was thankful to be able to return to the playing field. He is still a young kid learning to play a second position. Star was more natural to him. He is picking up safety, which requires more eye control. He’s allowed to be more aggressive at star, and things are happening more right in front of him. He is an instinctive football player kind of like Jermale Hines.

He spends more time paying attention to his guys during practice, but he sees Miller as a natural born leader. The guys seem to rally around him on offense and listen to him. He walks around practice like a guy with leadership qualities.

Tyler Moeller has settled into his role at Star this year.

They have not changed their approach in recruiting. They are always looking for guys who appreciate Ohio State for what it is as an institution and a program, who want to be Buckeyes. They are up front with guys about the uncertain future. It’s not harder this year than it has been in the past. Guys who might go elsewhere this year could have made the same decision in another year.

Wide receivers coach Stan Drayton has a chain with a link that represents each receiver in his room, and the guy who does the most to represent what it means to work hard and sacrifice for each other gets to wear the chain at the end of the week.

They knew going in the wide receivers would be growing all season. The team is playing to its strength this season, and that is running the ball, so the receivers need to know they have to be ready for their opportunities when they arrive. They are still learning, and so is the quarterback, which is a factor.

He finds it satisfying to turn on the tape and find two of his freshmen receivers running down the field to block for Hyde on a long run.

The receivers have handled not getting the ball a lot better than he might have expected they would. They still want to have balance to protect the running game.

Receivers have at times been able to get on top of the coverage, but there have been other times they have not been able to get open. So they are a threat, but they are still developing.

He hasn’t found it as difficult to recruit this year as you might think. Ohio State is still Ohio State. The program has absorbed problems in the past without seeing a dip in recruiting. They are combing their backyard this year for the right kids.

Asked about a play inside the 10-yard line when Miller was sacked by an unblocked blitzer, he said Miller saw it and reacted correctly but the hot receiver did not, so the quarterback had to eat it. The receiver did not adjust fast enough to a look that was different than they saw on film during the week.

DeVier Posey has grown up here around some other high draft picks, and he knows what he is doing. He’s going to be on fire when he hits the field next week for his first game of the season against Penn State. He has definitely been missed. His preparation has been tremendous with the way he studies film and gets ready. It is unbelievable how he has handled his situation. It has been extremely hard on him. Football is still an escape for him, where his comfort zone exists.

He smiled when asked about Chris Fields being called for holding a few times. He said it’s an aggressive mistake he has to learn from. They keep encouraging him. It’s a mindset to get the job done without grabbing.

Big Ten Division Overview: What should be the East

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We might also call this the Division Formed To Accommodate Ohio State (DFTAOS), but I’m still working on proper titles for the new divisions. At any rate, here’s how I judge the teams on talent/experience/etc. without consideration of the schedule just yet:

Waning minutes of Wisconsin's last trip to Ohio Stadium
  1. Wisconsin
  2. Ohio State
  3. Penn State
  4. Purdue
  5. Illinois
  6. Indiana

As with the other division, I am pretty torn at the top. Ohio State and Wisconsin both have holes to fill but seem to be the most talented on paper in a division that should never have been allowed to take this form (but that’s for another time).

The Buckeyes have been outrecruiting the rest of the conference for years, but Wisconsin has done a nice job finding players who fit its specific needs as well as grabbing diamonds in the rough from recruiting hotbeds such as Ohio and Florida.

How crazy a year is it at the top in the Big Ten?

The favorites in this division might both be quarterback by players who have never taken a snap for their respective schools before this season. That means two drastically different things for Ohio State and Wisconsin, however. While the Buckeyes might turn to a youngster such as Braxton Miller or Taylor Graham if less-talented veterans Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton don’t impress in preseason practice, Badger fans are hoping N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson will give them reason to jump around all afternoon and into the night. He’s a great talent, but his time to work with his new teammates will be limited before the bullets start flying – and there will be a particular set of silver ones hoping to unleash hell in Columbus one evening in October.

Of course, both quarterback situations could turn out to be mediocre and both offenses might still be pretty good because both look like they could have stellar lines and deep backfields.

What either team gets out of its wide receivers is a question mark heading into the season, particularly with OSU senior DeVier Posey suspended for the first five games. Badger senior Nick Toon is the only other player from either unit to bring much name recognition into this campaign.

Defensively, there will be many new faces, but I am giving the nod to Ohio State at all three levels of the defense.

The OSU line got pushed around in Madison last season, but 3/4ths of Badgers’ defensive front wasn’t all that intimidating for the majority of the year. Without stud J.J. Watt this year, I am having a hard time anticipating this Wisconsin group being better. Ohio State lost an all-conference performer itself in the form of Cameron Heyward, but there is hope sophomore Johnathan Hankins can become a true force this year after brief flashes during his sophomore season, and Nathan Williams and Johnny Simon both look ready to break out in their second seasons as starters.

Linebacker is a push. Andrew Sweat of Ohio State should be one of the best in the conference, as is the case with Wisconsin’s Mike Taylor. Then we have both units figuring to depend heavily on getting big plays from players who missed most of last season with upper body injuries. Can Badger Chris Borland (shoulder) and Buckeye Tyler Moeller (pectoral) hold up this season? They will be crucial.

Both teams like to play bend-but-don’t-break in the secondary, but I’m giving the early nod to Ohio State based on the standout play of its new cornerbacks in spring ball (This is of course an example of some of the limitations of previewing an entire conference while specializing on one team, but this is all pretty much for fun anyway, right?).

Ultimately, I gave Wisconsin the overall nod in the preseason rankings because it’s probably better to rely on a new veteran quarterback than a new young one.

Moving on: Penn State could be a darkhorse here. The Nittany Lions have two quarterbacks with experience back, but they might end up confirming one of John Cooper’s favorite sayings: A coach who thinks he has two quarterbacks often has none.

The more talented of the pair looks to me like Rob Bolden, but can he beat out Matt McGloin? We shall see. Signal-caller figures to be the key to success there because there is a lot to like about new starter Silas Redd at tailback and there are several receivers with the potential to be productive players. The offensive line has some questions but brings back three starters, and contributions from the tight ends should be improved this year with better health and more experience.

Defensively, there were few offseason signs a sub-par front will be better this year, but linebacker could improve thanks to the graduation of a pair of starting stiffs from last season and the potential of a healthy Michael Mauti. The secondary has solid corner D’Anton Lynn and a potential standout in young Malcolm Willis to build around.

I am willing to believe Purdue could be significantly better this year, but I don’t think the Boilermakers can overtake PSU. Head coach Danny Hope’s team has to be due for some better health, right? He says he feels good about all his quarterbacks, but they have to stay out of the training room before they can prove him right.  They should get help from a running game that welcomes back Ralph Bolden. Defensively, Purdue was surprisingly competent last year and despite the loss of super end Ryan Kerrigan has three good-looking players to build around in tackle Kawann Short, linebacker Joe Holland and cornerback Ricardo Allen.

Illinois had a nice comeback last season, and I like young quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but I’m not convinced the Fighting Illini can overcome the heavy losses they suffered to early entry into the NFL draft, especially on defense.

The future might be bright with Indiana under new head coach Kevin Wilson, but breaking in a new starting quarterback, finding a No. 1 running back who can stay out of trouble and rebuilding what was an awful defense last season is a lot to take care of in one year.

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Big Ten Football Pre-Fall Preview: Purdue Boilermakers

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Known commodities: The top four tacklers are back on defense, including safety Logan Link (91 stops), linebackers Dwayne Beckford (84) and Joe Holland (73) and cornerback Ricardo Allen (73). After a standout freshman campaign in 2010, many regard Allen as a future star. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is a handful inside. Ralph Bolden flashed the potential to be a top-shelf Big Ten running back in 2009 but missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He could be a big part this season if he returns to his old form.

Questions: Because of injuries, Robert Marve, Rob Henry and Sean Robinson all saw time at quarterback last season and all figure to get a shot to earn the starting job in preseason camp. Who will emerge? Who will replace all-world defensive end Ryan Kerrigan? Can the Boilermakers avoid the injury problems that have hurt them so much recently?

Spring game recap: Rob Henry and sophomore Caleb TerBush both each threw a touchdown pass for the Gold in a 14-3 victory over the Black. Henry, a 6-2, 198-pound sophomore, hit Justin Siller from six yards out in the first quarter while TerBush hooked up with Normando Harris from the same distance in the third. Henry completed 8 of 12 passes for 76 yards and threw an interception. TerBush was 9 for 14 for 96 yards and the score for the Gold and went 7 for 13 for another 40 yards when calling signals for the Black. Siller hauled in four passes for 45 yards, but the day’s leading receiver was Gold teammate Antavian Edison, who snagged five passes for 47 yards. Gavin Roberts was the game’s leading rusher with 48 yards on 13 carries for the Black.

Issues addressed: In his third spring as head coach of the Boilermakers, head coach Danny Hope said he saw improvements in all three phases of the game, but at a school that bills itself as a cradle for quarterbacks, there could be no doubt about what position would garner the most interest.

Henry entered spring as the No. 1 quarterback and remained there, although Hope said then that Marve will challenge him in the fall when he is fully recovered from a knee injury suffered early last season. Marve was limited in the spring, making way for TerBush to collect a healthy amount of reps.

Offensive coordinator Gary Nord told the Purdue Exponent earlier this month that Marve just recently became cleared to practice and Henry should expect to start the season opener.

The Boilermakers also expect to get back the services of Bolden, a shifty 5-9, 194-pounder who missed last season with a serious knee injury. He was cleared for spring practice but held out of contact.

On the other side of the ball, the biggest shoes to fill belonged to All-Big Ten defensive end Kerrigan, who was nearly impossible to keep out of opposing backfields the past couple of years.

The three players who received the most chances to win the job were redshirt freshmen Rashad Frazier and Ryan Russell and juniors Eric Mebane and Robert Maci.

“Normally, you get one or two things at the end spot,” Hope said. “You get little guys that are really fast or a big guy that’s kind of fast. These guys are big guys that have really good athleticism. You look back over the years at Purdue and we’ve had a lot of hybrid defensive ends that went on later in life and played linebacker in the NFL. These guys can be big ends and they can be hard to come by. They have great upside.”

Advanced statistical revelations*: The Football Outsiders numbers reveal Purdue was not very good at much of anything last year, but injuries surely have a lot to do with that. The Boilermakers’ record adjusts to 1-11 based on how they played week in and week out, but they figure to be due more luck this year.

The defense was proficient at preventing big plays and posted a solid success rate with the exception of passing downs.

Pro prospects** The NFP is not high at all on Marve, whom it doesn’t seem to view as possessing much more than good wheels for a quarterback. Otherwise the evaluator finds him short, weak-armed and limited in how he reads the field.

Offensive tackle Dennis Kelly is rated a hard-worker who shows decent athleticism while blocking for the run but a limited ability to hold up in pass protection. His leverage is questioned in both areas.

Safety Albert Evans is a good tackler with a nose for the ball but limited athletically as a pass defender.

Issues remaining/other thoughts: Hope has not been dealt an easy hand to play, but there are reasons to be optimistic about what he is building at Purdue. The injuries prevented the Boilermakers from making a run at a bowl last year, and though they lost Kerrigan, there are some worthwhile pieces to build around, most notably Short. Of course, there is a question about how much better Kerrigan made his mates look last year based on the attention he demanded.

Running back depth behind Bolden is a concern, but Antavian Edison, Siller and O.J. Ross offer some intriguing weapons out wide.

*SBNation has spent the summer previewing teams across the country using Football Outsiders’ advanced stats. They’ve started a movement not unlike SABRmetrics in baseball, and while I don’t agree with all of the tenets they are establishing, I find them often informative and always interesting. This is just my takeaway from the lengthy preview for this squad. 
**These are culled from evaluations published by Wes Bunting of The National Football Post. He goes in-depth on a handful of draft-eligible players on every team, and I have significantly boiled them down, so I recommend you read the whole thing.