October 18, 2012

Q&A: Breaking down the Boilermakers

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite a final score that was closer than anybody could have expected, the Ohio State football team managed to escape Bloomington, Ind. with its undefeated record intact last week. The next potential road block for the Buckeyes comes in the form of a 3-3 Purdue squad that has beaten Ohio State in two of the teams' past three meetings.

In order to get a better understanding of the Boilermakers heading into this weekend's game, I chatted with Brian Neubert of GoldandBlack.com to get his thoughts on the upcoming Big Ten battle.

BA: After such a strong start, what do you think has happened to Purdue as a whole in these past two weeks where it's suffered blowouts to Michigan and Wisconsin?

BN: Well, I don't think there's any other way to put it except that Purdue got exposed. You know, coming out of that Notre Dame game, Purdue did enough did good things in defeat to really give some reasons for optimism heading into those two Big Ten-opening home games against Michigan and Wisconsin, both of whom are good, but didn't look unbeatable.

Now that Notre Dame game seems like it was years ago, because any warm-and-fuzzies people might have gotten from watching this team that day are long gone. Michigan and Wisconsin just beat Purdue in every sense of the term in every phase of the game. The losses were too decisive and too similar for the, "We just didn't play well," line to hold any water.

Purdue has really struggled to score against big-boy defenses this year and a defense that looked pretty good through the first month of the season has been dominated the past two weekends to what might have been a historic level, having allowed more than a thousand yards between the last two games. Denard Robinson had 235 and Montee Ball 247. I kind of view Braxton Miller as kind of a cross between the two so that would certainly not bode well.

What's been particularly disconcerting the past two weekends is that Purdue's strengths have been made its weaknesses. The defensive line was very good through the first four games and is supposed to be the strength of probably the entire team. But Purdue's lost the line of scrimmage decidedly two weeks running now.

Purdue came into the season expecting very good quarterback play, too. It hasn't gotten it.

BA: At different points this season, I've seen Robert Marve, Rob Henry, and Caleb TerBush all play quarterback for the Boilermakers. What's the current status of the Purdue quarterback position?

BN: Caleb TerBush, last year's starter, is the starter again and the guy this coaching staff is clearly committed to. Robert Marve injured his knee a few weeks ago, but is already back.

None of the quarterbacks played well against Wisconsin, but prior, Marve had really done some good things and given the offense a distinct spark. But the coaching staff trusts TerBush more to make decisions.

It's been a hot topic around Purdue and one that's become a real divisive issue outside the program. There are many proponents out there.

Henry will work in, too, now that he's back fully from the knee injury that cost him last season. He's their best athlete at the position and can bring a different element to the field.

I have no idea if Purdue can reasonably play all three guys very much. That would seem a bit much.

BA:Throughout the season, the Buckeyes have had trouble containing offensive players in space. Who are some potential playmakers who could hurt the Buckeyes with big plays on Saturday?

BN: Purdue really likes its speed and quickness at receiver. It's not been able to use it all that much against good defenses, but it's certainly an aim of the offense to get the ball to Antavian Edison, Gary Bush and O.J. Ross in space.

All three are smallish but they are quick and fast and Purdue will throw a lot of screens to them and a lot of swings to the boundary to try to get them in one-on-one situations.

Protection concerns will have Purdue looking to throw a good number of those quick passes. Aside from a deep ball it hit against Wisconsin, the Boilermakers have very rarely had much success throwing the ball vertically.

BA: With the emergence of Carlos Hyde and the Ohio State offensive line, the Buckeyes have found a lot of success lately running the ball. What do the Boilermakers have to do to put up a better effort against OSU than they did against the Badgers?

BN: Well, they obviously have to re-assert themselves physically up front. That's a big part of why this has all gone sideways the past two weeks defensively: Purdue has just been getting pushed off the line of scrimmage. No one saw that coming a few weeks ago.

This defense has real limitations behind that line. Its linebackers are inexperienced and in some cases not terribly physical. They need to be covered up by better play up front.

And Purdue's tackling has been horrific the past two games. That has to improve considerably.

BA: How would you describe the current state of the Purdue football program and what are it's goals and expectations for this season?

BN: Well, from an outsider's perspective, expectations now change. For a team with this much experience, particularly at some very important positions, and a schedule that looked really favorable, there was talk before the season and well into the season of Purdue being a legitimate contender to make the Big Ten title game out of the Leaders Division, with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible.

You won't be hearing any more of that talk any time soon. With the way the last two games have gone, you now have to look at Purdue and figure that getting to six or seven wins and getting back to the postseason might not the ceiling for this group.


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