Posted: August 10th, 2011 | by: Blog Davie
Categories: College Football, Hawkeyes, Irish
Notre Dame’s close ties with the Big Tweleven means that every year the Hawkeyes and Irish play a number of common opponents. Despite these close ties, Iowa and Notre Dame have surprisingly played only 12 common opponents in the last 5 years. During that span the Hawkeyes boast the upper hand, posting a barely-acceptable 7-5 record, while the Irish chime in with an appalling 3-9 record.
This year the teams’ schedules are particularly common opponent friendly with both teams facing Michigan, Michigan State, Pitt and Purdue. In the next couple of weeks, we will preview each of these teams in no particular order.
Today’s common enemy: The Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue enters the third season of the Danny Hope era looking for their first winning season and first bowl appearance under his watch. In his first two seasons, the Boilermakers struggled to a 9-15 record. In Hope’s defense though, the Boilermakers have been plagued by injuries. Last season alone Purdue lost their top running back, top receiver and top two quarterbacks for all or part of the year.
Purdue’s offense last year was, well, downright offensive. The Boilermaker’s were dead last in the Big Tweleven in both scoring and total offense, averaging 19.7 points and 312 yards per contest. Those numbers were good for 112th and 105th nationally. To make matters worse, Purdue was near the bottom of the conference in turnover margin, averaging a half a turnover more than their opponents per contest.
Assuming the injury bug subsides, the dumpster fire that was the Boilermaker’s offense should be much improved in 2011. With 7 returning starters, 4 quarterbacks with at least one career start, and solid line depth, offensive coordinator Gary Nord will have plenty of pieces in place. While they won’t set the world on fire, the Boilermakers have the potential to put up decent numbers on this side of the ball.
Purdue is often referred to as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks.” The list of Boilermaker quarterbacks who have gone on to have successful NFL careers is long and distinguished (like my Johnson) and includes Drew Brees, Scott Campbell, Gary Danielson, Len Dawson, Bob Demoss, Billy Dicken, Chris Everett, Bob Griese, Mark Herrmann, Eric Hunter, Cecil Isbell, Kyle Orton, Mike Phipps and Dale Samuels (if you know more than half of these names I’m impressed).
While none of the current quarterbacks will likely join this list, they should prove to be serviceable. Most expect senior Robert Marve and true sophomore Rob Henry to be the frontrunners for the starting job going into fall practice, but it’s anyone’s guess who will be the starting quarterback on September 3rd versus Middle Tennessee. Danny Hope added to the uncertainty at the Big Tweleven Media Days by hinting that both quarterbacks could play.
On one hand, Marve, the once coveted super recruit and Miami transfer, is the more polished passer (67.7% completion percentage), but his decision making remains suspect, and he has durability issues. He opened last season as the starter and held the spot until he suffered a knee injury against Toledo. Due to his injuries, he’s also looking to become the Jess Settles of Purdue.
Henry, on the other hand, is a poor man’s (nay, a homeless man’s) Tim Tebow. He plays bigger than his 6-2 200 lb size and led the Boilermakers in rushing last season with 547 yards (5.4 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. Expect plenty of zone read and designed quarterback runs when Henry is in the game.
Although Henry is a solid running threat, he will need to improve his passing if he’s going to be the starter. Last season he completed just over 50% of his passes for 996 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. While some of his struggles can be attributed to a hand injury, he must prove he can throw the ball down field to keep defenses from loading the box – he averaged just 6.1 yards per pass attempt in 2010.
Two years ago Ralph Bolden led the Boilermakers in rushing with 935 yards at 4.7 yards per carry. Bolden was expected to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark 2010, but he tore his ACL in spring practice and missed the entire season. Assuming Bolden has fully recovered from his injury, he gives the Boilermakers the homerun threat that they have been missing and is a good safety valve in the passing game.
With the graduation of Dan Dierking (4.5 ypc), the depth chart behind Bolden is a little murky. Nevertheless, look for solid production from juco transfer Akeem Shavers. Shavers hails from Tyler Junior College in Texas where he had 450 yards on only 50 carries last season. He reportedly runs a 4.4 forty, which really means he doesn’t, but he’s probably still pretty fast.
Probably the biggest issue offensively for the Boilermakers is receiver. Purdue loses three of the top four pass catchers from 2010. They do, however, return the second-leading receiver, Antavian Edison (32 rec, 316 yds, 4 td). Joining Edison will be Justin Siller, who missed last season due to suspension, and four game starter, sophomore O.J. Ross. Ross’s speed will likely be used to blow the lid off of zone defenses, and don’t be surprised to see some trickeration with the converted quarterback Siller in the lineup.
At tight end, the Boilermakers will miss Kyle Adams, who caught 36 balls last year. In his absence, sophomore Gabe Holmes will need to step up his production. Holmes has only one career reception (leading all TE’s on the roster), but he played his prep ball at perennial powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas and should be used to the spotlight.
Given their experience and depth, the Boilermakers should have their best offensive line in years. Four starters return from a unit that surrendered only 18 sacks despite spending much of the season blocking for inexperienced signal-callers. The line also paved the way for an improved running game that averaged 161 yards per game at nearly 4.5 yards per carry.
This unit is led by preseason All-Big Tweleven guard Ken Plue. Last season Plue was named to the Outland Trophy watched list and has been named to the watch list again this season.
Purdue finished last season in the bottom-half of the Big Tweleven in both scoring defense and total defense, surrendering 28.8 points and 369 yards per game. The Boilermakers were particularly vulnerable through the air as opposing quarterbacks completed over 65% of their passes against an inexperienced secondary. Despite Purdue’s lack of offensive production, defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel did a pretty decent job keeping the Boilermakers competitive in several contests.
Much like the offense, look for the defense to take a step forward this season. Despite the loss of 1st Team All-American Ryan Kerrigan, the Boilermakers return 18 of the top 20 tacklers from last season. In addition, the entire secondary should improve with another year of experience.
Simply put, there is no way to replace Ryan Kerrigan’s production or replicate his impact on a game. He was a once in a generation defensive end, and Purdue will have to replace his production by committee.
Fortunately for the Boilermakers, 3 starters return as do 6 of the top 8 defensive linemen. Second Team All-Big Tweleven defensive tackle Kawann Short will anchor this unit. Last season Short tallied 41 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. Although Short is talented, it remains to be seen how the loss of Kerrigan will impact his production.
Joining Short in the middle will be sophomore Bruce Gaston. Gaston had a productive freshman campaign, recording 26 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Notre Dame fans may recall that he was nearly Irish before eventually signing with the Boilermakers. I’ll only lament that fact if he has a good game against the Irish.
Junior Robert Maci and senior Gerald Gooden are projected as the starters on the ends. Both are slightly undersized but athletic. If either of these ends can be 2/3 as productive as Kerrigan, Gary Emanuel will be happy.
In Purdue’s 4-3 scheme, the linebackers need to be very active. Junior Dwayne Beckford will start at middle linebacker and is a potential All-Big Tweleven talent. Last season, he recorded 84 tackles, including 3 tackles for loss. Sophomore Will Lucas is the projected starter at strong side linebacker, and senior Joe Holland will hold down the weakside linebacker spot. The Boilermakers will need Lucas to step up and be active in opponents’ backfields to replace Jason Werner’s 9.5 tackles for loss, and they will need Holland to replicate his 73 tackles from 2010.
Last season the Boilermakers’ defensive backfield was extremely green. As a result, Purdue gave up over 230 yards per game through the air. This unit is led by senior strong safety Logan Link. Link paced the Boilermakers with 91 tackles last season (not necessarily good for the team, but a good individual effort nonetheless). He also proved serviceable against the pass, recording 3 pass breakups and 1 interception.
At free safety, senior Albert Evans should be improved with another year under his belt. Evans is a strong tackler who also recorded 2 sacks last season.
Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson should round out the defensive backfield as the starting corners. Allen led the team last season with 3 interceptions and also tallied 73 tackles. Johnson also proved to be serviceable, breaking up 6 passes and recording 1 interception to go along with 53 stops.
All in all, this unit is slightly undersized, but look for improvement if for no other reason than they can’t get any worse.
Purdue’s special teams are a mixed bag. The Boilermakers had minimal production out of the return game, averaging less than 20 yards per kickoff return and less than 6 yards a punt return. Purdue could benefit from an influx of speed in the return game. Perhaps the coaching staff will give speedster O.J. Ross a shot at returner this season.
While Purdue may be lacking in the return game, the Boilermakers have a strong kicking game. Simply put, place kicker Carson Wiggs has a boot. Wiggs connected on 15 of 19 field goal attempts last season with a long of 52. Danny Hope is on record saying he wants Wiggs to set the NCAA record for longest field goal (I guess it’s good to have goals no matter how trivial).
Although Wiggs is a decent punter, punting duties likely rest on the foot of sophomore Cody Webster. Last season, Webster averaged 43.3 yards per punt with a long of 79. Webster has the ability to flip the field to take the stress off of the Purdue defense. Somewhere Kirk Ferentz has a chub.
I think that Boilermakers will get Cleveland-Steamed in a few constests, but they will ultimately scratch, claw, and ankle-bite their way to six wins and their first bowl appearance under Danny Hope. Despite the predictions over at Hammer and Rails, however, I expect both the Hawkeyes and Irish to beat the Boilermakers this season. Indeed, if Purdue beats either Iowa or Notre Dame, I will drink a Boilermaker in defeat. I just might drink one in victory too.