Based solely on history, we should lose this game. Purdue has recently not played well when going out to the West Coast. We are 3-7-2 against Pac-10 opponents on the road, with only one win (at Arizona in 2005) coming since 1970. Worst yet, we have the first negative comment coming from coach Hope. I don't think I was alone this week when his preference for staying closer to home sounded an awful lot like coach Tiller's famous anti-Hawaii dialectic in 2006. If you count the Hawaii trip as a west coast trip (and I do in terms of distance) here are our results since 1970 playing in the Mountain Time Zone or further west:
10/3/1970 at Stanford W 26-14 (Ironically, the day my sister was born, so I blame her)
9/18/1971 at Washington L 35-38
9/27/1975 at Southern Cal L 6-19
9/15/1979 at UCLA L 21-31
9/12/1987 at Washington L 10-28
9/16/1989 at Washington L 9-38
9/14/1991 at California L 18-42
8/30/1998 at Southern Cal L 17-27
1/1/2001 vs. Washington (Rose Bowl) L 24-34
12/31/2001 vs. Washington State (Sun Bowl) L 27-33
12/31/2002 vs. Washington (Sun Bowl) W 34-24
12/31/2004 vs. Arizona State (Sun Bowl) L 23-27
9/17/2005 at Arizona W 31-24
11/25/2006 at Hawaii L 35-42
Well, let's just say we're going to get something much different from what we originally expected. In my original Know thy Opponent from over the summer there was plenty to fear. As one reader pointed out, we did not see the zone read option. I would argue that we still haven't truly seen it this year. In a move I don't completely understand, Oregon seemed to be afraid of running it against Boise State. On the one drive they did run it, they scored. The rest of the time it was like they panicked and decided they needed to throw in order to catch up. Jeremiah Masoli had a very inaccurate night throwing the ball, and the rest was history.
Masoli was 14 of 27 for 121 yards and an interception against the Broncos. Oregon also had just 17 rushing attempts for 31 yards as a team. By comparison, they ran 43 times 306 yards and two scores against us. Oregon is not going to have any success if they run the ball just 17 times. They will probably have more success passing against us because our pass defense was so awful last week, but this is a run-oriented team. Boise State did a good job of stopping the run and taking them out of their comfort zone, so that is what we must do. Masoli had a terrible game against Boise, generating just 6 first downs. He is still an incredible talent and we can't rely on him to be awful again.
Of course, the main thing to discuss with that running game is the loss of LeGarrette Blount. It is an issue, so let's talk about it. Last year, Oregon was a triple threat running team. Blount and Jeremiah Johnson each passed the 1,000 yard mark, while Masoli nearly did as well. Johnson is gone to the NFL, while Blount is obviously gone due to suspension. In truth, we did a good job against Blount last year except for one play. He had 12 carries for 132 yards and two scores, but one carry was a 72 yard run that was a huge momentum shift. We had Oregon backed up deep in their own territory and that big run eventually allowed them to tie the game. The only Oregon offensive player we will see that had a rushing attempt in last year's game is tight end Ed Dickson, who had three carries for 18 yards.
Dickson is actually one of the players I fear the most, as well as running back LaMichael James. Dickson was their leading receiver with 7 catches for 93 yards last year, while he had two cacthes for 19 yards against Boise State. James, in my mind, was the better back than Blount last Thursday. He only had two carries, but he went for 22 yards and had a very impressive 17 yard run on their scoring drive. He is a player that needs to touch the ball more for Oregon, and he certainly will this week. Dickson and Jeff Maehl give Oregon big targets to throw two over the middle, which was a glaring weakness for us against Toledo.
Finally, I would like to see our defensive line have a better week without having to face the heat and humidity. Kawann Short, Mike Neal, and Gerald Gooden all had to leave the Toledo game because of dehydration issues, and as a result we couldn't get a ton of pressure. Oregon had some huge offensive line issues last week, and we have to have everyone healthy to exploit that. The key to disrupting their read option is penetration from the front four. This will allow our linebackers to play back and cover the middle, which they couldn't do against Toledo. If we can be as effective as Boise State was, I like our chances.
Here are the highlights from Oregon's game one
These guys kept the Ducks in last week's game and it should have been a win if not for the ineptness of the offense. They gave up 361 yards, including 164 on the ground, but that was only on 2.8 yards per carry. Most importantly, they bent but did not break. Boise State had four drives end in field goal attempts, but managed just three points because of misses or bad snaps. It will be critical that we get some points on every drive that crosses the 40 because Oregon can buckle down and defend in the red zone. Having a kicker that can bomb from 60 is great in this regard, and hitting from 53 last year at Ohio State shows he can so it in a hostile environment.
Unfortunately for Oregon, their best defensive player, safety T.J. Ward, may be unavailable for the game. Early on in the Boise game Ward seemed to be the only Oregon defensive player interested in stopping the Broncos. Even playing half the game he led with 11 tackles and had one tackle for loss. Kenny Rowe could be a factor as well, as he finished the game with a pair of sacks.
It will be important for us to continue being unpredictable on the offensive side of the ball. Lost in Saturday's game was the way Gary Nord mixed things up. We ran more formations than I can ever remember us running, and we were very successful in each set. Obviously, our offensive line and fullbacks did a great job in clearing holes for Jaycen Taylor and Ralph Bolden. The return of Frank Halliburton will only help an already very good situation. If our offensive line can continue to muscle Oregon's front seven around we will have a very successful day.
Boise State had success early against the run, but Oregon adjusted to have a much better second half defensively. This was a lot like our game with the Ducks last year. Boise had every chance to blow them out, but failed to take advantage. As a result, Oregon had plenty of chances to get back in it. Boise was also very sloppy with the ball, fumbling four times without being touched. We must avoid that fate.
Oregon Special Teams:
It is hard to judge this area because the Ducks did not attempt a field goal or even an extra point, new punter Jackson Rice was very impressive, however, with a 44 yard average on seven kicks. Walter Thurmond is a dangerous returner we have to look out for on both punts and kickoffs. Boise State averaged better than 30 yards per kickoff return, but our blocking must get better first. Our coverage needs to be light years better on kickoffs facing their speed or we will give up a big return.
It is pretty safe to say that Oregon is a team in severe disarray right now, while Purdue has everyone on the same page. How Oregon responds after 10 days will be a major factor in this game. There were reports of players sniping at coaches on the sidelines while former coach Mike Belotti overshadowed Chip Kelly on several occasions. I guess it is a good thing that Joe Tiller is now 1,000 miles away in Wyoming. We have the advantage that this is fully Danny Hope's program now, where you get the sense that Belotti hasn't completely handed over the reins yet.
Oregon's playcalling has to be much better against us, but our own defense has to tackle better and not give up easy yards over the middle in the passing game. I still don't think we have seen our run defense yet because Toledo barely tried to run against us. If Oregon is smart, they will test us against the run early. They cannot afford to go away from their strength like they did against Boise State.
Finally, we cannot afford to make the crowd a factor. Let's face it, we have sucked on the road of late. Our last win in a hostile venue came at Minnesota in 2007 (though the Motor City Bowl was almost a Central Michigan home game). That is eight straight losses, and we have to go back to our win at Wisconsin in 2003 for the last time we beat a team on the road that finished with a winning record. Autzen Stadium is known as one of the best home venues in the nation. The Duck fans are anxious to prove the Boise State game was a fluke, so we need to not let them be a huge factor. If we do win, I think this would be our most impressive win since that 2003 game at Wisconsin.
Keys for Purdue:
- Continue to mix it up on offense.
- Continue to get dominant play from the offensive line
- Tackle better
- Get penetration along the defensive front to disrupt the read option
- Defend the middle of the field in the passing game
To me, these are all minor fixes from the Toledo game. I am confident we can make them, as well. Coach Hope will have this team beleiving it can pull the upset, and I feel a whole lot better about doing so compared to a week ago at this time.