The success of Purdue's 2011 football season is based on a 3-0 start. We should be heavily favored in each of our first three games even though we were 4-8 last year. The fourth game, against Notre Dame is a toss-up at best and I don't trust us any more to beat the Fighting Irish, so I am done predicting a win over them even though I said we could win back in December. Only the most deluded of Purdue fans can expected a win there, and my delusion has sadly reached a limit that I no longer expect to win that game for a long time.
There are certain games that I think we should win no matter what, however, and one of those is Southeast Missouri State. Yes, they were a very good 1-AA team last season that made the playoffs, but they are still a 1-AA team. In my mind there is no excuse whatsoever for a Big Ten team to ever lose to a 1-AA team because of the inherent advantages we have.
Then why am I scared of this game?
2010 Record: 9-3 (Ohio Valley Conference Champions)
Bowl Result: Lost 37-17 in First round of 1-AA playoffs to eventual champion Eastern Washington
Blog Representation: None
Series with Purdue: First Meeting
Last Season for the Redhawks
The Redhawks had a solid season, making the 1-AA playoffs for the first time ever as their conference champion. Their only losses were 27-10 at Ball State, 29-27 to Jacksonville State, and the playoff loss to eventual National Champion Eastern Washington. Four of their victories were by a touchdown or less. This will not be your typical 1-AA walkover. We struggled with Western Illinois last season, but the Leathernecks were also a playoff team. SEMO is already ranked 16th in the preseason 1-AA poll. They have the frontline firepower to stay with us for quite awhile if we do not assert oursleves.
The first thing that makes them dangerous is that they have a talented, experienced quarterback returning in Matt Scheible. The 6'1" senior threw for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns against only three interceptions last year in a heavily run-based offense. More than ¾ of the yards gained by SEMO came on the ground. This means they can grind the clock if they somehow get a lead an, but Scheible is good enough to make accurate throws when he is asked to. As a runner he also carried the ball for 887 yards and seven touchdowns.
Thankfully, we will not have to face one of the best running backs in all of college football. Henry Harris rushed for 1,735 yards and 18 touchdowns as an FCS All-American. The primary running backs will be Renard Celestin and fullback Ron Coleman. Neither played much last year, and Coleman was a redshirt freshman. Other than Scheible, Celestin is the leading returning rusher with just 15 yards.
SEMO does not use the passing game much, but when they do choose to go to the air Scheible will have an experienced receiver with Chante Ahamefule (26-357-1) returning as his top target for a year ago. Matt Bell and Art Mueller are listed as the other starting receiver and the starting TE, but each had only a single catch in 2010.
Much of SEMO's preseason hype is based on an experienced offensive line in front of him. Evan Conrad and Dominic Maldonado are both Big Ten-sized tackles over 300 pounds. Pete Niggemann is also over 300 pounds at right guard. Chris Duggins provides leadership as a senior center, while Colt McCauley is the only starter under 300 pounds. They surrendered only six sacks (mostly because of the lack of passing) but a whopping 75 tackles for loss.
Overall the Redhawks were pretty good on defense. They gave up more than 27 points in just three games and lost all three. The running game allowed for plenty of rest and two players combined for 10 interceptions in the secondary. Junior safety Tyler Brock picked off six passes last season to lead the team in turnovers caused. He was as dangerous as Ricardo Allen with the football with two picks returned for scores. Bryan Blanfort joins him as a new starter in the defensive backfield, while Cory Holmes and Kweku Arkorful are both senior cornerbacks.
Blake Peiffer was the top tackler among the starting linebackers with 59 tackles in 2010. He will be joined by Wisler Ymonice and Philip Klaproth as decent linebackers. Flaproth had 38 tackles with a sack last season.
The defensive line did not generate a great pass rush last season with only 14 sacks in 12 games, so it is hoped that our experienced offensive line can keep either Rob Henry or Robert Marve clean. Justin Love (42 tackles, 2 sacks) will play at one end spot with Johnnie Morgan (10 tackles) on the other side. Steve Hendry had three sacks from his defensive tackle position last season, while Quinn Perry moves into the other starting spot. Love has to be a speed guy at just 6'4" 205 on the end. Only Perry at 290 pounds could have any size advantage against our line. On paper at least, we should be able to open holes for the running game and keep the quarterbacks clean.
SEMO Special Teams:
Joe Vucic served as the freshman punter last year with just over 37 yards per kick and he is now expected to be pulling double-duty as kicker. Drew Geldbach, who did kickoffs last season and was 12 of 17 on field goals, is listed as second on the depth chart. We should have a huge advantage in the kickoff return game as they gave up four kickoffs returned for touchdowns and almost 26 yards per return. It is time for us to use that Florida speed we have.
Redshirt freshman Spencer Davis is listed as both the kickoff and punt returner, but since he was a redshirt he did not have any statistics last season.
We can't lose to a 1-AA team, can we? Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota (twice), and Northwestern have all dropped games to the lower division in the past few seasons. Iowa and Wisconsin have come close as well, surviving game-winning kick situations for victories over Northern Iowa and Cal Poly, respectively. Those teams were better than what we have returning, so it is certainly possible.
Still, there is a certain stigma with losing to a 1-AA team that serves as a coach-killer. Tim Brewster did it twice and was gone. Lloyd Carr was going to retire anyway. Terry Hoeppner tragically passed away after Indiana lost to Southern Illinois. Only Pat Fitzgerald is still coaching at a Big Ten school after losing to a 1-AA team. It is very safe to say that if Danny Hope drops a 1-AA game the fans will be calling for his head, and rightfully so.
As I said, we have no real excuse to lose this game. Dennis Kelly, Peters Drey, and Ken Plue give us an experienced line that should be dominant. Ralph Bolden and Rob henry should have plenty of room to run. Their pass defense is solid, but if we limit our own mistakes we'll be fine.
Defensively, they are going to run the football. They have a big line that is capable of wearing us down, and they can keep the clock running. The defensive line is deep as guys like Eric Mebane, Ryan Isaac, and Kevin Pamphile should be solid rotation guys, and our linebackers are deep as well. Hopefully that will take care of any fatigue issues. The secondary should be able to clamp down on their passing game.
Still, for whatever reason, I have a bad feeling about this game. Under Danny Hope we have not done well in the third game of the season, losing to Northern Illinois and struggling against Ball State. With Notre Dame the following week in a big night game I do not want to be caught looking ahead. It's so sad I have to say that, but it is where we are.
We're the better team, but these guys are experienced and very fundamentally sound in their system. They had only 19 turnovers last year next to 29 forced, so we cannot sit back and wait for them to screw up. I think this game is much too close for comfort, but we still pull away late. Purdue 27, SE Missouri State 16