There is some danger involving Saturday's game at Ross-Ade stadium, and I am not referring to the inherent fear that Morgan Burke thinks every Purdue fan has in driving after dark because of a later kickoff. Under Danny Hope Purdue has lost at least one game to a non-BCS conference opponent every season. Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Rice remind us that we cannot take any opponent for granted, especially one that leads the nation in passing and has a dynamic offense.
This team is better, at least from what I have seen. There have been no scary moments like the Middle Tennessee State game. A better Notre Dame team than we have faced in years did not push us around at their leisure for three hours. This Purdue team has a salty defense and an offense that is running the ball well and putting points on the board with ease against bad defenses.
This should be a final tune up for Purdue as it prepares to head into the stretch that will make or break its season. It is time for Caleb TerBush to gain control of the offense or for Robert Marve to show that the knee can at least survive. That fear is still in the back of everyone's mind, however. If the Boilers win on Saturday it will be the first significant sign that this team really is the best of Danny Hope's tenure, while a loss erases much of the good press we have heard in recent weeks.
Opponent: Marshall Thundering Herd (2-2, 1-0 C-USA)
2011 Record: 7-6 (5-3 C-USA), Won Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl 20-10 vs. Florida International
Blog Representation: Marshall Thundering Blog
Series record: First meeting
Marshall vs. the Big Ten: 0-4 (closest loss 24-21 at Ohio State on 9/11/2004)
Time & TV: 3:25 ET on Big Ten Network
Line: Purdue by 17
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Marshall does not have a lengthy history at the FBS level. Sure, we all remember Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, and Byron Leftwich with what they've done, but the program itself has only played with the Big Boys since moving up after the 1996 National Championship. This followed a run where the Herd won National titles in 1992 and 1996 and reaching the title game in 1987, 1991, 1993, and 1995.
Of the teams that have recently moved up to the FBS level Marshall might be the most successful. They've reached bowl games nine times since the move, won five MAC titles, and even went 13-0 with a No. 10 ranking in 1999.
This year's team is going to reach those lofty heights, but it is a team that is a threat to win Conference USA because of its excellent quarterback.
Marshall Offense Vs. The Purdue Defense:
Get used to the name Rakeem Cato because his name will be called a lot on Saturday. Cato would be right at home in Ross-Ade Stadium in the pass happy days of Drew Brees because Marshall likes to throw the ball. A lot. Cato already has 200 passing attempts on the season in just four games, equaling out to 50 per game. He has completed 142 of them for 1,481 yards and 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. That's a 71% completion rate. He has also rushed for 27 yards, so he can escape the pocket if needed.
Cato can be brought down, however. He has been sacked eight times this season. This is without facing a stout defensive front led by Kawann Short, Ryan Russell, and Bruce Gaston. Cato likes to play the hurry-up too, so rotation on the front will be critical.
Lest you think that Marshall is a complete air-raid offense the Herd can run the ball a little. Steward Butler has 242 yards and two scores on the ground. Kevin Grooms (188-3), Remi Watson (143-3), and Travon Van (93-2) spearhead an effective ground attack that is generating over 175 yards per game.
Cato spreads the ball around to multiple receivers. A total of 11 players have caught at least five passes so far. Tommy Shuler (32-334-1), Aaron Dobson (29-313-2), and Antavious Wilson (18-214-0) are the leaders. Gator Hoskins (10-76-3) has caught the most touchdown passes with three.
It is not s stretch to say that this is the best and most diverse offense we will face all season. The quarterback situation throughout the Big Ten right now is such a mess that Cato could easily start for half the league. The team is No. 1 in the country in passing and it doesn't exactly abandon the run. It is also throwing up 41 points per game, good for 16th nationally.
Everyone on the defense is going to need to play disciplined football. Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson will be tested on the corners. Safeties Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards will have to be strong against the run and the pass. If the defensive line cannot get penetration and Cato has time to through the Herd will move the ball and score points.
Marshall Defense Vs. The Purdue Offense:
As scary as the Marshall offense is, the defense is anything but. They somehow give up more points than they score at 42.8 per game. A big factor in that was 69 scored by West Virginia in week one, but last week rice scored 51 in a double overtime loss to Marshall. The Herd was highly susceptible to the big play too. Rice had TDs of 30, 43, 31, 50, and 43 yards. All told, Rice had 647 yards, 301 of which came on the ground.
To talk about the Marshall run defense would imply it had one. The Herd has given up 243 yards per game and nine touchdowns on the ground. Even then, the run defense is better than Eastern Michigan, who sits dead last at the FBS level.
The pass defense is not much better. The Herd gives up an average of 265 yards per game through the air. Marshall only has two interceptions on the season and has given up 12 touchdown passes.
The lack of any pass rush whatsoever is a big reason for the huge numbers. Marshall has only three sacks on the season led by Jeremiah Taylor with 1.5. Devin Arrington and Monterius Lovett are the only players with an interception.
Naturally, there are some big tackle numbers since the offense score quickly and the defense struggles to get off the field. Dominick LeGrande leads the team with 45 tackles followed by Okechukwu Okoroha.
As long as Purdue avoids turnovers (and Marshall has only forced three turnovers) I am confident that the offensive line will keep TerBush clean and move the ball. Kevin Pamphile, Trevor Foy, Peters Drey, Devin Smith, and Rick Schmeig have been a very consistent group so far and seem to work best when plowing the road for Akeem Shavers, Akeem Hunt, and Brandon Cottom. If Purdue can hold on to the ball it will be able to score with ease.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams:
Justin Haig is 4-5 on field goals and a perfect 20 for 20 on extra points. This is an advantage for Marshall since Purdue has only kicked one field goal and Sam McCartney may soon be replaced by Paul Griggs on extra points. Tyler Williams is even out-kicking Cody Webster as a punter with a 47.5 yards per kick average on 15 punts. Eight of those punts have been downed inside the 20, which gives a defense that certainly needs help an assist.
Andre Snipes-Booker hasn't done anything special in the return game, but both he and Raheem Mostert will likely have plenty of opportunity to return kicks in what should be a high scoring game.
The forecast calls for a high of 72 degrees and no chance of rain on Saturday, so just about perfect. Sunset is expected around 7:30, so if the game goes long it means MAGLITES, PEOPLE! No word on if Morgan will have a lock-in and campout on the field so we don't have to drive home after dark.
Even with as well as Purdue has played defensively this game scares me. We have not seen a quarterback this good all year and we likely won't in Big Ten play. Their offense is the real deal and they are perfectly comfortable getting in a shootout. They don't care if they give up 50 points as long as they score 51. Those offenses are very dangerous. They can score from anywhere on the field and Cato can pick us apart if he has time to.
I am also concerned with the bad interceptions TerBush has thrown and our propensity to turn the ball over. So far we have turned the ball over nine times in three games. That's unacceptable, and dangerous against a high powered offense like this.
We should expect a lot of points to be scored on Saturday. It wouldn't surprise me if this was a 49-35 game if not higher.
Drive home before the scary dark sets in if:
- The defensive line has Cato running for his life
- Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen both get interceptions
- Caleb TerBush settles in and carves them up
- Purdue rushes for 300+ yards as a team
- Akeem Hunt turns the turf into a track meet again
Sell Those Big Ten title game tickets if:
- TerBush throws more than one interception
- Cato becomes an unstoppable mad bomber
- Purdue has three or more turnovers
- The run defense fails to slow them down
- Marshall cracks 40 points