Today's Purdue Football spring game was dominated by the defense. The Black team pitched a shutout while scoring two first half touchdowns. Sam McCartney and Paul Griggs each missed field goals that would have added to the scoring, but for the most part there were plenty of defensive highlights and very few offensive highlights.
You can look at this one of two ways: either the offense is that bad and is going to struggle to score points or the defense is going to be that good. If I had to pick, I would say that the defense is definitely ahead of the offense. The teams were divided via draft by the players, so the top talent was evenly distributed. That means the defense likely has a little more depth, especially along the line.
Here were your standouts:
Akeem Hunt - Hunt was very elusive, rushing for 134 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. He got a lot of work because the freshmen backs aren't here yet and both Kurt Freytag and Brandon Cottom did not play, but Hunt looked the part of a No. 1 back. His line was opening holes and he was taking advantage for big gains at a time. His touchdown was a 15-yard run through traffic shaking of contact into the end zone. Hunt is now wearing No. 1, and barring one of the freshmen blowing us away he will be the primary back.
Jalani Phillips - Phillips was very active on the line, which is a major positive because Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell are expected to be the standouts. Phillips had a sack, three tackles, an interception, and was pressuring quarterbacks all day long.
Gabe Holmes - Holmes was often open down field and led all receivers with four catches for 74 yards. He needs to develop into a reliable receiving threat and safety valve, especially if we have a young quarterback behind a porous line.
Shane Mikesky - Mikesky had the other touchdown where he lined up in the slot and scored on an inside seem pass from 8 yard out from Rob Henry. I found it interesting that coach Hazell went with him in the slot, but he has the speed to go with size to be a mismatch there. Mikesky was also an excellent downfield blocker, which was something rarely seen under Hope.
Landau Lang - The completely unknown junior cornerback led everyone with seven tackles and a fumble recovery. In doing some research I found he is a transfer from the most unlikely of places: Indiana! He was on their roster as recently as 2011, but now he is in West Lafayette after playing in high school with Dolapo Macarthy at Merrillville.
Danny Etling - The freshman as a solid 5 of 7 for 54 yards and was intercepted once. His other incompletion was impressive, as he somehow threw the ball 40 yards despite falling on his back foot.
Rob Henry - It might have been a draw between Henry and Etling, but both were on the black team and split snaps while Austin Appleby got more time on the gold time. Henry was 6 of 9 for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Austin Appleby - Appleby had a very rough day, going 6 of 18 for only 52 yards and an interception. He was getting pressured most of the afternoon and left a lot of throws at the feet of the receiver. He did have a nice long pass on playaction (yes, we ran playaction!) to Charles Torwudzo that was about a yard too long.
The offensive line - When you combine both units it was a bad day except in run blocking for Hunt. Quarterbacks were sacked four times and I counted at least four knockdowns of passes at the line. Robert Gregory struggled to find room to run for the Gold team and most of the quarterbacks had a player in their face disrupting any rollouts. It made for a good day on the defensive line, but not on the other side.
The kicking game - Yikes! Well, McCartney had an extra point made and walk-on Tyler Murray did as well, but Murray's was ugly. McCartney also missed a 21-yard field goal. If Purdue is going to struggle to get point it cannot miss short field goals like that.
In fact, much of special teams was bad. Frankie Williams fumbled a punt he had no business even fielding. Cody Webster only averaged 38 yards per punt (though the wind was likely a factor). No one did anything on punt returns (unless you count Williams fumbling as "something").
At least Raheem Mostert had a 40-yard return.
Clearly, there is some work that needs to be done, but there is some time to do it. A solid defense, if that is indeed what we have, can erase more mistakes than a really good offense. I can see why coach Hazell has said that Etling and Henry are 1-2 in the quarterback derby. Bilal Marshall was only 1 of 1 for 18 yards and was sacked for a big loss. Appleby struggled, but Etling had a nice ball and Henry was accurate on the move. Judging by today, I think it comes down to those two for the starter in late August.
Purdue must get improved play from its offensive line and develop some depth behind Akeem Hunt. Gregory rushed for 48 yards on 13 carries, but no one else had more than 10 yards rushing.
I do think coach Hazell has things going in the correct direction, however. For the first time in ages Purdue had active, disruptive linebackers. The defensive line was spectacular and the secondary without Ricardo Allen playing and led by Normondo Harris was in on several plays. If they can be a productive unit holding teams to about 20 points per game or less it will help a lot.
So, we have four months to go until the opener. Now is the time to get better.