In approximately 48 hours we'll be in Ross-Ade Stadium watching the premier of the 125th edition of Purdue Football. A lot can be drawn from this first game. We're playing a team that is ranked No. 18 in the FCS poll. We're not the only Big Ten team to go against a ranked FCS opponent. No. 23 Indiana State is at Indiana and No. 9 Northern Iowa is at Wisconsin. Those are all three FCS games involving Big Ten teams this week.
Still, they are games against FCS teams. It bears repeating that there is never an excuse for a Big Ten team to lose to an FCS team. The advantages in conditioning, recruiting, talent, scholarships, etc are staggering. It still happens, however. Indiana, Northwestern, and Michigan have been recent victims. Iowa and Wisconsin have had narrow escapes, while Minnesota has lost three of its last five against FCS teams with a narrow escape in 2009.
Purdue has not had to fear much against the lower division though. The Boilers are 7-0 all-time against the 1-AA/FCS since its establishment. Our all-time mark is as follows:
2011 vs. Southeast Missouri State W 59-0
2010 vs. Western Illinois W 31-21
2008 vs. Northern Colorado W 42-10
2007 vs. Eastern Illinois W 52-6
2006 vs. Indiana State W 60-35
2002 vs. Illinois State W 51-10
1990 vs. Indiana State W 41-13
Despite the struggles of many in the Big Ten and the fact that we haven't exactly been world beaters, Purdue has still taken care of its business against the FCS. Our closest margin of victory was two years ago in the game where Keith Smith got injured. Even in an ugly game Purdue led 31-14 before a touchdown with 1:22 left made the score cosmetically closer. That WIU team would go on to qualify for the FCS playoffs.
They should be similar to the Eastern Kentucky team we will see on Saturday. They are the favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference and return to the playoffs. They have 21 conference titles and a pair of National Championships, making them the best FCS team we have ever faced.
Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2011 Record: 7-5, 6-2 Ohio Valley Conference (shared title with Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State)
Bowl Result: Lost 20-17 to James Madison in FCS Playoffs First Round
Blog Representation: Colonels Sports Blog
Series with Purdue: First Meeting
Time & TV: 3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
Line: No Line
Eastern Kentucky has a bit of a history in scaring FBS teams. In 2009 they let Indiana off the hook late, falling 19-13 in Bloomington. That was a 4-8 Indiana team, however. Last year they traveled to Manhattan, Kansas and lost a tight 10-7 contest on a late KSU touchdown. Kansas State later spent time in the top 15 and finished at 10-3 overall, nearly upsetting Oklahoma State to steal the Big 12. That has the danger light flashing for Saturday.
Eastern Kentucky Offense Vs. The Purdue Defense
The Colonels feature one of the top running backs at the FCS level in Walter Payton Award (The FCS Heisman) nominee Matt Denham. In only 12 games last season he rushed for 1,592 yards and nine touchdowns. The 5'10" 185 pound senior running back is one of the best that the lower division has to offer and could easily play on many FBS teams. He averaged 130.8 yards per game and will be the focal point of the offense. At 254 total carries he had 21 carries per game.
The experience in the backfield is also there with quarterback T.J. Pryor, who will likely set every EKU passing record imaginable before the season is over. Pryor is mobile with 180 yards rushing and a touchdown last season. He finished with 1,605 yards passing and 18 touchdowns against only eight interceptions, so he does not make many mistakes.
It will be up to the defensive line and linebackers, especially new starter Antwon Higgs, to prevent Denham from moving the chains. If Denham gets his yards he will open up things in the passing game for Pryor, who is calm and efficient enough to not force anything. Nnamdi Ezenwa and Will Lucas will need to be key on the ends while Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short must hold down the middle. EKU wants to get Denham his yards, so making them throw is paramount.
Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson should be able to cover their receivers, but 6'4" 192 pound receiver Tyrone Goard is a size mismatch they must accommodate for. Goard led the Colonels with 627 yards receiving on 39 catches and 11 TDs. He is a big play threat. Cameron Bailey (29-370-1) is also a solid possession receiver capable of moving the chains.
Overall this is a talented offense with playmakers that have a ton of experience. We have the talent edge, but it is not as dramatic as one might think. It is our depth, especially along the defensive line and in the secondary, that we must use to wear them down. Goard is a first down waiting to happen on third and long, so, as I always say, cover the middle of the field.
UPDATE: EKU suffered a huge blow this afternoon, losing starting center O.J. Enabosi to academics:
Senior center O.J. Enabosi and sophomore wide receiver Jaucady Rutledge have been ruled academically ineligible and will not play this season. Justin Williams, (14-193-1) a junior wide receiver, has also had some academic problems and even though he still remains eligible to play he has slipped down the depth chart and may not see action against Purdue.
Eastern Kentucky Defense Vs. The Purdue Offense
I am not sure what we are going to get offensively other than solid running from Akem Hunt and Akeem Shavers. The offensive line is relatively new and has been injury plagued. We have a quarterback rotation (which almost never works out) to be concerned with, and our receivers outside of the top three are untested. It will be a good game to get experience if everything works. If it does not and the offense becomes stalled, EKU has the offensive talent to put the pressure on us with a few scores.
Justin Bell (51 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Brooklyn Fox (80 tackles, three interceptions) are talented defensive backs. Linebacker Kevin Hamlin (71 tackles, 4 INTs) is a quality linebacker if not a bit undersized. He's got solid coverage skills as seen by the four picks that he also returned for a total of 120 yards. The defense was the Ohio Valley's best last season.
Shawn Shupperd (41 tackles, 4.5 sacks) leads the pass rush with Robert Knowles (33 tackles, 4 sacks). Ideally, Kevin Pamphile and Trevor Foy serve well on the ends and keep both Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush clean. Shupperd will be a familiar face for receiver Charles Torwudzo, as they were HS teammates.
Again, depth has to be key here. There will be rotations with the likes of Justin Kitchens and Devin Smith likely seeing time on the line. We have to establish ourselves early, but my biggest fear is that the juggling of quarterbacks leads to the disjointed offense that plagued us last season.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
We have a bit of a double-edged weapon here in Raheem Mostert. If EKU can't kick to the end zone he is a threat to break one for a score, but except for one time per game he only returns kicks AFTER we've given up points.
Luke Pray has experience as their kicker with 10 made field goals, but was just 10 of 20. We have a question mark with Sam McCartney and Paul Griggs likely both playing. Jordan Berry and Cody Webster are even as punters.
Since we're the team that passes more, the 40% chance of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac on Saturday favors EKU. It is easier to run the ball in poor weather than throw, and our last poor weather game (2010 vs. Michigan) was hardly an offensive showcase, especially against an epically awful defense for the Wolverines.
Eastern Kentucky has enough talent and experience that we should have some concern of an upset if we are not totally sharp. Usually these upsets do not happen because the FCS team is light years better than the FBS team. They happen because the FBS team lets them hang around and stay close until the fourth quarter. By then, the FCS team has a world of confidence and is playing with nothing to lose. The FBS team then has the added pressure of not wanting to screw up and be embarrassed by losing.
It really is as simple as coming out and dominating early so an upset isn't possible. That is what Purdue has done in every FCS game in its history. The two that were even remotely close were the Western Illinois game in which Purdue won an ugly contest because it had more talent and the Indiana State game that was really much closer than it should have been. Even then, I felt like Purdue could score whenever it wanted to.
As usual, the prediction will come tomorrow in the Big Ten wrap.
Rest easy and prepare for Notre Dame if:
- Akeem Shavers and/or Akeem Hunt rushes for 100 yards.
- Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush throw no interceptions.
- Ricardo Allen gets a pick.
- Raheem Mostert returns the opening kick for a score.
Drink heavily in preparation for Notre Dame if:
- Matt Denham rushes for five yards with impunity.
- Tyrone Goard wanders freely in the open field on third and long.
- Marve/TerBush throw a few interceptions
- Purdue gets off to a slow start offensively
Finally, Tom Schott, Purdue's Sports Information Director, asked me to share the following information for the weekend:
The first Boiler Bridge Walk of the 2012 Purdue football season is set for Friday. It will be followed by the inaugural pep rally.
Every Friday before home games, members of the Purdue football team meet and greet their fellow citizens of Lafayette and West Lafayette as they walk across the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge.
Fans of all ages are invited to join Purdue Pete, the spirit squad, Boilermaker Special and community leaders. The 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl championship trophy will be on site for photo opportunities.
The team is dropped off near the Sonya L. Margerum Fountain on the West Lafayette side of the bridge and walk across to Riehle Plaza. Team members hand out giveaway items each week.
This week's sponsors are Bruno's, which supplied the team picture cards that the players will give out, and Kathy's Kandies, which will be serving up black and gold popcorn.
The Boiler Bridge Walk gets under way when the team arrives around 5:40 p.m., but fans should arrive early to get a good spot on the Myers Bridge.
The pep rally will start at 7 p.m. at the Class of 1980 courtyard between the Purdue Memorial Union and Stewart Center and run approximately 45 minutes. Purdue Pete, the spirit squad and pep band will be on hard, as well as the Goldusters. Two Purdue players will address the crowd.
Pappy's Sweet Shop will give Purdue students free grilled chicken sandwiches, chips and a beverage (while supplies last), and the first 150 students who show their VIP card or game ticket for Saturday's football game against Eastern Kentucky will receive a t-shirt and Pappy's ice cream.
Boilermaker fans are encouraged to fly a Purdue flag through Saturday's 2012 season-opening football game against Eastern Kentucky and then on the Friday and Saturday of every home-game weekend.
As part of Purdue SpiritMakers, fans are encouraged to decorate homes or businesses to show their university spirit.
"What better way to display support than with Purdue flags flying all over campus, all over the community, at all Boilermaker farms, all over the state, and for that matter, the nation and the world," athletics director Morgan Burke said. "Boilermaker Flag Revelry will annually remind us of how our great community and our great university embrace 40,000 young people to help them as they grow and learn so they can impact and lead our future. It also will signal the return of a great American tradition - college football, which allows 60,000-plus fans to come together as family to enjoy a daylong experience focused on family and some fun."