In preparing to write about Saturday's game I came across a very good piece by the Boiled Sports guys. J Money asked if a first game to a season can be pivotal. Often it is not, as Purdue usually plays some overmatched FCS or MAC team to start the year. The last time Purdue lost an opener was at Notre Dame in 2010. Before that, the last time Purdue began a season with a loss was a surprising 27-26 loss to a very good Bowling Green team in 2003. Since then, Purdue blasted Syracuse, Akron, Indiana State, Toledo (twice), Northern Colorado, squeezed by Middle Tennessee State, and thumped Eastern Kentucky.
Cincinnati presents a different challenge. The Bearcats were a tiebreaker away from playing in a BCS bowl last season and won 10 games. They have a very stout defense and they are playing at home. In fact, they are making the game an event by proclaiming it a White Out. The excitement of playing a lower level Big Ten team at home is so high the game is sold out and the Bearcats are expecting to have the largest home crown in their history.
As J Money intimated, this is a game that can be the start of something very big for Purdue. If the Boilers win on the road at a very good opponent, suddenly games at home against Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, and Nebraska don't look as daunting. Eight or nine wins may not be out of the question. If Purdue loses, especially if it gets blown out, we're in for a rough time that could see as few as three wins the rest of the way.
Cincinnati has its own questions to answer, but they aren't as numerous as our own:
Cincinnati Offense Vs. Purdue Defense:
There are two very interesting developments with the Cincinnati offense that may work in Purdue's favor. First, it was recently announced that veteran center Dan Sprague was lost for the season with a knee injury. He had been out for awhile and was unlikely to play against Purdue anyway, but he was a solid starter last year for the Bearcats on an offensive line that was supposed to be a key matchup against Purdue's defensive line. Redshirt freshman Deyshawn Boyd from Warren Central in Indianapolis will get the start.
Second, and perhaps more significant, is that Tommy Tuberville did not name a starting quarterback in the release of his first depth chart. Brendon Kay was long projected to be the starter after taking the job from Munchie Legaux last season, but Legaux has performed well while Kay has battled a sore shoulder.
This makes for an interesting decision for Tuberville. Darrell Hazell said earlier this week he was not specifically going to prepare for one quarterback or the other. Legaux is more of a dual threat with 335 yards rushing and four touchdowns last year, but he also threw nine interceptions and was only accurate on 52% of his passes. Kay had 306 yards rushing and two scores, but completed 63% of his passes with only two interceptions. Legaux did play more, but both played in 11 games and Kay had the better efficiency rating. As Matt Opper of Down the Drive said this morning (my answers can be found here) , Kay is less like to make a "catastrophic mistake" than Legaux. That was an issue with him last season and led to Kay taking over.
The Bearcats must also replace running back George Winn, who rushed for 1,334 yards and 13 scores last season. It looks like they will go with a back-by-committee approach led by RD Abernathy and Hosey Williams. Abernthy had 366 yards and three scores last year.
At receiver Chris Moore, Shaq Washington, and Alex Chisum are all relatively green compared to the talent Cincinnati lost. Anthony McClung, their top receiver returning, has a hamstring issue and will be limited.
If the defensive line is the strength of Purdue's team the battle in the trenches could be where the game is decided. Austin Bujnoch and Sam Longo are seniors at the guard spots, but Bond is playing his first collegiate game at a critical position in the middle. He has to handle Bruce Gaston, who may be one of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten. Cincinnati is also concerned with Ryan Russell coming off the end, and that is without the mysterious Jules Williams making an appearance as a pass rushing specialist.
As always, Purdue's defense will go as the linebackers go. Armstead Williams earned a starting spot, Joe Gilliam is healthy, and Sean Robinson has made big strides. They have to play well against the pass since that is Cincinnati's preferred mode of travel, but they must also be ready to contain Legaux or Kay if they run. Chisum at 6'3" is their biggest receiver, but Ricardo Allen doesn't have a huge mismatch in size like has happened in the past.
Purdue's secondary and defensive lines both need to be in sync and have a good day. I don't think they are overmatched in any way and Purdue may even have a slight advantage up front.
Purdue Offense Vs. Cincinnati Defense:
We're going to have to get used to facing very good middle linebackers and Greg Blair is no different. He is probably going to be one of the best in the country and he is coming off of a season where he had 138 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Basically, we can expect him to be everywhere and he is the heart of a defense that only gave up 18.5 points per game. If we were still running the Nordfense we might gain negative yards against him alone. Also, it was his first year of major college football and he was 20 pounds overweight.
Purdue's retooled offensive line may have an advantage at opening some holes for Brandon Cottom, Dalyn Dawkins, and Akeem Hunt. The bearcat defensive line has two seniors in Mitch Meador and Jordan Stepp, but Purdue has a size advantage and only Stepp was a regular player last year. The line also has a shot at keeping Rob Henry clean with Brad Harrah and Silverberry Mouhon as relatively new starters on the end.
Jeff Luc and Nick Temple will play with Blair at linebacker and give Cincy a huge advantage. Luc was even coached under our own defensive coordinator Greg Hudson earlier in his career at Florida State. In the secondary Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault will be matched up against Purdue's relatively new receivers in B.J. Knauf and Shane Mikesky.
I admit that I am very concerned for Purdue's passing game with the quality of Cincinnati's secondary. That said, I think Purdue's running game can really prosper if the offensive line continues top open holes. Henry, as we know, is a good read-option quarterback and there is plenty of talent to tote the rock. If Purdue has a game plan that is run heavy and only has Henry throw 20-25 times per game it will help.
Purdue has named Paul Griggs as the No. 1 kicker for now, but Tony Miliano has more experience after going 17 of 22 last year. At punter John Lloyd is a first time starter, while Cody Webster could be one of the best in the nation. Hopefully we won't see Webster much unless he is on the field holding for placements.
An X-factor, and he will be all year, is Raheem Mostert. Abernathy did little last year on kick returns but Mostert is a threat to score every time. Combined with Knauf and Frankie Williams back at punt returner as threat to actually do something, Purdue has an advantage here.
It is certainly going to be interesting. Both coaches are coaching their first game at the school. Both offenses have some questions at the skill positions with Cincinnati's passing game looking better, but Purdue's running game looking strong. Purdue's defense is stronger where Cincy's is weak and vice versa.
I think you're going to see a closer game than the 10.5 point spread. Cincinnati is good and won 10 games, but that has not translated to national respect as they barely got a token mention in the polls. It is more because people expect Purdue to be bad. Still, that line has already come down from 14 points.
Much of this game will come down to how disciplined Purdue plays. What hurt Purdue greatly under coach Hope was a general lack of discipline. There were always dumb penalties, stupid turnovers, or missed assignments that started in year one and were never corrected. From everything I have read about coach Hazell he has done his best to clear this up.
Purdue has some talented players that didn't get a chance to shine the last few years. Saturday is their first chance to show that Purdue can be a surprise in 2013.
Visit Jungle Jim's for one of 12,000 fine wines in celebration if:
- Rob Henry plays a smart, turnover free game.
- Lagaux plays and makes mistakes.
- Purdue's defensive line dominates.
- Purdue's offensive line gets Hunt, Cottom, and Dawkins rolling.
- The linebackers are better than expected.
- Purdue survives the hot weather in black jerseys.
Drown your sorrows with Courvoisier Rose if:
- Blair runs wild as a rampaging beast defensively.
- Henry's freshman struggles throwing the ball return.
- Purdue's receivers are invisible.
- Purdue's linebackers play like they have for the last 10 years.
- Kay/Legaux has to face little or no pressure.
- The heat becomes an issue.
Prediction: Coming in Thursday's Big Ten preview.