Today was a day of Purdue football seeking answers. The jersey scrimmage would decide who started at left tackle in the opener, who would quarterback the opener, and settle a number of other positional debates. On the surface the scrimmage was to decide who got to wear black jerseys for the rest of the season in practice, but it was so much more. It was a chance for a struggling team to settle itself before a winnable opener against Western Michigan in two weeks.
I didn't get a chance to go up to West Lafayette. I was planning to go, but rainy weather and a whiny toddler kept me in Indianapolis for the day. I was able to follow quite a bit of the game, however, via Twitter and there is at least some reason for excitement.
The Quarterback Battle:
Coach Hazell has been vocal that Austin Appleby has closed the gap with Danny Etling not because Etling was struggling, but because Appleby was that much better. He had also publicly ruled out David Blough for the job, though the promising freshman has looked good and, if given the chance to redshirt this year, will be heard from next season.
The battle was really down to Appleby vs. Etling though, and here were the final numbers:
Etling: 11 of 24, 143 yards, 1 TD
Appleby: 16 of 20, 131 yards
Blough: 15 of 20, 131 yards
It should be noted that Blough has been mostly playing with the third team and hasn't gotten first team reps at all. If the race between Etling and Appleby was dead even going into today, Appleby may have won. Appleby also had six rushes for 38 yards while Etling had five for 12 yards, but did score a TD. His TD pass went to DeAngelo Yancey.
We should know either tomorrow or on Monday. Coach Hazell said that he wants to name a starter by Monday so the guy has two weeks to prepare. If it is Etling, at least Appleby gave it his best shot. If it is Appleby, we have a quality backup with starting experience.
If I had to choose, I would go with Appleby, but it is very close.
The sixth main receiver:
One bit of information I saw earlier this week is that Purdue was looking to narrow down a sixth receiver as part of the rotation. Yancey, Cameron Posey, Danny Anthrop, B.J. Knauf, and freshman Gregory Phillips seem to have locked down the top five spots. Today,the sixth spot might have gone to junior Shane Mikesky. The track athlete had a respectable sophomore year last year and today he had 7 catches for 112 yards.
Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert were a pretty clear 1-2 going into today, and nothing happened to upset that balance. Mostert only had 34 yards on 7 carries, but Hunt had only 5 carries for 123 yards and a 75 yard touchdown run. That in itself was big. The fact we were able to block even our own defense for some big games is huge progress for the offensive line.
Purdue has been looking for a third back and freshman D.J. Knox has been pushing some upperclassmen for that spot. He had a rough day though with only three carries for four yards and he had two catches for five yards. His top competition may be redshirt freshman Keyante Green, who had three catches for 20 yards and 60 yards rushing on 8 carries, but he also had a fumble. Brandon Cottom, who has been up and down, had three carries for 35 yards along with two catches for 6 yards and a fumble.
In all honesty, it wasn't that bad for the line that is absolutely crucial for any success this season. Purdue gained 301 yards on 48 rushing attempts. Considering that our rushing offense was so horrid we couldn't do that against even Indiana or Illinois, that is a good sign. At least we can now run on our defense like Wisconsin.
The largest position of concern, the Left Tackle that is protecting the QB's blind side, was down to the fourth option:
David Hedelin - suspended the first three games, but played.
Jack DeBoef - washed out as the potential three-game starter for Hedelin.
Cameron Cermin - held out due to strained groin.
Joey Warburg and Bearooz Yacoobi got some looks at both right and left tackle. Yacoobi, a true freshman, seems like he could easily crack the two-deeps, but starting might be a stretch. J.J. Prince was the No. 1 right tackle and seems to have done a decent job.
If I had to pick a "best 5" right now, I would go with this:
LT - David Hedelin, LG - Jason King, C - Robert Kugler, RG - Jordan Roos, RT - J.J. Prince.
Hopefully that works once Hedelin can play, with Corey Clements knocking on the door at guard or right tackle. The good news is that if it works out, not only will Purdue get better in a hurry, the entire line would be back in 2015.
Now, the bad news. The defensive line got seven sacks today, and Ryan Russell had two. With today and the spring game combined, Russell has been rather dominant. Either our offensive line is pretty bad, or he is coming into his own on his final go-round. Russell had three sacks in the spring game and two today. Maybe he is next in the Den of Defensive Ends.
Ra'Zahn Howard, the projected starter at nose tackle, was out as well.
The freshmen that were expected to challenge for playing time are doing just that. JaWhaun Bentley has been shaken up a bit, but has done well in the middle. Gelen Robinson has officially been moved to "rush-end", which is the hybrid spot in our 3-4/4-3. Sometimes he'll have a hand in the dirt, sometimes he won't. That is where he played in HS and he seems to be a natural there.
Paint me cautiously optimistic. The numbers last season make it out that the defense was awful, but in truth, the offense and their relentless pursuit of three-and-outs put them in a bad position and made sure they wore down in almost every game. If you have an offense that can merely get some first downs and get 25 points per game (far greater than last year) it will get better simply by not being on the field as much.
That is why the offensive line is so important. It has to keep the offense moving and at least have us as a threat to score points. There were so many points last year where the defense pretty much had to play perfect and pitch a shutout just to have a chance to win, and that is unrealistic in the college game. To me, if you can get a defense that can just keep teams to 20-25 points per game the offense should be able to score that much. Since it was a stretch to have our offense score even 20 points last year, and the defense was on the field for 40 minutes per game, that equation was severely unbalanced.
The offense at least looked better today against our defense. That's improvement, because even our defense easily held it in check in the spring. Now that we can move on ourselves it is time to move on other teams.