We have heard a lot about how Purdue’s offense has been the difference so far this season, but in reality, it is its DEFENSE that has made a huge improvement. Sure, it is still early, but a near road shutout at Missouri was the best defensive performance Purdue has had in years. It was the fewest points given up by Purdue since shutting out Southeast Missouri State in 2011. It was the best defensive performance against a non-FCS team since a 37-3 win over Illinois in 2005.
Let’s look at some of the numbers so far:
· Offensively, Purdue was 11th in the Big Ten last season at 24.6 points per game. This season it is 10th at 29.3 points per game. That’s only a slight improvement.
· Defensively, Purdue is currently 8th in scoring defense at 21.8 points per game compared to last year where it was dead last at 38.3 points per game. We’re already a third of the way through the season, so it would take a complete defensive collapse to fall to last season.
· Purdue’s rushing offense isn’t great right now. It is 137.3 yards per game, good for 11th in the league. The caveat is that it did play Michigan, who has the best run defense in the league. It is still better than last year, where Purdue was dead last in the conference at 96.2 yards per game. That was almost 44 yards per game worse than 13th place Illinois.
· The run defense is LIGHT YEARS better. Last season Purdue had the 2nd worst run defense in the conference. It couldn’t run, nor could it stop the run. It gave up 238.4 yards per game on the ground, better only than Rutgers, who was an abysmal 264.2 yards per game. So far this season Purdue has given up 132 yards per game, good for 8th in the league and the highest we have been in ages in that category. It’s more than 100 yards better per game.
· Surprisingly, Purdue’s passing offense, at least in terms of actual yards, is worse. Purdue had the best passing offense in the conference last year at 294.9 yards per game. This year we’re 4th at 254.8. The efficiency is better, however, as Purdue is completing 60.7% of its passes compared to 56% last year.
· Purdue’s pass defense was better last year at 207.4 yards per game, but that was mostly because teams had no need to pass against us. This year we’re 13th at 254.5 yards per game, ahead of only Indiana. That is, of course, a concern.
· Purdue has made a huge improvement on third downs. Teams are only converting 36.4% of third downs compared to a whopping 49.2% last year that was among the worst in college football.
· Turnover margin is another area of huge improvement. Purdue is +4 after four games, third in the Big Ten behind Penn State and Ohio State. Who knew an aggressive defense would be better against the run and force more turnovers. Last year Purdue was -17 for the year, the only Big Ten team worse than -7.
· An area of major decline has been our own 3rd down conversions. Last year Purdue was second in the league at a 45% conversion rate on third down. We could move the ball, but not score. This year Purdue is scoring more, but is last in the conference on 3rd downs at 31.5%.
· The red zone performance is well known. Purdue is a perfect 15 for 15 in the red zone in getting points this year and is 11 of 15 on getting touchdowns. Last season Purdue scored on only 75.7% of its red zone trips.
· Finally, this is the most fun stat. Purdue has played two games and is averaging more than 52,800 fans per game. Last season we averaged 34,451 per game. If you go with an average ticket price of $40 per game Purdue has already made almost $700,000 more PER GAME than last year, flying in the face of that $5 million opportunity.
Individually, Joe Schopper in second in the Big Ten at 44.6 yards per punt, Jackson Anthrop is second in receiving efficiency, and Danny Ezecchukwu leads the conference with three recovered fumbles.