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Tuesday Afternoon Thoughts - Defense

I’m taking my time this week, we’re on a bye

NCAA Football: Purdue at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Overall

The defense wasn’t great, and occasionally it was poor last Saturday but at a minimum, Purdue is doing a better job of stopping big plays. We’re going to need a better performance out of this unit if we want to upset a team and make a bowl game, but for now, the bend and slowly break defense we saw against Nebraska is an improvement over the break immediately defense we put on the field to start the year.

Let’s hope the bye week brings even more improvement.

Defensive Line

Purdue won, but that wasn’t a confidence inspiring game from the defensive line. Nebraska pushed the line all over the field, and racked up 259 rushing yards, including a 170 yard, 2 TD, 10 YPC eruption by Devine Ozigbo. Prior to the Purdue game, Ozigbo’s best performance was 60 yards vs Colorado. He only managed 30 yards combined against Troy and Michigan.

Purdue was able to stop B.C.’s pro style, lineman, tight end, and fullback heavy sets, but struggled with Nebraska’s spread / read option attack. The defensive ends in particular were victimized by the option, often times not touching the QB or the RB when they were the unblocked man. If you’re going to run the option with your QB, he needs to hit the ground every time he crosses the line of scrimmage. Too often, Purdue’s ends tried to split the difference and ended up with nothing.

If Purdue wants a shot to beat O.$.U., it’s got to figure out the read option, because that is the O.$.U. base offense. They run it until you stop it, and if you don’t stop it, it’s a long and frustrating day.

Nebraska ran 83 plays, and Purdue’s defensive line had a combined 9 tackles, 1 TFL, 0 QB pressures and 0 sacks. That’s not enough production from the front 4. Holt is having to leave his secondary on an island and bring pressure from the second or third level. You can get away with that against Adrian Martinez and Anthony Brown, but there are some capable Q.B.’s left on the schedule, and Purdue is going to pay the price on defense if they can’t get more production out of the front 4.

Linebacker

Welcome back Markus Bailey, I’ve missed you. Bailey was a beast on Saturday, recording 11 tackles, 1 TFL, and a sack. Holt is moving Bailey around more instead of just keeping him on the weak side of the formation, and it has paid dividends. Purdue needs their best defensive player to be their best defensive player. Early in the season, Bailey was strangely absent and the defense struggled. The defense is still struggling, but Bailey is a play maker, and 1 or 2 big plays may be all the offense needs to win a game.

Not to be outdone, Purdue’s sophomore duo of Derrick Barnes and Cornel Jones combined for 13 tackles and made their presence felt around the line of scrimmage. Barnes played more of his DE/LB role again, with mixed results, but getting him more involved in the pass rush can only be considered a good thing. Jones continues to be a heat seeking missile on the field.

Linebacker play was a huge question mark coming into the season after Purdue lost the majority of their depth chart to graduation last year. I like the answer I’m seeing right now from the Boilermakers. Purdue has a dynamic duo to build around for the future.

Secondary

Corner

It looks like Purdue is going with Antonio Blackmon and Kenneth Major at corner, and it’s turning into a decent pairing. Blackmon is the ultimate try hard player who is willing to stick his nose in and lay (or take) a big hit for the good of the cause. He has looked better in coverage as the season has progressed but will still get out athleted on occasion. Major is a solid looking athlete who will only get better. He is still a raw prospect and occasionally gets lost, but he’s at his best in man coverage, and that has been a crucial element of the game plan the last 2 weeks. Holt is bringing more pressure and playing more man, and Major is one of the big reasons why this is possible.

The most important improvement I’m seeing from the secondary is the elimination of the back breaking deep touchdown. Nebraska put up 323 passing yards, but no wide receiver had a completion over 25 yards (the longest completion by a Nebraska player was 33 yards by a TE). The defense is keeping the offense in front of them and making them execute instead of giving up short drives for long touchdowns.

In college football, the more plays you can make the offense run, the bigger chance they’re going to screw it up. Purdue kept the Nebraska on the field long enough for the Cornhuskers to stop their own drives on several occasions.

Safety

I’ve been critical of Navon Mosely before but he turned in a gem on Saturday, leading Purdue in tackles with 14. Yes, he still takes terrible angles on occasion and will wiff in the open field once in a while, but he was all over the field against Nebraska. It’s never a great when your safety is also your leading tackler, but at least Navon was getting the guys on the ground, and helping Purdue prevent huge plays.

Jacob Thieneman played another classic Jacob Thieneman game from his strong safety position. He finished the game with 6 tackles, 1TFL, and a sack. Holt is trying to keep Thieneman closer to the box and is almost deploying him like a 4th linebacker at times. This is the strength of Thieneman’s game, as opposed to trying to cover deep middle. He may not be the best athlete to ever play safety at Purdue, but he’s a baller, and makes up for some of his athletic short comings with pure want-to and hustle.

Kicking

Punting

Joe Schopper was one of Purdue’s most important weapons against Nebraska. He averaged 41 yards a punt, and pinned Nebraska inside their own 20 on 5 of 7 punts. It looks like all the practice he got under Hazell is paying off this year. He’s a vital part of this Purdue team.

Kicking

For the first time this year, kicking wasn’t an adventure. Spencer Evans knocking through 2 field goals from inside of 40 yards, and we didn’t miss an extra point. I feel like kicking was a silent killer for Purdue during their losing streak. I’m hopeful that Evans has it figured out now.