Now that the silly little indoor sport is over, we can focus our attention on the manly out door sport returning in September. Purdue finished by what all accounts was a productive (not that any coach is going to say differently) spring that incorporated a bevy of newcomers and newly expected contributors on both sides of the ball.
Consider this spring football 101. The coaches spent the majority of the time getting the basics down with so many new faces littering the field and so many old faces nursing injuries on the sidelines. That should pay dividends in the fall when the entire team is healthy , but I’m going to assume it made things a little frustrating for the more mature players on the squad (not that most of them don’t need football remediation as well).
The players will spend the summer getting bigger, faster, stronger, and healthier. Everyone better be on their grind, because this will be one of the most competitive fall camps in the Big10 and probably in the nation. I can only think of a few slots that I’m not just drawing names out of a hat for the starting positions, so, as the kids say this days (or at least have been saying recently)...IT’S LIT.
Over the next few months I’ll be looking at the 10 biggest questions on the offense and defense heading into fall camp. It will give me the chance to go a little more in depth at some positions and allow for some more focused discussions in the comments. So without further ado....
Question 10 - Offense: Running Back Rotation
This question comes in at number 10 because while this is probably the most competitive position group on the squad, we know we have answers.
Purdue has 4 guys that have all started games in their career. I’m not sure any other team can make that claim. The weird part of the situation, is that in theory, Purdue is going to want pass more than they run, and that leaves something like 30 carries max per game to be split between 4 (or 5) deserving players.
This gives the coaching staff options and plenty of opportunity to deploy these guys in the best possible way. At the same time, all four returning players want to be the lead back and tally 30 carries a game, and I wouldn’t want them if they weren’t interested in carrying that load.
Markell Jones: 113 Carries - 566 Yards - 5.0 YPC - 1 TD - 13 Receptions - 54 Yards - 4.2 YPR - 0 TD
After a slow and injured start to last season, Markell got healthy at just the right time and dominated down the stretch. Indiana defenders still flinch when they see the number 8 in their day to day lives.
Markell put up 377 of his 566 yards in Purdue’s final 3 games of the year vs Iowa, Indiana, and Arizona. Purdue needed a closer to step up and pull them to a bowl game, and Jones answered the call, but can he do that for an entire season? I’d rather not find out.
I see Markell as our finisher. He’s a guy you can put in the game in the fourth quarter against a tired defense and grind it out to the end. I don’t see him, as the prior coaching staff saw him, as a 25+ carry a game player.
Yes, he can do that in short bursts, but his physical running style tends to get him banged up when over worked. I personally want a 100% (or as close to that as possible) Markell Jones feasting on defenses, as opposed to a 60% Markell Jones getting gang tackled in the back field.
Jones logged the fewest carries of his career last season, but was significantly more productive in those carries than his injury plagued sophomore season, where he only averaged 4 yards a carry,
If he can avoid the injury bug. I see Markell leading the way, in terms of carries, for Purdue. I’ll put him somewhere between 100-130 carries, which puts him around 10 carries per game and I hope that a good number of those carries come in the 4th quarter, because that means Purdue is trying to put the game away.
D.J. Knox: 90 Carries - 561 Yards - 6.2 YPC - 2 TD - 15 Receptions - 138 Yards - 9.2 YPR - 2 TD
After recovering from an ACL in 2016, Knox burst back onto the scene to narrowly beat out Tario Fuller to lead the Boilermakers in YPC in 2017.
Knox is a short, strong back, that can hide behind the line and burst through gaps other running backs won’t even attempt to hit. He doesn’t have the best high end speed, but he can break off runs of 20+ yards before he gets caught from behind.
He’s also deceptively strong, and is able to get low and bounce off of would be tacklers in the hole. He’s another guy that I think performs better on a limited pitch count. He can tote the rock 20+ times, but I like him better in the 5-10 carries and 2-3 receptions per game range.
When he comes into the game, the other team has to adjust because he’s difficult to find behind Purdue’s suddenly massive offensive line, and he can use that to his advantage. The defense goes from tackling the larger Jones, Worship, and Fuller to trying to find the elusive, hard running Knox.
He’s a great change up, but if you know baseball, if you just rely on your change up, it loses its effectiveness. I think Knox will probably end up 3rd in carries and 2nd in touches (counting receptions and kick returns) next season.
Richie Worship: 53 Carries - 257 Yards - 4.8 YPC - 3TD - 10 Receptions - 73 Yards - 7.3 YPR - 2 TD
Richie Worship is a beat at 6’1, 260ish, but I want to dispel a myth right now. Worship is more than just a short yardage sledge hammer. Sure, he can get you the 1 yard you need, but he has the vision, agility, and speed to be more than just a guy you bring in to push the pile.
After several other Purdue backs went down with injury, Worship found himself as the primary ball carrier against Nebraska last year, and acquitted himself well, running for 89 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He followed that up with another solid performance against Illinois, before blowing out his knee (imagine that) against Northwestern.
After sitting out spring, he should be ready to decimate defenses once again this fall. I see Worship as the foil to DJ Knox. I’m looking for him to pick up 5-7 carries a game, with at least a few non-short yardage attempts, and would love to see him utilized in the screen game. Worship on the outside mowing over DBs is what I live for.
If Richie is healthy, he’s a guy that will factor into every game plan. If he’s not 100% healthy, he’s a guy that could possibly take a red shirt. That said, Purdue is a better team if Worship can make it on the field.
Tario Fuller: 43 Carries - 261 Yards - 6.1 YPC - 2TD - 5 Receptions - 37 Yards - 7.4 YPR - 0TD
For my money, Tario Fuller is Purdue’s most complete back. He’s got the size to run between the tackles and he’s got the speed to take it the distance. Purdue’s coaches were in agreement last year, as Fuller came out of fall camp as the surprise starter, and was on his to a nice season before blowing out his ankle in garbage time against Missouri.
In an Ohio game that Purdue absolutely had to have pick up momentum and fan buy in, Fuller led the way with 142 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries. He took a game that made everyone nervous, and put it away almost single handily. He then took his act on the road against Missouri and put up 90 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries before wrecking his ankle at the end of a long run and missing the rest of the season.
Fuller is a tall, gliding runner with good vision. He hits the hole hard, has good feet, and has solid top end speed. In my opinion, if any of Purdue’s backs play in the NFL, it will be Fuller, because he is that type of athlete.
That said, we’ve only seen him 7 games over his 3 years at Purdue. He red shirted as a freshman, was misused as a RS Freshman, and got hurt as a Sophomore. Fuller has interesting long term potential, because he will have a solid case to pick up a 6th year of eligibility.
In the short term, I think he’ll probably be 2nd in carries behind Jones this season. He’s the guy I want to see with the ball, fresh in the first 1/2. I’ll put him in the 100-110 carries range this season, which comes out to around 10 yards per game. Some games he’ll get more carries than Markell, some games, Markell will get more carries, but if he gets cooking early, look out, because he can change a game quickly.
Alexander Horvath: No Stats (RS)
Horvath got the opportunity of a lifetime with Purdue down to one functional scholarship running back this spring, and the young man from Mishawaka (Marian HS) certainly took advantage of his opportunity.
He was somewhat of a revelation in the spring game because he certainly looked the part of a division 1 scholarship running back. At 6’1, 230 pounds, he has great size and strength for the position, and also flashed some solid feet and hands.
That said, let’s not get too excited just yet. He’s got a bunch of solid, experienced talent in front of him, and while looking good in the spring game is great, turning that into carries in season is an entirely different animal.
On the other hand, Jeff Brohm is a wildly creative coach who finds a way to get talented players on the field, even if it’s just in a limited package and on special teams. I think you’ll see Horvath in the game with Worship in certain short yardage situations, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him as the upback receiving a few snaps on fake punts.
I’m optimistic that Purdue really found something in Horvath, and while I don’t think you’ll see him in the box score every game, he has the potential to make some important plays in specific situations. This could change, however, if Worship isn’t 100% and takes a red shirt. In that unforeseen circumstance, you could see quite a bit of Harvath in short yardage situations.
Evan Anderson: Freshman
I like Anderson’s film. He reminds me of Tario Fuller, and they went to high school within 100 miles of each other in Georgia.
I’ll like Anderson even more after a year in Purdue’s weight lifting and nutrition program. Barring another year of catastrophic injury at the position. I just don’t see any way Anderson avoids the red shirt.