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Purdue Football: Mid-Term Grades - Defensive End

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Drew hands out an interim report card for the defensive end position group 5 games into the season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Illinois at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back from the off week. I hope we all took some time to recharge our college batteries, get some stuff done in the yard, and maybe watch a stress free college football game or two (I’m told there were a few exciting ones last Saturday).

This article should have come out last week, but I needed a break from thinking and talking about college football. It’s been a rough year for the Clemson/K-State/Purdue football blogger (boy? boi?) with all of my teams sitting at 3-2. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to crank out some material for y’all over the next few days.

Self evaluation, in my opinion (obviously, since I’m writing this article), is crucial for growth. You don’t know what you need to improve upon, unless you know your deficiencies. Purdue’s defense has been solid this year, but their is always room for improvement. As a former (can I call myself retired if I’m 40?) teacher, handing out interim reports was generally a good way to say “all is well” or “get your ass in gear”.

Purdue’s defensive ends need to get their ass in gear, despite the inherent challenges of playing defensive end in this conservative defensive scheme.

Note: All stats listed are per game unless otherwise noted. All rankings are national out of 130 FBS teams

Defensive End

Team Stats

Sacks per Game: 1.4 (7 total) - 110th

Team Tackles for Loss: - 5.2 (26 Total) - 90th

Rush Defense: 124.4 - 45th

Team Grade: C

Individual Stats

George Karlaftis

5 Games Played

20 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles, 2 Passes Defended

Grade: B

Comment

Needs to create more chaos, despite the incessant double teams.

DaMarcus Mitchell

3 Games Played (currently “banged up”)

11 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks

Grade: C-

Comment

Came into the season injured, remains injured. Good when healthy. Availability is important.

Kydran Jenkins

4 Games Played

9 Tackles, 0 Sacks

Grade: C-

Comment

Young player still learning position, needs to have a big 2nd half if Mitchell can’t go. Has yet to show he’s a game changer.

Jack Sullivan

4 Games Played

8 Tackles, .5 Sacks

Grade: C

Comment

He’s a nice grinder off the bench. Can he be more?

Cumulative Position Stats

48 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles, 2 Passes Defended

Evaluation

I’m going to start off with some controversy. Before you get bent out of shape, two things can be true.

  1. George Karlaftis is Purdue’s best defensive player.
  2. The defensive end group, as a whole, hasn’t done much.

Some of this is baked into the defensive scheme. This was touted as a new “aggressive” Purdue defense, in reality, it’s a better coached version of Purdue’s defense last year. The defensive coordinator(s) don’t do much to help generate pass rush. Purdue tends to rush 3 or 4 and play coverage. The defensive line, more often than not, is solely responsible for any pressure the opposing quarterback faces.

First, I’m going to give a mild critique of George, while fully acknowledging that he’s a stud defensive end. Once the season is over, and he presumably heads to the NFL, you’re going to hear this from draft evaluators. He’s not a great closer. He’s a great disruptor and has an incredible motor. He forces quarterbacks off their spot and makes them improvise, but he’s usually a step away from picking up an actual sack. He seems to lack the final burst that elite pass rushers possess. When he does put on the speed, quarterbacks step up in the pocket, and he flies by them. He doesn’t have the ability to change direction on the fly when the target moves. In terms of ability, he’s a better run stopper than pass rusher. He’s a traditional hand in the dirt, 4-3 defensive end, as opposed to the DE/LB hybrids NFL teams covet on the edge. Nothing wrong with that, but he’s “on pace” for 5(ish) sacks this year, and that’s not ideal for your star defensive end.

That said...Karlaftis gets double or triple teamed (and held) on almost every play. He’s the focus of every offensive coordinator and would have significantly better stats playing on a different defense. The best way to free George up is either having another player on the defensive line the other team respects, or blitzing linebackers off his side and challenging the other team’s pass protection scheme to both double George and pick up an extra rusher. Purdue has/does neither. Purdue doesn’t punish teams for allocating a large portion of their offensive line to stopping one guy, and that means the double or triple teams will continue.

The good news is, DaMarcus Mitchell, in theory, could take some pressure off George if he’s healthy after another 2 weeks of rest. He’s dealing with a chronic case of “banged up” per Coach Brohm and has missed 2 games, including the Minnesota game. When he’s on the field, he’s been solid, not great, but good enough to take advantage of the other team focusing on Karlaftis. Purdue needs him on the field heading down the stretch, because the other options at defensive end have been uninspiring.

Jenkins has solid potential, but that’s yet to manifest on the field at this juncture. He’s a redshirt freshman getting his first taste of action. I think he’ll be a solid player for Purdue in the future, but counting on him to take pressure off Karlaftis this year is asking too much. He’s still raw, after playing linebacker in high school, and doesn’t have much in terms of pass rush moves/counter moves at this point. When he gets blocked, he tends to stay blocked.

Sullivan is a small defensive tackle playing defensive end. He does a solid job anchoring in the run game and keeping tackles from climbing up to the next level and hunting down linebackers. That’s a useful skill, and not something that should be scoffed at. At the same time, no offensive coordinator is going to sweat having Sullivan locked up 1 on 1 with their tackle. He’s a solid 3-4 end, but when asked to perform the duties of a 4-3 end, he leaves something to be desired.

Moving Forward

The defense has been good this year. They’ve made stops and given the offensive a chance to win football games. I’d like to see them take the winning into their own hands in the second half of the season. They would be great paired with an explosive offense, but Purdue doesn’t have an explosive offense. I’m not sure how much more they can give in this scheme, but I’m asking for more none-the-less.

The “aggressive” defense we were promised in the offseason is dead last in turnovers. Karlaftis and Mitchell heating up quarterbacks is one way to generate some much needed points on defense. It’s a tough task because it appears they’ll be going it alone, but such is their lot in life. If Mitchell can create enough of an issue for opposing offenses coming off his edge, George might not find half 600+ pound human wall waiting for him on every snap. When Purdue does get to the quarterback, they’ve got to finish the job.

It’s been an average start for what projected as on of Purdue’s best starting position groups (after Karlaftis and Mitchell, there isn’t much) heading into the season. Let’s hope they’ve been saving the “aggression” for the stretch run.