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Purdue Football: Pass Rush Needed

Purdue must find a pass rush against Iowa or the Hawkeyes will take a page from the Gopher playbook.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

I mentioned in my defensive end article that Purdue doesn’t play an “aggressive” defense. They have been good on defense, but have mostly utilized a 3 or 4 man pass rush, underneath zone defense by the linebackers, and can coverage with safety help over the top on the outside. It’s worked well thus far, but keep in mind, Purdue has played some dreadful offenses. 3 of Purdue’s 5 opponents are in the bottom 100 (out of 130) in total offense. Notre Dame is in the 90s, and Oregon State is in the 40’s. Hardly a murderers” row.

The good news is that #2 Iowa isn’t good on offense either (ranked 119th in total offense). What they do have is a strong armed QB who makes questionable decisions. Minnesota has a QB with a popgun arm who makes questionable decisions. Fleck and the Gopher’s decided to make things simple for Tanner Morgan in the pass game. They went max protect with a 2 man route on a couple big downfield pass plays.

I’ll start with second big pass play, because the Big10 network provided a slightly better angle on the second one (they love to give you the tight shot on the ball, and then scan to the pass, which doesn’t help me much).

Max Protect


This is Minnesota’s “big” package. They’ve got 6 offensive linemen, and an in-line tight end, giving them 7 blockers (green square). They have a boundary and receiver (red circle) and a field receiver using a narrow split (blue circle). The quarterback is in the gun next with the tailback set to his right.

The Gophers do 1 of 2 things in this formation.

  1. Pound the run inside.
  2. Throw it deep.


I said in my defensive end article that this is a better coached version of last years defense. I’ll concede that Purdue is playing more man coverage on the outside, which could be interpreted as a more “aggressive” defense if you stretch the normal meaning of “aggressive”, but for all intents and purposes, this a bend don’t break defense looking to flood the underneath zone with linebackers and provide safety help over the top to the corners.

Purdue is in their base defense, which consists of 3 down linemen (blue box), 4 linebackers (yellow triangles), 2 corners (orange and blue circle) and a strong safety (purple circle) and free safety (out of frame).

Play Action...Kinda


I mentioned that Gophers either run or throw deep out of this formation. Here we’ve got a perfunctory play fake. They’re not selling it hard, though. The offensive line is clearly in pass protection. If they were interested in selling the play fake, you would see them at or beyond the line, not moving backward.


You’ll notice the linebackers aren’t crashing the line on the play fake. It doesn’t matter though, because Minnesota has no interest in involving the Purdue linebackers in this play. They’re counting on the Boilermakers dropping and playing an underneath zone, and that’s what happens, even though there is no threat underneath.

You’ve still got man on the boundary (red circle) and what looks like lose bracket (not the correct technical term, I’m more of an offense guy) on the field receiver (light blue CB takes anything outside, purple S picks up the receiver if he crosses his face).

8 Blocking 4

This is about as max protect as you’ll get. Now you’ve got 8 Gophers blocking 4 Boilermakers, because this play takes forever to develop. Any hint of a pass rush and it falls apart because there is no safety valve for the quarterback.


The Boilermakers comply with Minnesota’s desire to have time in the pocket. They rush their normal 4 (3 defensive linemen (blue square) and the hybrid LB (yellow triangle). The other 3 linebackers (yellow triangle) drop off and are no longer involved in this play. Remember, Purdue has 4 defensive backs covering 2 Minnesota wide receivers, and 3 linebackers dropping to cover a zone without a potential wide receiver.

All Eyes on George


If you need time in the pocket against Purdue, you have 1 man to worry about. They will happily block Purdue’s other 3 defensive linemen with their 5, while triple teaming Karlaftis with a tackle in front, a tight end protecting the inside, and the running back protecting the outside.


This is the perfect distillation of Purdue’s pass rush so far this year. GK is giving 3 guys all they can handle, while the other 3 guys rushing the passer make no progress. The linebackers are playing underneath zone. There is no “green dog” blitz option (where a linebacker automatically blitzes when the man he’s covering stays into block) because of the zone defense. Minnesota doesn’t have to worry about 3 defenders on this play, because they are guarding air.

This is what I mean when I say the defense isn’t “aggressive”, and Minnesota uses that to their advantage.



Morgan has all day to step into a throw. He needs space in front of him, because it takes every ounce of power he has to push the ball down the field.


Once again, Karlaftis is a man on an island. He’s the only pass rusher that’s made any progress, and he’s done it against a triple team. Purdue’s other 3 rushers are locked up tight. Two Gopher linemen are looking around for someone to block.

Squint With Me for a Moment

*Note: The Big10 network loves this shot. The camera man is desperately trying to find the ball, nothing is in focus, and the play is a complete mystery.


1 of the Gopher’s 2 wide receivers hooks up an intermediate route behind the linebackers and in front of the safety. Minnesota is not interesting in throwing him the ball. His job is to pull up the safety. It works.


The 3 linebackers serve no purpose on this play. The free safety (purple circle) jumps the underneath route for unknown reasons.



The Gophers managed to block with 8, run a 2 man route, and still get a one on one match up on a safety. This is exactly how the play was designed.


In the last shot you had 3 linebackers defending air. In this shot you’ve got a corner covering air. Meanwhile the only receiver Minnesota wants to throw the ball to is able to run onto a ball chucked down the sideline. That’s not ideal.


Minnesota burned Purdue a couple times exploiting Purdue’s passive underneath zone. Look for Iowa to attempt the same thing on Saturday. Purdue’s defensive brain trust has to find a better solution for these 2 man routes and give GK some help rushing the passer. Sending one of the extra linebackers off his side might free something up, even if it’s the linebacker and not GK. If not, the Hawkeyes’ otherwise butt offense will look to attack down the field out of max protect while giving their quarterback the simplest read possible.

If Purdue’s offense doesn’t turn the ball over, this is another game that should come down to one or two plays. Last game, the Gophers made those plays. This week, it sure would be nice to see the Spoilermakers take the 0 away from Iowa and turn them into Iwa.