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Purdue Football: Goal Line Failure

Purdue struggled to find space for the running game on the goal line last season. Austin Burton is the solution.

TransPerfect Music City Bowl - Purdue v Tennessee Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The film train continues to roll on down the tracks as football season rapidly approaches. I had requests in the comments to give y’all an example of something that doesn’t/didn’t work. There are plenty to choose from, but I’m starting off with my biggest complaint about this Purdue offense...namely short yardage and goal line situations.

I would rather Purdue be 3rd and 10 from the 10 than First and Goal from the 2. They have an equal chance (or at least it feels like an equal chance) to finish each of the drive with a touchdown, but if they don’t score from the 3, I’m going to have to buy yet another T.V. remote, and my wife will be upset (thanks for getting me in trouble Purdue).

When the field shrunk, Purdue’s offense has also shrunk (I’m using past tense to promote optimism). The run game got stuffed at the line and Purdue kicked field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. That has to stop this season.

Lining Up to Get Stuffed



Yellow Circle: Quarterback - Aidan O’Connell

Green Circle: Running Back - Zander Horvath

Blue Circle: Fullback

Red Circle: Tight End


Black Box: Boundary Safety

Purple Box: Field Linebacker

I mentioned the remote thing in the intro because I chucked the remote after this drive. I’m only showing the first play, because that’s all I can stomach, but Purdue kicks a field goal after starting 1st and goal from the two.

YOU CAN’T BEAT GOOD TEAMS KICKING FIELD GOALS IN THE RED ZONE (luckily Tennessee wasn’t a good team)!

This is where AOC’s lack of mobility hurts Purdue (as I’ll show below). The run defense is only keying on Horvath. They are not interested in anything else, because if Purdue is running, Horvath is getting the ball. You look at him and think “he should be able to gain 2 yards straight ahead, he’s build like a Greek God, but even Hercules would struggle to find the end zone in this situation.

Horvath is off to San Diego to flex his muscle in the NFL, but it doesn’t matter who Purdue plugs in to replace him in this situation, because the running back isn’t the problem. This is a quarterback and play calling problem.

A’int but One Way Out Mama (lord I just can’t run through that wall)

Purdue lines up in their jumbo package featuring 6 offensive linemen, tight end (red circle), a fullback (blue circle), and a running back in the pistol (lined up behind the quarterback in shotgun).

Tennessee counters with their goal line defense. That’s 4 down linemen, a boundary safety (black box), a field linebacker (purple box), 3 linebackers, a field safety, and a corner in man coverage. This is all standard stuff.

Brick Wall

Purdue is looking to force the ball over the goal line with pure muscle. They line the running back (green circle) up in the pistol to give him a running start. They slam the fullback (blue circle) into the right side of the line and try and block down on the defensive end with the tight end (red circle).

Tennessee is watching the running back. They are not interested in anything else, because nothing else is threatening. The boundary safety (black box) and the field linebacker (purple box) are important on this play because they set the edge for the Tennessee defense. Their job is to funnel everything inside. The defense line pushes and the linebackers fill gaps. It’s basic football.

Looking OK

Purdue isn’t in a terrible position at this juncture. Look at the right side, the offensive line is getting a decent push. The tight end (red box) is moving the edge. The fullback (blue box) is about to slam into the line as well. This is classic power goal line running (minus the quarterback in the shotgun and the running back in the pistol).

Tennessee, however, isn’t as bad off as they appear, because they haven’t committed their linebackers to the play yet. They’re still staring at Horvath, and looking for holes to fill. The field side linebacker (purple box) is setting the edge on the backside on the boundary safety (black box) is still flaking the defensive end.

Into the Wall!

This is where things fall apart for Purdue. The defense doesn’t respect AOC’s (yellow circle) running ability, because let’s face it, they shouldn’t respect his running ability. Brohm hasn’t shown any confidence in him as a goal line runner, and for good reason.

Tennessee is able to funnel all their resources to the ball. The boundary safety (black box) is able to stay inside, because AOC isn’t going to pull the ball. I don’t care how big and strong your running back is (and Horvath is a big, strong dude), he’s not going to punch a hole in this mass of bodies. Offensive football is all about creating space. Defensive football is all about taking away space. On this play Tennessee took away all the space.

Pull It!

If AOC pulls the ball, he walks into the end zone (which, to be fair, could be a sprint for him). Horvath could attempt to bounce this outside, but that’s not his game either (and would have probably ended up with the same result). The space on this play is to the outside on the boundary, but Purdue can’t attack (or even threaten to attack) the outside with AOC at quarterback. I would at least like to see him carry out the fake to outside to give the defense something to think about, but all he does on this play is hand the ball off and watch as Purdue plays 10 vs 11.

Nowhere to Run To Anymore

You’ve got 10 Tennessee defenders within 5 yards of the ball (minus the corner in man coverage) being blocked by 8 Purdue players (minus the wide receiver, AOC, and the running back). Not only does Horvath (yellow circle) have to fight through the Tennessee defenders, he has to fight through his own blockers.

There is no space. Tennessee is doing their job on defense.

2nd Down and 1 and 1/2

The inevitable ending of this play is Purdue maybe gaining a 12 yard (if we’re being generous). This is where Brohm and company need to get more creative in the run game. Purdue isn’t built to steamroll opponents into the endzone, and yet, that is the expectation on this play, and many Purdue short yardage plays. The passing game thrives on Brohm creating space with his scheme, which is why the lack of space his scheme creates in the red zone frustrates me. This must change if Purdue is going to reach its full potential this season. The difference between a 6 win, 8 win, or 10 win season will come down to Purdue’s ability to get 7 instead of 3 in goal line situations like this, which is why I’m an advocate for a Austin Burton short yardage package.

The Solution

I don’t want to spend an entire article talking about what I don’t like about Purdue’s short yardage run game without giving you my opinion on the solution. For that, I’m going to show you how Clemson (one of the other teams I write about) handled their short yardage offense with Trevor Lawrence.



Black Circle - Quarterback - Trevor Lawrence

Yellow Circle - Running back - Travis Etienne

Light Blue Circle - Tight End


Blue Box - DE/OLB

Purple Box - Field Safety

This was a critical series for Clemson. The half was coming to a close, and the offense struggled to get on-track. A field goal in this situation would be a huge win for A&M and give them momentum going into the half. Clemson needs 7 not 3. Good teams score touchdowns in the red zone.

This is a similar formation to the one Purdue used on the goal line in the above play. Clemson opts for a slot receiver to the field instead of a fullback, because much like Purdue, Clemson isn’t designed to stream roll teams into the end zone. They can do that on occasion, but they are better suited creating space and letting their athletes win individual match-ups.

They have 5 offensive linemen, an attached tight end (giving them 6 blockers on the line) a move tight end (light blue circle), the quarterback in shotgun (black circle) and the running back (yellow circle) in offset left in the pistol.

Clemson blocks straight up across the line, but moves the tight end (blue box) across the formation to the field side. You have the running back (yellow circle...All-Time ACC leading rusher) coming at an angle in what looks to be a run to the B gap (between the right guard and the right tackle). This is stretching the defense two ways and creating space. The defense is keying on the tight end coming across the formation to the field side, and the running back attacking the boundary side. This keeps Texas A&M from bringing all their resources to the ball, because they don’t know where the ball is heading. Clemson is giving them two different keys.

On defense, Texas A&M is going head-up with the Clemson offensive line, and doing a good job of holding their ground. Keep an eye on the DE/OLB (blue box) and the field safety (purple box) these are the two players Clemson is reading on this run.


The quarterback (black circle) and the running back (yellow circle) are at the critical “mesh” point of this run. You can see Lawrence reading the field side DE/OLB (blue box). He’s pushing inside, trying to squeeze down and cut off the space for the running back. The field safety (purple box) is rushing hard up the field, but he’s not a concern for Lawrence (black circle) because the move tight end (light blue box) is responsible for kicking him out.

Pull It!

You can see a hole open for the running back on the boundary side, but A&M is attacking it with their linebackers. The DE/OLB (blue box) is still pushing inside in an attempt to help close the hole for the running back. The field safety (Purple box) is kicked out of the play by the move tight end (light blue box). The quarterback (black circle) makes the right read and pulls the ball. If the DE/OLB keeps his number parallel to the line of scrimmage, the correct read is the hand-off. As you can see, his numbers are parallel to the sideline, which dictates the QB keeper.

Fooled Them

Texas A&M is using 7 defenders to attack the running back and 2 defenders to attack the quarterback. One (purple box) is blocked out of the play already. The other, (the boundary safety I assume) is 4 yards back in the end zone. All the quarterback needs to do is beat him to the goal line (even if Lawrence loses that race, he’s a big dude and is good at finishing his runs).

On the Purdue play I diagrammed above, Horvath is taking on the majority of the Tennessee defense at the point of attack. On this play from Clemson, Lawrence is taking on one Texas A&M defender and has a head start. Notice that the OLB/DE (formerly the guy in the purple box) still has his numbers facing the sideline. Lawrence is running right off his backside.

Easy Money

Lawrence (black circle) only needed a yard. This is already a touchdown. He made it into the end zone untouched. The A&M defenders are closing, but it doesn’t matter, the ball is already over the goal line. The play is over. The running back (yellow circle) is in a mass of bodies. It’s possible he still squeezes through for the touchdown, because he’s an elite back, but I’ll take the untouched 7 points all-day-every-day.

Untouched for 7

You can tell this was a read-option, and not a straight QB keeper, because most of the Clemson players are still looking at the running back, and not paying much attention to their quarterback who is in the act of scoring a touchdown. Clemson picks up 7 points instead of 3, takes a comfortable 17-3 lead into the half, and coast to a victory in the second half.

Good teams score touchdowns in the red zone, and this was a good Clemson team. I’m hopeful that we see a good Purdue team in 2022.


I’m optimistic that the Purdue coaches will put more emphasis on their goal line and short yardage package in fall camp. This is one area where having a returning veteran quarterback like O’Connell allows the coaching staff to focus more on specific game situations, instead of spending time trying to get a new quarterback comfortable in the offense.

Austin Burton is sitting there, waiting to be utilized in this situation. In the 2019 season, Trevor Lawrence had 9 rushing touchdowns, most of which came on these types of goal line carries (other than the 50 yarder he broke off against Ohio State to spur on the Clemson comeback). It would be nice if O’Connell could handle the goal line offense, but that’s not what he does. It is what Burton does, and does well. Brohm brought him to Purdue for a reason, and this is how the investment pays off.

If Purdue can turn half, or even a quarter, of their red zone field goals into touchdowns using Burton, this team has the potential to compete for the division. If they continue to beat their head against the wall in short yardage and attempt to over power teams, they’re probably going to end up being a 7-8 win team.

Brohm’s one of the best in the business, in terms of play calling, and I expect to see the Burton on the field early and often in these situation. Let’s score some touchdowns.