I thought about focusing on the fourth quarter of last Saturdays’s Syracuse loss, but honestly, I’m tired of talking about the refs. Y’all can continue to re-litigate the last 15 minutes of the game if you like. Everything I could possibly say about the end of the game has already been said, and honestly, I don’t think many of you will like what I have to say...so I’m choosing to hold my peace.
This was another game where the Purdue offense was either red hot or ice cold. If you look at the stats, this offense looks solid. 31 points vs Penn State and 29 on the road against Syracuse is nothing to sneeze at, but the offense has been anything but consistent. I consider an “explosive” quarter, a 15 minute period where a team scores more than once (usually 10-14 points). As good as Purdue has been on offense, in the 2 games against actual teams, they’ve only had 2 “explosive” quarters. The third quarter against Penn State and the 4th quarter against Syracuse. In those 2 quarters, Purdue scored a combined 34 points. In the other 6 quarters, they’ve put up a combined 26 points.
The Syracuse game, in particular, should have been done and dusted by the 4th quarter. Purdue is better than Syracuse, but couldn’t get out of their own way and kept Syracuse in the game late, setting up the controversial finish. If the Boilermakers takes care of business early, it doesn’t matter what happens late. The frustrating part is that Purdue’s issues against Cuse were self inflicted. They turned it over on downs inside the red zone, they had an extra point blocked, they chased points and failed to convert a 2 point conversion. It was sloppy, poorly managed, and frankly, inexcusable for a veteran team. Whatever your opinion is on the end of the Syracuse game, know that Purdue’s poor execution of the basics in the first 3 quarters brought the refs into the game late.
Looking back, the first drive of the game set the tone for the first 3 quarters. The offense was humming. O’Connell was picking the Syracuse defense apart with the short/intermediate passing game and moving the ball with ease. Then they got inside the 20, the field shrunk, and the offense had no answer. Turning the ball over on downs inside the 20 is giving the other team points, and that’s exactly what the Boilermakers did. Six years into the Jeff/Brian Brohm and Dale Williams experience, Purdue still doesn’t have any semblance of a functional running game in the red zone.
Green Circle - Offensive Line
Yellow Box - Defensive Backs
Purple Box - Safety
Blue Box - Box Defenders (LB’s and DL)
I don’t know how much autonomy O’Connell has in changing plays, but nothing about this defensive alignment says “run the ball” to me. Syracuse is playing man across the board with a single high safety. My assumption is that Syracuse is going to roll that safety to Charlie Jones, as they did the majority of the game, leaving the two receivers to the bottom of the screen (including Payne Durham in the slot) in single coverage.
Inside the run box, Syracuse has 6 players to Purdue’s 5. Normally, you consider that a hat on a hat because either the weak side defensive end or outside linebacker is accounted for by the quarterbacks ability to pull the ball and run. As we all know, that’s not O’Connell’s game. Purdue is blocking 6 with 5. If you’re good at running the ball, this isn’t an issue, but Purdue isn’t good at running the ball.
Green Circle - (Center, Left Guard, Left Tackle)
Orange Circle - (Right Guard, Right Tackle)
It’s possible that I’m confused about what Purdue is attempting on this play, and they know what’s going on, but I watch a good bit of football, and break down a good bit of film, and I can’t recall a play where the play side (green circle) of the offensive line is clearly run blocking, and the back side (orange circle) is clearly pass blocking.
The play side is zone blocking, with the left guard climbing to the second level (you’ll see that in a moment) but the back side is pass blocking. Cam Craig’s (the right tackle) first step on this play is backwards like he’s pass blocking. Marcus M’Bow (right guard) also takes a step back, before engaging the defensive tackle, and then run blocking. I’m not sure I’ve seen a line block what looks like an outside or mid zone run like this before. Normally Craig (right tackle) and Mbow combo block the backside end to cut off the backside and then M’bow climbs to the second level. I’m not sure what the play was on this play, because that’s not what happened.
Holding On The Backside, Physical Domination On The Front Side
Orange Circle - Right Tackle (Cam Craig)
Green Circle - Center (Gus Hartwig)
It’s rare that you see two catastrophic blocking failures on the same play, but that’s what we’re looking at here. Right Tackle Cam Craig (orange circle) pass sets on this play for reasons I can’t comprehend. The defensive end thanks him for the help, cuts inside of him, and Craig’s only recourse is to hold him. It doesn’t draw a flag, but it’s he wraps the defensive end up because that’s his only option.
On the front side of the play, center Gus Hartwig is being dominated by the Syracuse defensive tackle. Look at the conveniently marked (for me) line of scrimmage and look how deep the Syracuse defensive tackle is in the Purdue backfield. Even worse, what little blocking he receives is on his backside shoulder, while his play side arm is free. He’s in perfect position to blow this play up for a big loss.
I’m pretty good at figuring out the basic premise of a play, even when it goes wrong, but I’m struggling on this one. The running back’s angle, and the left guard climbing to the second level (I should have marked him, he’s the dude blocking the Syracuse linebacker at the 16). I’m not sure what anyone else is doing.
From Bad to Terrible
Orange Circle - Right Tackle (Cam Craig)
Green Circle - Center (Gus Hartwig)
Right tackle Cam Craig (orange circle) is holding on for dear life at this point. The only reason the Syracuse defensive end isn’t jumping on the running back at this point is the blatant hold (unless you think the Cuse player is purposefully facing away from the ball carrier).
Center Gus Hartwig (green circle), (Purdue’s best offensive linemen, and one of the better centers in the nation in my opinion) is 3 yards deep in Purdue’s backfield and blocking the defensive tackle into the running back.
This play was ugly from the snap, and got uglier every moment.
Things Fall Apart
When Jeff Brohm sent in tape to the league office complaining about the officials, I’m guessing this clip wasn’t included, because at this point, Cam Craig (orange circle) is latched onto the Cuse defensive end, and has managed to spin him all the way around. Craig should be on the opposite side, sealing of the back side, but I suppose grabbing the defensive end works just as well if the flag doesn’t come out.
Hartwig (green circle) has now escorted the defensive tackle to the running back. This is about as poor of a blocking job as I’ve seen out of Hartwig during his time at Purdue.
To make things more laughably bad, the rest of the front side blocking has also failed. The defensive tackle is bringing the running back down 5 yards in the backfield, and 2 other Syracuse players are in position to bring him down if he does somehow manage to break the tackle.
There was much talk (even from me) about Purdue’s potential for an improved running game this season. Guys, I was wrong, this running game is still busted. Dylan Dowling, Purdue’s leading rusher in terms of attempts against Syracuse, averaged 2.2 yards a carry. That’s essentially getting close to the line of scrimmage and falling forward. Devin Mockobee wasn’t much better. He averaged 3.3 yards on 7 carries, and his numbers look better because he broke a 15 yard run. On his other 6 runs he managed 7 yards. This is against a Syracuse defense that allowed Louisville running back Tiyon Evans 6.8 yards a carry on 13 attempts and Nathan Carter of UConn 4.4 yards an attempt on 16 carries. They’re not exactly the ‘85 Bears.
King Doerue has the best performance by a Purdue running back so far this season, averaging a robust 3.8 yards on 15 carries against Penn State (granted the end zone stopped him twice).
Purdue doesn’t need a dominant running game, but man, a somewhat functional run game could help things significantly. It’s frustrating, because we’ve heard plenty of lip service from this coaching staff about an improved running game, but the results, thus far, remain pitiful.
Until this changes, Purdue is going to struggle in the red zone and struggle to finish off games. We’ve seen both bite the Boilermakers already this season, and I’m not optimistic things are going to get better based on what I’ve seen on film. Aidan better figure out how to heat up early and blow teams out, because Purdue is going to struggle in tight games when the clock becomes a factor.
I’m going to take a look at the 4th down “run” that ended this drive after I drink a few more beer to prepare myself.