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Keys to the Game: Fresno St

The Ryan Walters era kicks off against the Bulldogs of Fresno State. What are the keys to starting off 1-0?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Media Day Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The schedule has done head coach Ryan Walters no favors in his first head coaching job by facing one of the perennial top non-power 5 programs, Fresno State, to start the 2023 season. At this point it’s a bit of a crap shoot for how Purdue will look following a 2022 season that saw the Boilers capture the B1G West Division Title and make an appearance in Indy against Michigan. There are some known commodities that can help the Boilers start 1-0. That is something that only Danny Hope (52-31 over Toledo in 2008), Jim Colletto (49-3 over Eastern Michigan in 1991), and Alex Agase (14-13 over Wisconsin in 1973) have done, making it just 3 of 8 head coaches to win their first game at the helm of the Boilermakers.

Let’s get into the keys to the game:

#1: How Well Will The Cornerbacks Play?

Ryan Walters has become known for some unique looks to his defense but at the end of the day he needs cornerbacks to lock up in man to man coverage long enough to allow his defensive lineman and linebackers to get home to the quarterback. Does Purdue have that kind of talent at the defensive back position? They certainly hit the portal hard at that position and got some instant upgrades in transfers Marquis Wilson (Penn State), Botros Alisandro (Snow College), Markevious Brown (Ole Miss), and Braxton Myers (Ole Miss) to find the players necessary to run this scheme. This may be the deepest set of cornerbacks Purdue has had in recent memory.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Penn State at Utah Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If the corners are able to effectively play man to man and allow the defensive line and talented pass rusher in Nic Scourton time to get into the backfield, it’ll be a long day for Fresno St quarterback Mikey Keene. The Boilers need to get some takeaways and this position group should have the opportunities to do so. Wilson is electric when he gets the ball in his hands and will also be handling punt return duties.

#2: How Well Did Hudson Card Establish Himself With His Receivers?

Card came in as likely one of the biggest names in the transfer portal this off-season and seemed to take what he learned at Texas and vault himself as a potential bona-fide star for the Boilermakers. Containing a rare blend of arm talent with athletic ability, Card will be asked to do a lot for the Boilers under the direction of Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell. Card has a lot of unknowns surrounding him with a corps of talented but unproven receivers and tight ends to throw to but his athletic ability will extend plays and break out of the pocket to give a defense fits. How good can Card be? This first game may say a lot for how the rest of the season will go.

#3: Will The Young Staff Be Good On Gamedays?

This may be the biggest factor in not only the first game against Fresno State but also the entire season. This first staff under Ryan Walters is a young one with a lot of coaches still in their 30’s and in major roles for the first time so how they gel and come together under a young head coach will be very interesting. So far they appear to have hit the ground running with adding impressive players from the transfer portal, a current 2024 recruiting class that is ranked in the top 30 overall (On3: 28th; Rivals: 26th; 247: 28th), but how will they look on Gameday when the pressure is on and adjustments are needing to be made? Time will tell but this first game against Fresno St. might be the judge on how they fare for the rest of the season.