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Keys to the Game: Syracuse

Purdue will look to squeeze some revenge out of the Orange after the chaotic 2022 game that saw the Boilers lose in the last minute in New York.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Week 3 in the 2023 season brings about a familiar opponent for the Boilermakers as the return game for the 2022 game at Syracuse brings the Orange to West Lafayette. A new coaching staff and totally new concepts on each side of the ball means this game could look very different than it did last season. Syracuse fans appear to be very confident heading into this matchup after defeating Western Michigan and Colgate easily while the Boilers will come into the matchup at 1-1 with a loss to Fresno State and a win at Virginia Tech.

Let’s see some of the keys to victory for the Boilermakers in their first night game of the 2023 season!

#1: Defensive Pressure On The Quarterback

This is a big time key for the Boilermakers moving forward as Ryan Walters was not really happy with what he saw in game 1 against Fresno State. His defensive scheme requires pressuring the quarterback into hurried decisions and throws that doesn’t allow to large chunk plays down the field. Against Fresno State, that just didn’t happen to the level that Walters needs to see so against Virginia Tech the pressure was definitely turned up quite a bit.

Purdue has a dynamic duo in Nic Scourton and Kyrdran Jenkins that are applying as much pressure in the backfield as Boiler fans have seen in quite some time. In fact, Jenkins currently leads the B1G in sacks (3), total quarterback pressures (14), has the best pass rushing productivity score (20.2), and currently holds a 0% missed tackle rate. Scourton has also chipped in 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack but has applied pressure on the quarterback at nearly the same level. To put that in terms of what Purdue had last season, Jack Sullivan led the team with 5.5 sacks last season over 14 games. Jenkins is currently on pace for 18.

Syracuse will lean heavily on veteran quarterback Garrett Schrader who has a 68.5% completion percentage with 543 passing yards with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. However, Syracuse announced that they will be without starting right tackle David Wohlabaugh Jr. for the remainder of the season. They do have some experience to bring into the fold but don’t be surprised to see Ryan Walters attack the edges of this offensive line early and often.

#2: Win The Turnover Battle

One of the things that has popped out from the first two games, outside of the fumble by Devin Mockobee on the second play from scrimmage on the season, is that Purdue has done a great job of ensuring they aren’t giving their opponents extra drives. Hudson Card has yet to throw an interception and the wide receivers and running backs have not lost a fumble either. This is an important part of who Purdue will be this season as they will need to win the turnover and special teams battle in most games moving forward to have a chance to garner enough victories to get to bowl eligibility.

So far this season, Card has gone 40-64 (62.5%) for 502 yards but throwing the ball more downfield will need to be more of a focal point with players like Deion Burks and TJ Sheffield having the ability to stretch a defense vertically. With that, though, Card needs to continue to be selective in that regard and not throw into coverage that can be rolled over the top for interceptions or have poor throws that leave receivers having to turn into defensive backs.

The defense has also done a good job in generating some turnovers this season with 3 interceptions (Thieneman 2; Allen 1) and forcing a fumble as well (Kane). Purdue will need to generate at least one turnover to give the offense more chances to score against a team that we are generally unsure of who they are because of a lack of quality opponents they have had up to this point in the season. Thieneman grabbing another interception can force Syracuse into going away from their vertical passing game which would allow the defensive backs and linebackers to be more aggressive in defending the short and intermediate range passes.

#3: More Touches For Tyrone Tracy

Now, hear me out here because I know some of you are thinking I am advocating for Mockobee to get less opportunities to touch the ball. That’s not the case at all. I’m advocating for more touches to one of Purdue’s most dynamic players on the roster this season. That’s never a bad thing for a team that needs more explosive plays, especially out of the backfield.

Tracy is currently averaging a team best 7.7 yards per carry on 7 rushing attempts and is tied for the team lead with 2 rushing touchdowns. Tracy making the return to his position from high school that saw him garner major division 1 offers appears to have worked out for the diminutive back as he looks more confident and explosive coming out of the backfield. Getting Tracy more touches running out of the backfield but even more so in the screen game can only be beneficial to the Boilermakers moving forward.

#4: The Return of Garrett Miller and Gus Hartwig

Last week we saw the return of Josh Kaltenberger to the lineup that allowed Purdue’s offensive line to operate a bit more physically where they wanted to be. They also got back high level tight end Garrett Miller for a few snaps in his return from a knee injury he suffered early in the season in 2022. However, the biggest return for the Boilers may end up being starting center and potential NFL interior lineman Gus Hartwig coming back from his own injury late in 2022.

Purdue v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Hartwig has been a mainstay for the offensive line at Purdue and is clearly their best overall interior offensive lineman. The hope is that Hartwig can get a feeling for how the knee will react in game situations and go from there. Last week, Miller got some snaps and was limited to likely a certain amount of snaps or certain situations. My guess is that Hartwig may be under the same kind of ‘snap count.’

These two players make Purdue as healthy as they could have been this season outside of some of the receivers getting hurt and being unable to play this season. Being that it is week 3 and these guys are veteran players, it is likely we could see Purdue make a big jump offensively and it may very well be in the place where Purdue needs it the most: the running game for Mockobee and Tracy.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports