Welcome to Sunday. Hopefully the full fledged meltdown has calmed to the point where I can talk about what happened yesterday. I want to start by saying a good bit of the “Purdue should have done this” or “Purdue shouldn’t have done that” is people parroting Jake Butt’s commentary. Butt’s a smart guy, but I don’t think he had a solid grasp on what Purdue was attempting. That’s tough to do in real time, because you mainly see the outcome of the play, and then it’s on to the next without seeing the entire picture.
Some of those inside runs everyone hated were outside runs Fresno forced inside. In fact, full credit to Fresno, they did an excellent job of staying home on the edges and forcing Purdue to run inside. That’s exactly what I would do against Purdue if I wanted to stuff the run game. On one Fresno touchdown, Purdue was playing bracket coverage on a running back out of the backfield with safety help in the middle. OC’s job was to force the back into the safety waiting on the slant (granted, that safety was Cam Allen so who knows if he actually makes the play). Instead he got beat to outside, where he didn’t have help, and gave up a touchdown. It looked like he was on an island with the back, but once you see what Purdue was attempting, the scheme was fine, the player failed to execute. This is all to say, don’t let the announcers get you too riled up because they’re working in real time and mostly ball watching.
What I saw yesterday was less on the new scheme on either side of the ball, and more on the guys in the scheme. Jeff Brohm did the program no favors on his way out the door. There is no depth and a few positions were simply left open. Purdue needs more players on both sides of the ball, and it might take a season or two before those players show up. If they want to avoid a disaster of a season, the guys on the current team have to get better.
Sometimes people make things more complicated than they should be. In my opinion, more than anything, this was a case of Fresno having the better team. That’s a scary thought moving forward,
I thought Card was fine in his debut. He only forced a couple passes, moved around well enough in the pocket, and delivered a few elite strikes. Burks was outstanding in the slot, but he was the only skill position guy worth mentioning. Butt was right about TJ Sheffield. He had 0.0% dog in him yesterday. He avoided contact at every opportunity and was an after thought in the passing game. Yaseen was slightly better, but looks to be strictly a possession receiver. Canion came off the bench to give Purdue the big redzone target they desperately needed, but dropped his only opportunity after getting bodied by a smaller Fresno defensive back. The tight end position, missing Miller and Piferi, was left having Max Klare and Drew Biber try to block in the run game, and neither covered themselves with glory. Honestly, missing both Miller and Piferi killed both the redzone passing and run game. If you want to keep a team from outflanking you and forcing everything inside, having a tight end capable of sealing the edge is a huge help. If you want to throw the ball in the endzone, having a physical 6’5” target would be a huge help.
Then you get to the offensive line. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I was hoping for serviceable. I left disappointed. Again, much of this goes back to the prior coaching staff’s inability to recruit. Purdue’s best interior lineman is playing right tackle because the last staff couldn’t recruit a tackle to save their lives. I’d argue that both of Purdue’s starting tackles are guards playing tackle. Injuries at the center spot hurt, that’s the one spot that seemed to be nailed down, but the guard play...wooof. I would say Grant and Nichols need to get better or they need to sit on the bench, but who else is there? This is a patchwork line full of cast offs and spare spare parts from other teams. No offense to any of those dudes, I’m sure they’re putting in the work, and will hopefully get better as the season moves along, but man, it’s one thing to have to replace one interior guy, but having to replace all 3 with transfers is brutal.
Finally, the running back position was simply OK. Mockobee had one nice run for a touchdown, but other than that, he was average at best. The staff put him on the bench early in the game for swinging the ball around in traffic and getting it knocked out. If not for a linemen being alert, Fresno would have started a first quarter drive in the redzone. While Fresno’s backs always seemed to eek out an extra yard or two, Mockobee went down on first contact, and not just down, but straight down, without picking up any hard yards. Downing is fine, he’s never going to be a star, but he runs hard and runs where he’s supposed to go. Out of all the backs, Tracy ran with the most conviction, and out of the 3, was the best short yardage back because he wasn’t afraid to get low and put the hammer down when the hammer was needed.
The secondary isn’t good enough. Brown played well, and is a solid #2 corner. Thieneman made a few big mistakes, and missed a couple important tackles, but plays with high motor and made a great pick. Outside of those two, it was an absolute horror show. Cam Allen was awful. I don’t know what else to say. He got abused by Fresno’s slot receiver and missed more tackles than I care to mention. Everyone wants to talk about scheme, but when you’ve got the seemingly right player in the right spot, and he doesn’t make the play I’m not sure what else you can do as a coach.
What y’all need to understand about this defense is it puts guys in the position to make individual plays. It’s a defense that will get you into the NFL if you’re a playmaker, but it will absolutely expose you if you’re not. Purdue plays 5 guys in the secondary, they had two playmakers on the field. Shout out to Kane for playing with one arm, he gets the benefit of the doubt on a few egregious missed tackles, but again, Walters has to put a 1 armed Kane on the field because the last staff stopped recruiting safeties. Antonio Stephens tried to shake off two years of rust but struggled in his return. Walters and Kane want to use three safeties, but I only saw one Big10 level safety on the field yesterday, and he was a true freshman.
The same can be said at corner, which boggles the mind. That’s one position with an excess of capable high school guys every year and Purdue’s last staff couldn’t find one...not a single corner...worth a Big10 roster spot in the last few recruiting classes. Much like the offensive line, a guy either came in and started day 1 like Trice or rotted on the bench for a few seasons and then fell off the roster with no notice, to be replaced with a 1 year band-aid. My only hope is Salim Turner-Muhammad coming back from injury, but the knock on him throughout his time at Stanford was he wasn’t reliable because he wasn’t available.
Middle linebacker was a mess. OC Brothers is not a middle linebacker. That position needs to be a sure tackling eraser, and while brothers is a solid outside linebacker, he’s not the inside the tackle thumper this defense needs. Your middle linebacker should be in the middle of the pile, not the guy helping your freshman safety off the pile. Then again, Purdue hasn’t recruited a middle linebacker that’s actually managed to stick on the roster in several years. Maybe Yanni is the answer, but this is his first year at the position after the last staff couldn’t decide where they wanted to play him. Clyde Washington is the other option, but like Brothers, he’s and outside linebacker by trade and not the eraser Purdue needs in the middle.
I thought the D-line was fine. The ends held up well against the run but didn’t provide the type of pass rush Illinois received from their defensive ends last season. I can only think of one play where Fresno moved the nose and hurt Purdue with an A-gap run. That’s encouraging at least. I’d like to see more out of the middle 3 defensive linemen, but they played well enough to win yesterday.
That brings me to the outside linebackers, the supposed strength of the Purdue defense. I’ve read all off-season how the Boilermakers have 3 starters at the position. Truth be told, I only saw one starter on the field yesterday. Jenkins was a menace and was the defensive player of the game for Purdue. In pass rush situations he was moved to end on occasion in order to match up with a guard and give the Boilers more juice in the pass rush. The much fawned over Nic Scourton was a non factor. His biggest play was a roughing the passer penalty. He looked absolutely lost in coverage and didn’t have a sack or tackle-for-loss. Again, yell about the scheme all you’d like but your key guys have to make key plays, and he didn’t. Sydnor was even worse, whenever Fresno saw him on the field, the rolled the QB to his side, because he refused to keep backside containment. I felt much better about Thieneman getting burned early in the game on a touchdown when he abandoned his receiver to chase the QB when I realized Sydnor was laying on his stomach, holding the running back’s ankle instead of keeping contain. He was overly aggressive on several occasions and didn’t contribute in a single statistical category despite being on the field on numerous Fresno 3rd down conversions. Dreadful.
I’m grading on a curve. If this was year 3, and the roster was fully stocked, I would be worried. ..really worried. In reality, this is year one and the roster is ridiculously short on depth and game changing talent. I also cover both Clemson and Kansas State, and I saw maybe three guys that played for Purdue yesterday that would start for either of those teams. I’m not sure there are 6 guys that would make the 2 deep.
Whoever made this schedule years ago did Purdue no favors. Jeff Tedford is the last coach I want to debut a new defense against because he’s going to find the holes, and he’s going to exploit them. This Purdue team and coaching staff clearly needed a warm-up game to work out the kinks, and not the defending MWC Champs with a high level, experienced coach on a 9 game winning streak. At the same time, they put up 35 points on one of the top defenses in the nation last season. If you told me on Friday that Purdue would put up 35 points and didn’t tell me anything else about the game, I would be homeless right now, because I would have put every penny I could scrape together on a Boilermaker win.
Hope springs eternal though. Virginia Tech is next up, and they’re not as good as Fresno State. The Bulldogs are the best team Purdue will see in the non-conference. If this game is played later in season, or Purdue has its full complement of linemen and tight ends, I think Purdue flips the script and pulls out a hard fought win, instead of a hard fought loss. Tough outcome, but 6 wins and a bowl game is still very much attainable. That should have been the goal for everyone coming into the season.