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Keys to the Game: Virginia Tech

The Hokies’ environment is one of the best in all of college football. Can the Boilers make that week 2 jump to grab an important road win?

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Ryan Walters-era started about where every other head coach has started at Purdue: A loss. There were some bright spots that shows the staff is a good one but may have also highlighted the limitations that have been placed on them in year one of what many may not have seen as a rebuild. There is hope that the jump from week one to week two can be a big one for the Purdue Boilermakers now that they have a game under their belt under this new staff.

The Boilers will head to Blacksburg, Virginia to take on another program who is seeing the need to rebuild under second year head coach Brent Pry. Pry and the Hokies struggled in year one going just 3-8 but improvement may have been made for year two as his program was able to grab a 36-17 victory over Old Dominion. The quality of the competition definitely steps up for the Hokies with the visiting Boilermakers.

Let’s get into some keys for the Boilers for game 2 against the Hokies:

Key #1: Hudson Card’s Decision to Run

Last week against Fresno State, there seemed to be some opportunities for Hudson Card to make plays with his feet to grab five or six yards instead of forcing a difficult throw or throwing the ball away. Whether that was Card’s concern about staying upright and trying to hit on an explosive play or just not wanting to take risks in week one, Card will need to use his athleticism to help the Boilermaker offense to jumpstart their running game that struggled to find any consistency against Fresno State.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Purdue does use a read option system of run where Card can decide to pull the ball and run to the outside, however Fresno State did do a good job of forcing everything inside. Card being able to escape the pocket or get him out onto the edges by moving the pocket can put pressure on the defense to defend for longer stretches and allow him to find open receivers downfield. Defenses being forced to place a spy on Card in the running game opens up opportunities for receivers and especially to the running backs.

Key #2: Defending the Short and Intermediate Passing Game

There were some questions as to why Dillion Thieneman was placed so far back in the defensive backfield against Fresno State (some times being as far down field as 20 yards). Head Coach Ryan Walters explained that having a player in that position should allow his other defensive backs and linebackers to be more aggressive defending those short to intermediate passes knowing they have a player in deep coverage to take away those shots downfield. How did that work out in week one?

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Purdue was frequently hit on intermediate passes where it seemed like the defensive backs and linebackers were not being aggressive enough and Coach Ryan Walters echoed that sentiment in his press conference on Monday. Look for the Boilers to be more aggressive in their scheme this week against a Virginia Tech team who only averaged 8.7 yards per completion in their week one game. It should also help the defense knowing a player like Dillion Thieneman, even though he is a freshman, is deep to make plays on the ball. The Boilers’ leading tackler last week with 10 total also made a play on a deep pass down the sideline for an interception.

Key #3: Getting the Running Backs Going

There were big plays in the passing game, highlighted by Deion Burks’ 80 yard touchdown reception. There were also some more where Card’s throw was slightly off or it could have been more explosive than what it was. To help the passing game, the running backs need to get going and that should start with the offensive line starting to get healthy.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

It wasn’t a great start when you had to be on your third string center and even less ideal when that player went down with an injury and you were scrambling to move pieces around so a true freshman in Jimmy Liston wasn’t thrust into action. Potentially getting Josh Kaltenberger back will help the offensive line immensely and having some of these transfers get a game behind them should also mark an improvement. The biggest piece though will be the film they will have that will show a poor effort in the run game to generate a push and running lanes for explosive backs like Mockobee and Tracy to get into the second level.

To win on the road, at any level, running the ball is a significant piece of the puzzle. Rushing for 106 yards on 30 carries isn’t going to cut it on the road against an ACC team like Virginia Tech. Purdue will need to likely be in the 150 yards or more range to give the wide receivers and tight ends more man to man coverage, which is an advantage to players like Deion Burks and Max Klare.