Purdue Report Card
Opponent: Fresno State
The passing game worked decently well as Hudson Card threw for over 250 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. However, Card opted out of taking some rushing lanes and instead forced the ball or threw it away. In Hudson’s defense, he didn’t take a sack or throw to the other team. Also, Deion Burks accounted for over 60% of the receiving yardage. The rushing game was a mess. Without the top two tight ends and centers, the offensive line could not get any push and Fresno State continually funneled the ball inside. 109 rushing yards on 30 tries is far from efficient. Overall, the offense did put up 28 points, which should keep you competitive in most games. The caveats are that one drive was set up from a long punt return and another ended inside the 5 after failing to punch the ball in.
How to Improve:
The biggest factor to the improvement of the offense will be health and unfortunately, that can’t really be controlled. Where I think the offense can improve for this week is decision making and play calling. Hudson Card has got to take his gimmes when he’s flushed outside the pocket as a 2nd and 6 is much easier than a 2nd and 10. I understand that scheme and personnel matter, but you’ve gotta believe that the offensive line were heavily focusing on run-blocking this week. There’s clearly room for improvement there but the play-calling has to be geared to help. If the opponent forces you inside every play on read options, try a jet sweep to blow right past that outside end. Sometimes creativity is all you need. Lastly, I would love to see the ball spread out a bit more. Yes, Deion Burks was very good, but if you become predictable, you become much easier to defend. Variety on offense can go a long way.
By far the lowest grade this week, there were maybe 1 or 2 bright spots to the defense. Mikey Keene was able to pick apart the secondary en route to throwing for 356 yards and 4 touchdowns. There were several blown assignments, missed tackles, and mental errors that let Fresno State just keep driving and scoring. Maybe the most inexcusable stat, Fresno State was 11-17 on third down, including some conversions over 10 yards. Fresno State controlled the time of possession 36:33 - 23:27 and still ran for over 100 yards, despite having only 24 at halftime. I think the biggest bright spot on defense was Dillon Thieneman who forced Fresno State’s lone turnover on a beautiful interception. The freshman also led the team in tackles with 10 but was often starting so far downfield, the camera didn’t even pick him up. We would find out that that was the intention to allow the DB’s to be aggressive. The problem was that the DB’s weren’t. They consistently were getting beat and the Fresno State offense knew who and where to pick on. Pair that with the lack of consistent pressure on defense by the defensive line, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Purdue did get to the QB twice, but Mikey Keene was still pretty safe when dropping back.
How to improve:
Where do I begin? For one thing, I want to see the defensive backfield become much more aggressive, almost to the point of taking the occasional penalty. The only reservation I have about that is tackling. My goodness was the tackling poor last weekend, but if that is a point of emphasis in practice (and I suspect it will be), then I will settle for better tackling and the same level of aggression by the DB’s. Personally, I would like to see Dillon Thieneman crash down into the box a bit more often, even as a bluff. I understand having backfield help is nice with man coverage, but when he’s that far back, it’s like playing 11 vs 10. Until Ryan Walters can recruit a full team of his guys on defense, he will have to make due with what he’s got but there’s plenty of talent on defense to make it a strong squad. Hopefully that improvement comes quickly.
Special Teams: A-
Mostly good things from the special teams this week, including the longest kickoff return for a touchdown since 2013. We’ll go a bit chronological here as the first kickoff of the game had a penalty and rekick, but we can chalk that one up to adrenaline for the first kick of the year. From a punting standpoint, Jack Ansell had a fair day, averaging 41.5 yards and downing two punts out of four inside the twenty. Ben Freehill made all of his extra points but did miss a 43-yard field goal early in the second half that would have put Purdue ahead by 15. What stood out was the return game from Purdue. In the first half, TJ Sheffield fielded a punt and returned it 29 yards deep into Fresno State territory to set up Purdue's second touchdown of the game. That was the only punt return of the game and there were no muffs, a good sign. In the kickoff return game, Tyrone Tracy Jr had a big day, returning three kicks for 144 yards including a 98-yard tightrope act down the home sideline to start the second half.
How to improve:
Really, the only improvements to be made are to make your field goals and maybe Jack Ansell can punt a little bit further. The special teams did well and that needs to be acknowledged.
Two big things that the coaching staff was assessed on: the play calling and the decision by Ryan Walters to accept a holding penalty to allow Fresno State another 3rd down opportunity in which they converted. Let’s start with the penalty choice; I think Ryan Walters made the right call. The ball was on the 40-yard line and it was 3rd and 3. If Walters declined the penalty, I think most people would go for it in plus territory with 3 or less yards to gain. The defense looked ok up to that point, so I don’t blame Walters for trusting his guys to make a stop on 3rd and long. Of course, Fresno State converted and ultimately missed a field goal on the drive. It was a tossup but I think the right call was made and just didn’t work out. The second area that I’m judging is play calling. I thought the gameplan wasn’t too bad to start, but more adjustments needed to be made late in the game. Fresno State continually made short to mid passes vs a 1 deep look and they took advantage. I mentioned earlier that I would’ve like Dillon Thieneman to play closer in, as that adjustment could have paid off. On offense, I also mentioned an adjustment that Purdue could have made to counter the funneling defense by quickly rushing outside on a jet sweep. Also, a nice toss play could have worked or even an outside zone read. This is my Madden side talking, but there are definitely adjustments that can be made in-game to further the offense.
How to improve:
If I knew this, I would be a P5 football coach. I’d like to see more drastic adjustments when needed, not just some minor tweaks.
Gameday Atmosphere: A+
As per the new norm, football Saturday in West Lafayette is great. The Ross Ade improvements looked great and the gameday experience was top notch. I was able to walk a full circle in the concourse, a very big deal. The jury is still out on the placement of the band and student section but that doesn’t mean they were any less rowdy. Having the Big Ten Network over was great as well, as Purdue stars showed out in this one. Mike Alstott was an honorary captain, David Bell led shout, and Curtis Painter was on the field looking like Jude Law during a TV timeout. College football season is amazing, and the weather is starting to turn brisk. I for one cannot wait for hoodie and shorts season (my girlfriend is already enjoying Pumpkin Spice Latte season) and Spooky season is fast approaching. All great things despite the loss.
Ultimately, Purdue lost the season opener to a top Mountain West team with a very good coaching staff and plenty of transfer talent. Yes, Purdue has a lot to clean up, but Ryan Walters looks like the type of coach to keep his team accountable for their mistakes and fix them. There are still 11 games this season, so 11 different opportunities to show improvement and collect some W’s. I still trust in the man Purdue has appointed to lead this team and I hope his grades from us will rise the rest of the way.