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Purdue Football: Looking Back at Michigan State

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Breaking Down What Went Wrong (with pictures)

NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I’m back home after a 10 day adventure through the Southeast and ready to talk some Purdue football....I just wish I had better Purdue football to talk about this week.

As we all know, the Boilermakers are coming off a dud in East Lansing. The offense vacillated between sluggish and inept and the defense couldn’t make enough plays to win the game.

I don’t want to dwell on the past, but I thought I would throw in a few key points from the game last week, before moving on to the Iowa game this week.

Offense

David Blough

Purdue needs good quarterback play to win and they didn’t get it on Saturday. Blough has a history of running either hot or cold, and last Saturday, he was frigid. His decision making was bad and he was lucky to only get picked off three times on the day. The Spartans left at least two other interceptions on the field that I counted.

Perhaps even more troubling than his decision making was his accuracy. The ball just didn’t seem to be coming out of his hand well all game. There were several throws that just looking strange, with the ball coming out in a wobble instead of a spiral. It was a cold, wet day and looking back on his career, I’m beginning to wonder if Blough has a hard time throwing the ball in wet weather, as some of his worst performances come in poor conditions (Minnesota last year, Eastern Michigan this year).

I saw this play from the first drive as a harbinger of things to come for Blough last Saturday.

On this play, Blough makes two bad reads on the same play.

The obvious bad read is anticipating Zico breaking the option route outside instead of seeing that he is hooking up underneath. This was a case of the wide receiver and the quarterback not being on the same page. It’s hard to know exactly who to pin the mistake on, but it doesn’t appear that Zico gives any indication that he’s going to break outside.

The more frustrating decision was to throw the ball Zico’s way in the first place, because Rondale Moore is wide open on the out cut for an easy pitch and catch.

As you can see from the still, Rondale (yellow) is breaking to the outside. It’s hard to see, but if you look at the top right of the still, you can see Purdue running off the defender on the outside with a deep route, clearing the zone for Rondale. He’s wide open, and we all know he has the ability to turn it up the field once he makes the catch.

Instead, Blough appears to stare down Zico (green) and attempts to sneak a pass into coverage. The best case scenario on this throw is Zico making the catch and immediately getting blasted by the safety.

These sorts of questionable decisions were common on Saturday, and were only made worse as the Michigan State pass rush started ramping up as the day went along.

Redzone Issues

Purdue struggled in the red zone all game. One of the best elements of Purdue’s offense against Ohio State was punching the ball in the end zone and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.

Against Michigan State, the opposite was true, as Purdue was forced to kick for 3 instead of pushing the ball in the end zone for 6.

This play was an example of the Boilermakers dysfunction in the red zone

I’m all for creativity, but when you’ve got 1st and goal from the 4 and a running back like D.J. Knox in the backfield, I think a more traditional hand off is in order. I don’t mind this play on 4th and goal if the defense has managed to stop HB power or HB Iso 3 straight times, but you’ve got to at least give you running back and offensive line 3 attempts to pick up 4 yards running straight ahead.

I love Brohm, but on occasion, I think he makes the game a little harder than it needs to be. This was one such occasion.

After losing 6 yards on first down, Purdue threw an incomplete fade route to Zico in the corner of the end zone, and then Blough overthrew a wide open Sparks on a crossing route. I’m not sure Sparks gets into the end zone, but Blough didn’t give him a chance because of a poor throw.

Purdue had the ball inside the Michigan State 20 twice in the first half and came away with 6 points. They let Michigan State hang around and turn the game into a rock fight, and that’s not Purdue’s game.

Defense

I know the defense has taken some abuse from the game last week, and I understand some of the specific criticism, but if you look at the big picture, holding Michigan State to 23 points should have been good enough to win the game. I’m glad I didn’t know Purdue was going to allow 23 to the Spartans before the game started, because I would have bet the house on the Boilermakers and would be writing this piece from the computer lab at the homeless shelter.

I agree that the coverage could be tighter, but the pass rush did the Boilermakers no favors either, as they struggled to get consistent pressure on Lombardi.

This play demonstrates how a lack of a pass rush hurt Purdue in coverage.

When you saw this play on T.V. I guarantee you at least thought, if not screamed, “How is he so wide open, what is the DB doing!”

In reality, the DB (Smiley in this case) does his job, but the pass rush doesn’t have his back, making the coverage look terrible.

From this pre-snap still, you can see that Purdue is playing Cover 1. That means it is man coverage across the board, with a deep safety. Purdue is bringing 5 (blue) and has the possibility of bringing 6, depending on the running back (red) and Bailey (red).

You can see Smiley (green) on the top of the screen. Once the wide receiver gets an outside release, Smiley has to cover deep sideline, because the safety isn’t going to be able to get over and help from the near hash.

Smiley (green) has no choice but to bail out and cover deep. He has no safety help and can’t give up the deep sideline. He has to rely on the pass rush to get home to prevent the comeback route.

As you can see, the pass rush (blue) hasn’t made any progress. The blitzing linebacker is easily absorbed by the interior of the Michigan State line, and the running back, has moved across the formation to cut the end coming around the corner.

At this point, or actually, at a few points before this, Bailey (red) should be free to come on a blitz. When you’re playing man across and the running back stays in to block, the running backs assigned defender has to come on a blitz. Bailey, however, is worried about the running back (red) coming across the formation and doesn’t recognize that the running backs job is to cut the end.

The running back is blocking the defensive end, and eliminating Bailey from the play at the same time.

Right now, Smiley (green, top of screen) probably knows he’s toast, but there is nothing he can do about it. He’s correctly covering deep down the sideline, but the WR breaks it off and runs the comeback. Smiley can’t get his hips around fast enough to drive on the comeback.

Looking back into the pocket, Barnes (blue) has managed to shed the running back, but it’s too late. The quarterback has a clear lane (purple) to deliver the ball, and I doubt he knows that Barnes is closing in on him. He has plenty of space to step into the throw and deliver a strike.

What killed this play is Bailey not recognizing that the running back staying in to block. The throwing lane (purple) is the exact lane that Bailey should be blitzing into, but because MSU brought the running back across the formation, he had to decide if he was blocking or going out into the flat. Bailey decides that the running back is viable receiver, and takes himself out of the play completely.

Barnes is the only player in the original defensive front (blue) to make any progress at all. The opposite defensive end is totally blocked out of the play, and the interior of the MSU line not only picked up the blitz, but held their ground and prevented any push up the middle.

Finally, with the ball on the way, you can see Smiley trying to flip his hips around and drive on the ball. He ends up slipping, but, even if he makes a clean transition, he’s beat.

Watching the game live, I thought Smiley was playing off, and allowed the easy completion. Upon closer inspection, Purdue brought the blitz and left Smiley on an island with no safety help deep. He correctly defended the deep sideline, but the pass rush let him down by allowing MSU the time to run the comeback.

Overall

Purdue was bad on offense, and Purdue hasn’t shown the ability to win games this season when they are bad on offense. I feel like the defense held up well enough to win, and did a solid job of limiting MSU to early field goals.

Time to flush this one down the toilet and move on to Iowa. I’ll have more on them tomorrow. Purdue still has everything to play for, and can absolute knock off Iowa and pull the upset (at least rankings wise) this weekend, but Blough and the offense have to show up.