Aug. 30, 2010
By Larry Watts
Heading into his second season, Purdue head coach Danny Hope (5-7 overall last year, 4-4 Big Ten) faces nearly as many questions as a high school student taking a college entrance exam.
On offense, it starts with finding an able replacement for leading rusher Ralph Bolden (935 yards, 9 TDs), who tore his ACL during spring drills. How will junior quarterback Robert Marve, who started 11 games as a redshirt freshman at Miami (Fla.), fit into his new enviroment at Purdue? And how long will it take for an offensive line with only two returning starters to jell? And then there's those 29 turnovers, 20 in the first six games, that haunted the Boilermakers in 2009.
Defensively, although the Boilers have six starters back in the front seven, can they find a way to stop the run? Their rush defense has ranked last in the Big Ten the past two seasons, yielding 26 touchdowns and an average of 173.4 yards last year. Pass defense was a strength last year, but all four starters are gone.
Between freshmen and junior college transfers, Hope predicts there could be at least 10 news faces seeing the field for the first time in 2010. But if he finds the right answers quickly, the Boilermakers could be a surprise team in the Big Ten this season.
OFFENSE: The jury is still out on whether or not Bolden, a junior, will return in 2010. Complicating matters is the fact senior backup Keith Carlos, who was moved from receiver in the spring, is dealing with a stress fracture in his right foot. That leaves sophomore Al-Terek McBurse at the top of the heap. Senior Dan Dierking and probably true freshman Reggie Pegram, who has impressed in fall camp, could round out the rotation. Between them, that's a grand total of 4 yards rushing returning from 2009. Fortunately, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Marve is a mobile quarterback. In addition to passing for 1,293 yards (54.5 percent accuracy) and nine touchdowns in his one season at Miami, he also rushed for another 119 yards and two more scores. However, Marve will need to stay healthy because sophomore backup Caleb TerBush has been ruled academically ineligible. Senior Keith Smith, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year after leading the conference with 91 receptions for 1,100 yards, heads a talented receiving group, which should get a boost from the return of 6-4 Justin Siller, who was dismissed from school last year because of academics. Senior Cortez Smith, sophomore Antavian Edison and redshirt freshman Gary Bush should also be on the receiving end of Marve's passes. Senior Kyle Adams (6-4, 251) returns to start at tight end and will be a big factor. Left tackle Dennis Kelly (6-8, 297) and right guard Ken Plue (6-7, 340), a pair of juniors who started all 12 games in 2009, return to anchor the front line. Plue is on the Outland Trophy watch list. Sophomore Peters Drey (6-6, 292) was switched from guard to center at the start of fall camp. Senior Justin Pierce (6-4, 325) and junior Nick Mondek (6-5, 290), who is making the transition from defense, are expected to line up at left guard and right tackle, respectively.
DEFENSE: The heart of the defense is senior defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (6-4, 263), a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009. Named to the watch lists for the Nagurski, Hendricks, Bednarik and Lombardi awards, Kerrigan led the Big Ten with 13 sacks last year. He also collected 18.5 tackles for loss, 66 solo hits and forced seven fumbles. Junior Gerald Gooden (6-3, 242) is back at the other bookend while sophomore Kawann Short (6-4, 310) returns at tackle. Redshirt freshmen Justin Kitchens (6-5, 272) and Brandon Taylor (6-1, 284) are competing with true freshman Bruce Gaston Jr. (6-2, 290) at the other tackle slot while redshirt freshman Kevin Pamphile (6-5, 277) battles his way back from a stress fracture. Although all three starters return at linebacker, sophomore Dwayne Beckford has earned the start in the middle because of his physical play. The veterans include sixth-year senior Jason Werner (77 tackles in 2009) and juniors Joe Holland (81 tackles) and Chris Carlino (71 tackles). Corner Charlie Williams played in eight games last season while strong safety Albert Evans, both juniors, posted 32 tackles. Sophomore Josh Johnson has been working at the other corner while junior Logan Link holds the edge at free safety. Junior college transfer Mike Eargle, a junior, and true freshman Ricardo Allen are keeping the pressure on in the secondary along with sophomore free safety Chris Quinn.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Hope would like to lighten the load on junior Carson Wiggs, but it appears he is the top candidate to take on all the kicking chores for the Boilermakers. Wiggs, a two-year veteran, was 14-of-21 in field goals last year with his longest coming from 59 yards. He had a 63.4-yard kickoff average and punted four times for an average of 36.5 yards.
MISCELLANEOUS: Purdue probably pulled the surprise of the 2009 season in the Big Ten when it ended a five-game losing streak by upsetting eventual conference champ Ohio State 26-18. The Boilermakers won four of their last six games, including a 38-36 victory at Michigan. It marked only the third time in school history that the Boilermakers have defeated Ohio State and Michigan in the same season. This season's schedule is perfectly made to break in new players. After opening at Notre Dame on Sept. 4, Purdue hosts Western Illinois, Ball State and Toledo before starting conference action at Northwestern on Oct. 9. The Boilermakers also avoid conference powers Iowa and Penn State this year. Purdue has only won one of its last 16 trips to Notre Dame. Again recognizing the tradition of quarterbacks at Purdue, Mark Herrmann (1977-80) will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year. A former first-team All-American, Herrmann ranks fifth on the Big Ten's career passing list, set nine NCAA records in his career and was named the MVP in three consecutive bowl games (1978 Peach, 1979 Bluebonnet and 1980 Liberty). He was also the MVP in the Big Ten in 1980.