Season Preview: Purdue
Sept. 3, 2009
By Larry Watts
Danny Hope brings plenty of energy into his first year as head coach at Purdue and with the graduation of nearly every offensive skill position player plus a young linebacking corps, he'll need plenty of that energy to keep the Boilermakers motivated following a 4-8 campaign (2-6 Big Ten, tied for ninth).
If the Boilermakers are to rebound to their successful ways on the field, key players like running back Jaycen Taylor, linebacker Jason Werner and free safety Torri Williams must overcome injury-plagued careers. Plus, senior quarterback Joey Elliott must get off to a solid start or the job could fall into the hands of redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush. Several true freshmen could see playing time for the Boilermakers in 2009.
OFFENSE: Elliott, who suffered a season-ending shoulder separation against Northwestern last October, served three seasons as Curtis Painter's backup. Playing only 10 games in his career, he has completed 27 passes for 300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He is now operating under his third offensive coordinator and third quarterback coach. Elliott also faces the fact that the Boilermakers will be breaking in three new starting wide receivers for the second straight year. Junior Keith Smith (49 catches, 486 yards in 2008) becomes the No. 1 target, but he'll need plenty of help from fifth-year senior Aaron Valentin (11 receptions, 224 yards), converted cornerback Royce Adams, a senior, and junior Keith Carlos, a junior college transfer. Junior Kyle Adams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year's opener, returns at tight end. He had eight receptions for 109 yards in 2007. Elliott will still operate the spread, but look for Hope to push for more out of his running attack. That's where a healthy Taylor will provide a big lift. Taylor, a fifth-year senior, went down with an ACL tear during fall camp last year. He was second on the team with 560 yards rushing in 2007 but missed four weeks with a broken arm. The previous season he had 938 yards total offense, including 677 on the ground. If Taylor is unable to go, sophomore Ralph Bolden, fifth-year senior Frank Halliburton, freshman Al-Terek McBurse or junior Dan Dierking will be in the mix. The Boiler offense returns only four starters from 2008 and all four are on the offensive line. Zach Reckman started at left tackle last year, but he has moved over to left guard, where he will vie for playing time with fellow fifth-year senior Eric Hedstrom. Sophomore Dennis Kelly moves in at left tackle. The right side is secure with returning starters (RG) Ken Plue, a sophomore, and (RT) Zach Jones, a fifth-year senior. Junior Justin Pierce made five starts at right guard last year and will be a valuable insurance policy. Fifth-year senior Jared Zwilling was moved from guard to center in spring ball.
DEFENSE: Seven starters return on the defensive side of the ball. In (DT) Mike Neal, a fifth-year senior, and (DE) Ryan Kerrigan, a junior, Purdue has two of the best at their positions in the Big Ten. Neal posted 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season while Kerrigan, who has played in every game during his first two years, collected 56 tackles, including 11.5 for a loss and seven sacks. Sophomore (DE) Gerald Gooden gained valuable playing time last year while (DT) Kawann Short, a redshirt freshman, was a standout during spring drills. The Boilermaker linebackers are young, so they need the veteran presence of (SLB) Werner, a fifth-year senior, who has missed two seasons (2006 and 2008) with back surgeries. Sophomore (WLB) Joe Holland made the transition from safety to finish third on the team with 76 tackles. In the middle, Chris Carlino made five starts as a true freshman in 2008 and posted 36 tackles. Purdue's defense led the Big Ten in pass defense (183.2 yard per game) last year and three veterans return to the secondary. Injury-plagued safety Williams, who was second on the team with 83 tackles and picked off two passes, gained a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Fifth-year senior Brandon King (8 tackles) and senior David Pender are back on the corners. Senior Dwight Mclean made six starts at strong safety last year, posting 36 tackles and two interceptions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Boilers return both of their kicking specialists. Sophomore Carson Wiggs, who is on the Groza Award watch list, took over the placekicking duties from Chris Summers last season and connected on 8 of 11 attempts, including a school-record 53-yarder. Summers, a senior, wound up with a 38.4-yard punting average. Valentin and Royce Adams figure to be the top return men. Valentin posted a 25.7 average on 16 kick returns last season.
MISCELLANEOUS: Hope was Purdue's offensive line coach during former coach Joe Tiller's first five years. After serving five years as head coach at Eastern Kentucky, he returned to the Boilermakers in 2008 to serve as offensive line coach and head coach in waiting. He brings with him five new assistants, including offensive coordinator Gary Nord and defensive coordinator Donn Landholm. *A native of Gainesville, Fla., Hope went back home for the bulk of his first recruiting class. Fourteen of Hope's recruits are from Florida, giving Purdue the largest contingent of players from the Sunshine State outside of the Florida schools. *Getting Purdue back to its glory days will be a tough task. Eight of the 2009 opponents played in bowl games last year. Starting with a trip to Oregon (Sept. 12), the Boilermakers play six straight contests against teams who advanced to the 2008 postseason. A home date with Illinois (Oct. 24) and a road trip to Wisconsin (Oct. 31) have replaced Iowa and Penn State in the Big Ten's two-year rotating schedule.