Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Purdue Boilermakers, Part 2, Offense
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Last week, I got my feet wet with Purdue, looking at the program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Boilermakers will do this season.
This week, I'll look at the 2012 Purdue offense.
2011 scoring offense: 26.9 PPG (seventh in the conference), total offense: 376.8 YPG (sixth), rushing YPC: 4.41 (fifth), passing efficiency: 122.81 (ninth)
Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 6.4
Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: First (2007)
Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 11th (2010)
Returning starters: QB Caleb TerBush, QB Rob Henry (injured), RB Ralph Bolden, WR Antavian Edison, WR O.J. Ross, TE Gabe Holmes, TE Crosby Wright, OL Peters Drey, OL Rick Schmeig, OT Trevor Foy, OT Justin Kitchens
Open Positions: OL, WR
Offensive Formation: Spread
Offensive Philosophy: Uptempo
Passing Scheme: Possession
Rushing scheme: Zone read
Though Purdue football is known for "basketball on grass"—short possession passing that is more reminiscent of passing around the key in basketball than the Big Ten's typical "three yards and a cloud of dust"—the Boilermakers, under Danny Hope, have moved away from that offensive philosophy.
The passing game still centers around possession—Purdue had the third-fewest yards-per-passing-attempt in the conference, despite posting the fifth-highest completion percentage. It also had the fewest passing plays of 30-yards or more.
That said, the Boilermakers are more focused on establishing the run than they were under Joe Tiller. Last season, Purdue rushed on 57.8 percent of its offensive plays.
One element of Tiller's offense that has not changed is spread formations. Therefore, it needs a lot of wide receivers who can block, catch and make plays with the ball after the catch. Purdue uses tight ends, but said tight ends usually line up in the slot or function more as an H-back than a true tight end.
The Boilermakers prefer to use shotgun and pistol formations and, with the right quarterback, employ a good deal of read options and quarterback draws. However, they can work with pocket passers as well.
Purdue is known as the Cradle of Quarterbacks, but somebody should tell Danny Hope that the university's moniker doesn't mean that he can play 11 quarterbacks at a time.
Currently, the Boilermakers have three experienced signal callers on their roster: senior Caleb TerBush, sophomore Rob Henry and sixth-year senior Robert Marve.
I'm not sure why Danny Hope opened the door to Robert Marve for a sixth year. Marve, when healthy, hasn't been impressive in his two years as a Boilermaker and, barring a major turnaround, has little business competing with TerBush and Henry for the starting job.
TerBush and Henry, on the other hand, have been quality signal callers.
Henry missed last season with a torn ACL, though he should be healthy for August camp. In 2010, he was thrown into action when seemingly every Purdue signal caller went down because of injuries or ineligibility.
In his one year as a starter, Henry had an efficiency rating of 112.39 and ran for 547 yards, which was good for 5.26 YPC. Henry's passing stats might not seem impressive, but one has to remember he was a true freshman who wasn't even receiving second-string reps in summer camp.
Meanwhile, TerBush was ruled academically ineligible for 2010. He came back last season and was the Boilermakers' top passer with a 130.63 efficiency rating. TerBush was also thrown into action when Henry, the likely starter, tore his ACL at the end of camp. Consequently, TerBush missed about three weeks of first team practice time.
Who will be Purdue's No. 1 QB?
Henry has the bigger upside of the two, but TerBush might be safer at this point.
Along with the three experienced players, Hope brought four potential quarterbacks into this season's recruiting class. It is likely that at least two of them will change positions before the 2012 season starts, but one is left to question Danny Hope's recruiting strategies. Ideally, a program recruits one quarterback per class.
By the way, Purdue currently has two verbals in its 2013 class, one of whom is—you guessed it—a quarterback.
How will this quarterback-heavy recruiting affect Purdue in 2012? That will be answered when looking at the depth issues on both sides of the line.
At the end of the 2011 regular season, the Purdue backfield looked promising.
The Boilermakers expected to return their top two running backs, seniors Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Both of them averaged over 4.50 yards-per-carry in 2011.
However, the situation was complicated with a late-season injury to Bolden. His status was made worse with a recent arrest. It's impossible to say whether Bolden will be able to play or how Danny Hope will handle the player's legal issues, but it is likely that Bolden will miss some time.
Assuming Bolden can play or isn't kicked off the team, he should have a solid senior season. He was all-conference in 2009 before losing 2010 to a torn ACL. He came back last year, though wasn't quite as effective.
Bolden finished 2011 with 674 yards, 4.55 YPC and six touchdowns. He also had 13 receptions for 129 yards.
Most of the reason he didn't generate as many yards as 2009 was because he shared the backfield with JUCO-transfer Shavers. Shavers had 519 yards, 4.68 YPC and six touchdowns.
Also, true freshman Akeem Hunt was impressive in garbage time, averaging 8.70 YPC on 33 carries.
The three can make a formidable group. The questions, however, concern Bolden's status and whether any of the Boilermakers' top rushers are able to take over a game.
Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Seventh
The Boilers have a nice stable of receivers, any one of whom could earn minutes in Danny Hope's spread, receiver-heavy offense.
The problem is that Purdue hasn't had a go-to, game-changing receiver since Keith Smith in 2009. Part of the problem the passing game has had over the past two seasons has revolved around that issue.
Purdue returns four of its top six pass catchers from last season, including senior receiver Antavian Edison, and juniors O.J. Ross and Gary Bush.
Between the top three, as well as a number of capable underclassmen, one or more of them have to step up and be the guy that opposing defenses have to account for at all times.
It is much the same with the tight ends, as senior Crosby Wright and junior Gabe Holmes both return after respectable 2011 seasons.
Without an individual pass catcher stepping up, the Boilermaker offense can be potent, but decidedly limited and too reliant on their still-questionable quarterback play.
For any of his other shortcomings, head coach Danny Hope—a former offensive line coach—has done a good job of coaching up his offensive line and, by extension, his rushing offense.
In 2010, despite the absence of any passing game, Purdue averaged 4.37 YPC, which was good for sixth in the conference. Last season, it averaged 4.41 YPC, which was fifth.
In 2012, the entire offense should have more balance than it has previously had, which will help out an offensive line that will be inexperienced in certain areas.
The only returning full-time "starters," are seniors Rick Schmeig and Peters Drey. They will reprise their roles as center and guard.
Juniors Justin Kitchens and Trevor Foy combined for 13 starts at right tackle last season. This season, the two of them will likely comprise the bookends of the offense.
Following spring practices, the final guard spot belonged to junior Kevin Pamphile, who switched over from defensive line in the middle of last season.
While the top five are respectable, the problem comes with the second string. There is no established depth after the starters, and a number of freshmen are one injury away from meaningful playing time.
Purdue did sign 6'7", 315-pound JUCO-transfer Devin Smith, who will push for playing time at tackle, but he is the only notable non-starting upperclassman in the two-deep.
The depth problems are complicated by a back injury that kept Drey out of spring ball. Unlike foot or shoulder injuries, which eventually go away, back injuries tend to linger.
Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Eighth
With returning quarterbacks galore—two of whom have proven they can lead the Boiler offense—and a solid array of experienced position players, the Purdue offense should be able to move the chains.
The problems arise with the offensive line, particularly the line's depth. However, as previously mentioned, Hope has proven that he can coach up an O-line. In effect, it is only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Assuming the line doesn't get ravaged by injuries or Hope doesn't ill-advisedly and pointlessly turn to Robert Marve with the game on the line, last season's seventh-ranked conference scoring offense will be about the same or slightly more potent.
The question is if it will be potent enough to carry a defense that Hope has yet to prove he can coach up.
Coming next Wednesday, an overview and breakdown of Purdue's defense.
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