Biggest Surprises for Purdue Through Week 3
There have been plenty of surprises so far this season for the Purdue Boilermakers.
From barely beating an FCS school to almost defeating Notre Dame last week, the Boilers have already faced many ups and downs on the year, and they haven't even started BIG play yet.
They will look to build on the ups and fix the downs this week, though, as they prepare to open their conference slate on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers this week.
Surprises can come in many different sizes, and Purdue has had a handful of them up to this point.
Here’s a look at the five biggest surprises for Purdue through Week 3.
Gary Bush's rough start
The fifth-year receiver was pegged as the main wide receiver on the depth chart before the season began.
He was the most experienced player in a group littered with inexperience.
Bush, who came into the season with 765 yards and 11 touchdowns on 81 catches, has only recorded two receptions and 14 yards for the year, both of which came in the first game against Cincinnati.
However, it is important to note that the senior wideout does have more important things on his mind than football at the moment, as his dad was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer in April.
Raheem Mostert's lack of involvement
Raheem Mostert was expected to have a huge role on this season’s Purdue squad, but so far, he has seen only one touch: a 23-yard kick return.
The shifty running back has never quite found a concrete role for himself (he’s also been used as a wide receiver), but according to JCOnline, Head Coach Darrell Hazell has plans to change that, starting this weekend.
Is Cody Webster Purdue's best player?
It’s not a surprise that punter Cody Webster is a serious weapon for the Boilermakers this season.
It is a surprise, though, just how effective he has been thus far.
Webster has been one of the top punters this season and is one of the leading candidates for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the best punter at the conclusion of each season.
He’s been so good so far that Webster has been touted as Purdue’s top player by some.
5. B.J. Knauf Steps Up
The question at wide receiver before the season started was which player would step up after Bush, a unit that has plenty of depth but severely lacks in playing experience.
While Bush has disappointed, redshirt freshman B.J. Knauf has not.
Knauf took a big step in becoming more involved in the offense when he scored his first touchdown of the season against Indiana State…on a running play.
And he put himself in the national spotlight when he scored an 18-yard touchdown on a beautiful catch-and-run in a prime-time contest against Notre Dame, where he spun by a defender and jogged into the end zone.
Junior Shane Mikesky has also stepped up and become a factor at wide receiver.
He’s surpassed Knauf’s 76 yards with 99 of his own (with nearly half of which coming on one catch) and has matched his six catches.
However, it’s Knauf’s versatility that has made him a bigger factor than Mikesky up to this point.
Knauf is third in receiving yards (behind running back Akeem Hunt and Mikesky), third in rushing yards (behind Hunt and Dalyn Dawkins), second in kick return yardage (behind Hunt, again) and second in punt return yardage (behind Frankie Williams).
The 5’10”, 180-pound wideout had some Purdue pundits talking in the preseason but mostly as a fix to the punt return game that has been lacking for the past few years.
His emergence as a viable pass-catcher is a surprise, but with Bush’s lack of production and Danny Anthrop’s knee injury, the stars have aligned to make the undersized redshirt freshman an immediate contributor.
4. Defensive Struggles
This title is only half true.
The defense has stepped up big in all three games’ first halves. They’ve only allowed 17 points in the first half—14 to Cincinnati, zero to Indiana State and three to Notre Dame.
That’s an impressive feat.
However, it doesn’t look quite as impressive when you think about the fact that they have given up 70 points in the second half—28 to Cincinnati, 14 to Indiana State and 28 to Notre Dame.
The Boilers haven’t even scored that many points all season (and it’s not even close, with only 51 points).
Purdue has given up 29 points per game, putting them at 84 in the nation.
Before the season, there was talk that defense was going to be Purdue’s forte, especially at defensive line (which continues to be one of Purdue’s biggest, if not its biggest, strengths).
The defense was supposed to be solid, with cornerback Ricardo Allen and defensive tackle Bruce Gaston picking up the production that Kawann Short took to the NFL.
Those two have responded with strong seasons thus far (although not flawless seasons, as both have struggled a bit at times).
The rest of the defense has some ways to go, and it starts with consistency.
The pass defense, in particular, has struggled more than the run defense.
It shut down Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees in the first half of Saturday night’s game, holding him to 94 yards on 8 of 17 passing.
But then he exploded in the second half, finishing with 309 yards and two touchdowns on 20 of 33 passing. He only missed on four passes after halftime.
The defense as a whole hasn’t been bad so far this season, per se, but it’s surprising that they aren’t playing better than they are right now.
3. The Notre Dame Game
This first part of the game was a pleasant surprise. The Boilermakers came out strong and jumped out to a 10-0 lead on Notre Dame.
The defense looked sharp in the first half, holding the Irish to only three points, and the offense looked competent, although they wouldn’t really start rolling until the second half, when the Purdue defense started to break.
The Boilermakers, who came into the contest as three-touchdown underdogs, were in the game the entire way and were in control a majority of the time.
That alone was a surprise, since Purdue struggled mightily with an FCS school just a week prior to the game.
Then, the unpleasant surprise came swiftly and violently.
The Irish scored three touchdowns in less than four minutes during the fourth quarter to, ultimately, put the game out of the reach.
With the Boilermakers making all the right plays up to that point, it seemed as if they were destined to win.
While some fans may point out the game to be a moral victory, Hazell doesn’t believe in them.
“We’re in the business of winning,” Hazell said, according to JCOnline.
Another surprise that came out of the game was the performance of senior quarterback Rob Henry. He had been consistently inconsistent in the two games before the Notre Dame matchup, and it seemed as if, when the competition became even tougher, that he would continue to play poorly.
However, he answered with 256 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-40 passing.
That was good enough to silence the calls for Henry to be benched in favor of Danny Etling or Austin Appleby, at least for another week.
But for Hazell, the signal-caller still has some work to do.
"He played pretty well,” Hazell said, according to Yahoo! Sports. “He got us in and out of the huddle really fast. I thought he made good decisions with the football throwing it away, but we need for him to continue to get better."
2. The Indiana State Game
This was another game that was surprising as a whole, although on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the Notre Dame game.
This was Indiana St.
A team called the Sycamores.
A team that was blown out by 38 points by Indiana a week before.
A team that had a guy by the name of George Cheeseborough (a guy that scored a touchdown on Purdue, no less).
This was a mark-it-down win from the get-go—or so it seemed—before the game began. It was supposed to be just a tune-up for the reviled Fighting Irish.
But Purdue needed a late Ricardo Allen interception to seal the 20-14 victory against the in-state FCS school.
Granted, this isn’t the worst FCS team out there. They even received some votes for the Sports Network’s top 25 in that division.
But they certainly shouldn’t have been able to make a game of it. And they definitely shouldn’t have been able to do it without senior running back Shakir Bell, who has 3,907 career rushing yards.
That’s exactly what they did, though, and while the Boilermakers were happy to come away with the win, they certainly could have done without the early scare considering their brutal schedule.
The Indiana St. game was a wake-up call for Purdue fans, and some were concerned after the game (and rightfully so).
Competing against a tough Notre Dame team that was in the BCS National Championship Game last year has quelled some of those fears but not all of them, including the number one surprise so far this season.
1. Troubles with the Running Game
The unit that was supposed to receive the biggest uptick in production upon Darrell Hazell’s arrival was the running game. It seemed that junior running back Akeem Hunt was a perfect fit for Hazell’s scheme, a game plan that produced two 1,000-yard rushers last season (Trayion Durham and Dri Archer, who Hunt most resembles) at Kent State.
However, it hasn’t quite worked out as planned.
On the season, Hunt only has 41 rushes for 125 yards, good for a pedestrian (if that) 3.4 yard per carry average.
The rushing game as a whole is only averaging 79 yards per game, ranking them 116 in the nation.
The Boilermakers will have a difficult time winning with this team without some sort of balance and, preferably, a run-heavy attack.
And, as Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails notes, this year’s poor showing in the run game can’t be attributed to Purdue facing great run defenses. Indiana State gave up 313 yards on the ground to Indiana, and Cincinnati allowed Illinois 210 rushing yards.
It can, however, be linked back to the offensive line, which features four seniors. It’s a line that has been unable to win the battle up front, failing in multiple short-yardage situations so far this season.
Offensive guard Jordan Roos agrees.
"We've just got to keep getting better at knowing the fronts and blocking whatever is in front of us," Roos said, according to GoldandBlack.com.
The good news is that the backfield has been heavily involved in the passing attack (Hunt is the team's leading receiver), which has helped the Purdue offense in the short term, but the running game will have to step up and become a more integral part of the attack for the Boilermakers to succeed in the long term.
And Hazell has been making that his focus.
“We need to be a much more still physical football team running the ball when we have to," Hazell said, according to GoldandBlack.com.