Purdue sophomore Ralph Bolden claimed to be nervous before his first career start at running back.
“My heart was jumping through my chest,” Bolden said after the game.
While that may be true, none of the fans in Ross-Ade Stadium would have known.
Bolden raced 78 yards for a touchdown on his first carry of the season and piled up a total of 234 yards (the third-best performance in school history) to spark the Boilermakers to a 52-31 win over Toledo.
The victory gave Danny Hope a win in his debut as Purdue head coach, and he wasn’t surprised at all by his team’s prolific offensive numbers. In fact, he wanted more.
“We were hoping we’d have all the points and all the yards,” Hope joked afterward. “We have a very good offense. If we’d been a little more efficient a couple times, we would have scored 70.”
While the offense moved the ball at will, led by Bolden on the ground and quarterback Joey Elliott through the air (220 yards, three touchdowns), the Purdue defense still has some improving to do. The Boilermakers allowed Toledo’s Aaron Opelt to complete 41 passes for 423 yards, often due to sloppy tackling after the catch.
According to Hope, the Rockets’ no-huddle offense made things difficult for the Purdue defensive front.
“They have a four-year starter at quarterback, and he gave them a chance to stay in the game today,” he said. “It was a great conditioning experience for our defense. Ninety-something plays, you can’t manufacture that in practice.”
“I don’t think we tackled near as well as we need to today,” Hope continued. “But we’ll make some huge steps this week. You never improve as much as you do from your first game to your second game. That’s the biggest step you make as a football team.”
Purdue will need to make that improvement if the Boilermakers hope to win at Oregon next week.
Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. is known as one of the loudest and most difficult stadiums in the country for visiting teams, and Hope’s underdog squad will have its work cut out for it to get a win on the West Coast.
After a comfortable 21-point win in the opener, senior linebacker Jason Werner is confident in his team’s chances.
“We’ve got a lot of great talent,” he told reporters. “Obviously people have made their judgments and that’s fine. We want to have a great season playing football, nothing to do with anything else. We know that we’re capable, so it’s just up to us to put in the work and do it.”
One of the great talents on the Boilermakers' roster, kicker Carson Wiggs, made his presence felt Saturday with a school-record 59-yard field goal to end the first half.
Wiggs broke his own school record by six yards and gave Purdue a great deal of momentum heading into the locker room.
The sophomore said he’s kicking with a great deal of confidence after having a whole offseason to work with his snapper and holder.
“We got our timing down perfectly,” he said. “I have 100 percent confidence in both of those guys. In any situation, I feel comfortable we can make that kick.”
Wiggs‘ confidence and comfort level could be tested as soon as next weekend in Oregon.
Purdue will be looking for revenge against the Ducks after a bitter double-overtime defeat in West Lafayette last September. In that contest, special teams really hurt the Boilermakers, as then-kicker Chris Summers missed a potential game-winning kick on the last play of regulation.
If the Boilers buy into their coach’s mantra of making big strides between week one and two, anything is possible.
Bolden, for one, is eating up his coach’s words.
“I feel like we could improve in everything we’ve done today,” the speedy sophomore said after his historic performance Saturday. “Like our coach says, the biggest improvement is from your first to your second game. We have a lot to work on.”
That work will be a little more enjoyable with a 1-0 record.