WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—Whenever the Purdue Boilermakers needed a big play from one of their wide receivers Saturday night against Notre Dame, quarterback Joey Elliott was always looking for the same target.
And Keith Smith delivered.
The junior wide receiver piled up a game-high 136 yards on 11 catches to lead the Boilermakers, including a fourth-quarter touchdown reception. Smith equaled his career-high in yardage despite Notre Dame desperately trying to contain his production.
“He understood what we’re trying to do and what they’re trying to do to him,” Elliott said of his go-to receiver. “He was able to get open and have a great game.”
Smith is still getting accustomed to his third position since coming to Purdue from Fort Hood, Texas. The junior was recruited as a high school quarterback, switched to safety in 2006 when the Boilermakers lost Torri Williams and Aaron Lane to injuries, and finally made the move to wideout late in 2007.
In Smith’s first year playing as a receiver, he appeared in all 12 games, finishing with an eye-popping 12 grabs for 136 yards and a touchdown in the 2008 season finale against Indiana. The strong showing in the final game pointed to even bigger things from Smith this fall, and so far, he’s delivered.
“I remember back when they put Keith at scout receiver, I knew from that day that he was going to be a big-time receiver,” Purdue cornerback David Pender said after Smith’s latest performance against the Irish.
“He stepped up big today—he really motivated us. We could tell the drive that he had, the fire in his eye: We wanted to come out and play hard and match what he was putting out on the field.”
Teammate Brandon King agreed with Pender’s assessment, calling it a “breakout game” for Smith. The good news for the Boilermakers is that their new No. 1 wide receiver seems to be getting better every time he steps on the football field.
“Going through the last couple weeks, I’m building confidence and the team’s building confidence,” said Smith. “Even though we’ve come up a little short, we’re gonna swing this around. Conference play starts next week and that’s when it really counts.”
Smith is averaging seven catches a game to lead the Boilers, but his versatility has helped other parts of the offense as well.
In Week Two against Oregon, the former quarterback threw a bullet to Aaron Valentin on a critical fourth-down halfback pass for a dramatic touchdown. The score pulled Purdue within a possible two-point conversion of tying the Ducks in the final minute, and is a definite sign of the options Smith, coach Danny Hope, and the Boilermakers have in their bag of tricks.
Speaking of tricks, don’t be surprised if Smith lines up to take some snaps in the “Wildcat” formation against the Wildcats of Northwestern this weekend. Hope plans to use the playmaker in as many creative ways as possible to help the Boilermakers get back on the winning track.
“He’s a heck of a football player,” said Hope. “He really is, he’s a great football player. He does all the things you want him to do. He makes people miss, he blocks, he catches the ball great, and he seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on. He’s an outstanding player.”
Smith likes the idea of being Purdue’s go-to guy, especially in crucial situations. “I have to make myself open and available no matter what on third downs,” Smith said. “He [Elliott] trusts me, and I have to make those plays.”
So far, so good.