2009 Purdue Football: It Feels Like 1997

Calvin W Boaz@Burrellfan1Correspondent IIJune 21, 2009

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - SEPTEMBER 20:  The Purdue train before a game against the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 20, 2008 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It has not been since 1997 that there is such an air of uncertainty surrounding Purdue University's football program. Joe Tiller has retired as Purdue's career leader in wins with 87.

After coaching the offensive line from 1997 to 2001 and again last year, Danny Hope takes over the head coaching reins. Also new to the coaching staff is Gary Nord as offensive coordinator and Dan Landholm as defensive coordinator.

The Tiller-Spack era was responsible for 10 bowl appearances in twelve years. However, the team was experiencing a rate of disminishing returns.

The Boilermakers won six conference games four times in twelve years. Over the last five seasons, Purdue was over .500 in conference play just once.

The last Purdue win against a team from a BCS conference that had a winning record was in Nov. 2004 against Ohio State.

During the spring, this year's coaching staff created a renewed sense of enthusiasm. There was an eagerness to begin a new journey.

Hope emphasized speed and athleticism in his first recruiting class by signing 14 Floridians. Despite the excitement of the incoming class, both Scout.com and Rivals.com ranked Purdue's class as the worst in the Big 10.

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Danny Hope will still implement the spread offense, but the cast of characters running it has changed significantly.

No longer will we see Curtis Painter, Kory Sheets, Greg Orton, Desmond Tardy nor Jerry Wasikowski. Keith Smith is the only returning starter on offense at a skill position.

The biggest improvement on offense needed this year based on last year's performance has to be more consistency.

Purdue scored 48 points on Michigan and 62 points on Indiana, but only mustered 22 points against Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State combined. The Boilermakers were 4-0 when they scored 32 or more points and 0-8 when registering 26 points or less.


There has not been this much doubt over the possible success of the starting quarterback since Brandon Hance began in charge in 2001. The starting quarterback this season should have been the athletic Justin Siller, but he was dismissed from the team due to academics.

Insert senior Joey Elliott.

A shoulder injury limited Elliott to 81 passing yards last season. During the spring, he struggled to regain his previous arm strength. Elliott has never been known as a great passer, but he has decent mobility.

The transfer of Robert Marve from the University of Miami to Purdue has created a contrast of opinions.

Some see him as the starting quarterback for 2010 and 2011. Others view him just as the future backup to Caleb TerBush.

TerBush is a 6'5", 222-pound redshirt freshman from Metamora, Ill. He can make the throws Elliott can only dream about and is extremely mobile for his size.

Unless Purdue gets off to a good start offensively, TerBush will probably be starting by the Ohio State or Illinois game.

Running Backs

Jim Colletto was the head coach at Purdue the last time anyone would suggest that the running game is stronger than the passing game. Well, that is the way it looks, at least for now.

Senior Jaycen Taylor was suppose to team up with Kory Sheets last year but tore an ACL before the season even started. The best-case scenario has Taylor becoming more of a speed back than Sheets.

Ralph Bolden was the top offensive player in the spring. He is a compact runner who is willing to run inside but is fast enough to get outside. Bolden also displayed the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and make big plays.

Purdue fans should not forget about star recruit Al-Terek McBurse. He rushed for 2,238 yards as a senior in high school.

Cornell Jackson will be the assistant coach that enjoys his job the most. Danny Hope and Gary Nord might have to create more running plays and formation variations that existed in Joe Tiller's playbook.


The receiving corp, or the lack of one, is the biggest concern for Purdue going into the season. Keith Smith is the leading returning receiver with 486 yards.

Apart from Aaron Valentin, the rest of the receivers could be called the "Ex-Men". Royce Adams and Tommie Thomas are former cornerbacks. Backup tight end Jeff Panfil is a former quarterback. Even Smith started his career at Purdue at safety.

Keith Smith has to become the go-to wide receiver until the others gain experience. Freshmen wide receivers Gary Bush and Eric Williams could make an impact as the season goes along. Junior tight end Kyle Adams is a strong blocker who should be a reliable target for whoever is the quarterback.

Offensive Line

Last season, the line gave up 24 sacks and didn't open up enough holes for the running game. More stability up front would help, and the key to that is Eric Hedstrom.

Hedstrom started eight games at left guard before suffering a shoulder injury. A healthy Hedstrom means senior Zach Reckman can move from left guard back to left tackle where he started the last five games of the season.

Jared Zwilling is the line's most aggressive player and will take over at center.

As a sophomore, Ken Plue is the line's best player. He should be the starting right guard, but he is athletic enough to play tackle.

Expect to see Zach Jones starting at right tackle with Dennis Kelly, Justin Pierce, and Peters Day fighting for playing time on the offensive line.

The key to the defense this year, and perhaps the key to the season, is the ability to stop the run. From 2000 to 2004, Purdue became one of the stingiest run defenses in the Big 10.

Since then, opposing teams have found it increasingly easier to move the ball on the ground. Dan Landholm has placed a renewed emphasis on playing more aggressively and creating more turnovers. Keeping the score down would allow the Boilermakers to stay with their running game and allow Joey Elliott to play more freely.

Defensive Line

Junior Ryan Kerrigan is the stalwart on the defensive line after making 56 tackles and seven sacks in 2008. During spring ball, he displayed more quickness than last year.

Although Kerrigan may be the star of the line, the improvement of veteran Mike Neal and the arrival of Kawann Short at tackle are the major factors in determining the improvement of the line.

During the spring practice, Neal became proficient in getting his hands up to disrupt passing lanes. Short has NFL size and should be able to penetrate the backfield and stuff the run.

Gerald Gooden will man the end opposite Kerrigan. Nickcaro Golding and Robert Maci are the main reserves at end, and Nick Mondek will backup at tackle.


A year of experience should do wonders for improvement of Joe Holland at weakside linebacker and Chris Carlino in the middle. Both are undersized, but Holland and Carlino are smart and rangy.

After two years of back injuries, Jason Werner is ready to takeover strongside linebacker for the departed Anthony Haygood. If healthy, Werner will be the team's best linebacker.

Look for true freshman Dwayne Beckford to make an immediate impact for Purdue.

Defensive Backs

Defensive back coach Lou Anarumo might have the easiest job this year being in charge of the best and most experienced unit on the team. Unless there is a surprise, all four spots will be manned by seniors.

Torii Williams was granted a sixth year of eligibility and should become an All-Big 10 player. Williams is a physical ball hawk equally effective in defending the run or pass.

Dwight Mclean will take over full-time at strong safety after starting four times in 2008. Mclean is strong and fast and will make big plays for the defense.

Brandon King and David Pender will again be the starting corners for the Boilermakers. King is the better tackler, and Pender is Purdue's best cover-corner.

Charlton Williams is a speedster that needs to grow into a reliable nickel back. Josh McKinley will play often, probably backing up at both safety spots.

Special Teams

Chris Summers struggled last year at both kicking and punting. He averaged 38.4 yards per punt and made just five of ten field goals.

For now, Summers will only punt and Carson Wiggs will be the placekicker after hitting eight of 11 field goals last season. Despite the demotion, don't be surprised if Summers becomes the starting kicker again eventually.

J.B. Gibboney will take over as the coach of the special teams with the assignment of improving the return game. Aaron Valentin, a disappointment at wide receiver last season after starring in junior college, will handle both kick and punt return duties.

Last year, the punt coverage team allowed three touchdowns and 16.7 yards per return. Those numbers have to improve to allow Purdue the opportunity to win close games.

Season Analysis

After last year's disappointment of a 4-8 season and the arrival of a new head coach, it is hard to imagine a winning record this year. Adding in the fact the Purdue's offense has recently been the cornerstone of the team but is now in rebuilding mode, a disaster season, three wins or less, might be right around the corner.

However, not much was expected in 1997 when Joe Tiller took over a program that experienced 12 losing seasons in a row. That team went 9-3 and included an opening loss to Toledo.

It just happens that Purdue opens this season against Toledo. A winning season is possible, just don't expect it.

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