TNIAAM: Purdue got battle-tested week one with Penn State, were there any positive takeaways from that game for you?
H&R: “I think there were quite a few. To me, the game was lost in two spots, and if you reverse either of them it is a win. First, Purdue fumbled deep in Penn State territory late in the first half, then gave up a 60+ yard TD with less than 10 seconds left. That was at least a 10 point shift in the game. Even with the fumble, the TD play was the result of extremely poor tackling. If you get the guy on the ground there Penn State is likely trying a long field goal at best with a few seconds left. Instead, they got 7 points when few expected them to score on that drive. It was a massive shift, especially when Purdue fumbled in field goal range on a play where it had gained a first down.
The second was late in the game when Purdue had two possessions with the lead, but could not move the ball or keep the clock moving. It was maddening that we were not even trying to run the ball. We had a number of incomplete ill-advised passes. Even then, it very nearly worked out when Purdue had a downfield catch with about two minutes left overturned on replay because it just barely hit the turf as he caught it.
I really feel like Purdue outplayed Penn State for most of the night, but the large mistakes above were the difference. You can’t give up a 10-14 point shift just before halftime in a game you eventually lose by 4.“
TNIAAM: All of your Iowa transfers decided to go off last week. What do the Orange need to look out for in the pass game?
H&R: “So far Aidan O’Connell appears to have left off right where he finished last season. He only had three interceptions in his last 8 starts, and they were all in the bowl game against Tennessee. He has 25 TD passes in that span as well. He has really connected with Iowa transfer Charlie Jones. We knew Jones would have a big role in the offense, but so far he has been incredible. If anything, I think we rely on him a little too much.
AOC is capable of distributing the ball around though. Broc Thompson, the bowl game hero, has been quiet so far, but he is an excellent downfield blocker. TJ Sheffield didn’t have a catch vs. Indiana State and Payne Durham at TE has also been quiet. Mershawn Rice missed the ISU game with an injury, but could be back. Overall Purdue fans are very pleased with the group of receivers we have. If he starts spreading the ball around to someone other than Jones the passing game will really take off. “
TNIAAM: What’s the plan to stop Sean Tucker?
H&R: “It is interesting you say that because we have had some recent games where we have been in a similar situation. Last year we faced Michigan State with Kenneth Walker III and we did okay against him. He had 136 yards and a TD, but he kept him from having a huge day and the Purdue offense took full advantage of a lousy pass defense. In 2018 we hosted Boston College with AJ Dillon and held him in check for 59 yards on 19 carries. I see Tucker as a similar type of back.
So far the run defense has been decent. Yes, it is skewed a little by playing Indiana State, but we held Penn State under 100 yards rushing. I don’t expect to do that with Tucker. He’s an excellent back, but I think we can at least prevent him from having a monster day. Of course, Wisconsin running backs always have monster days against us. I still cower in fear at the name “Jonathan Taylor” and what he did to us for three years.”
TNIAAM: Flowchart says if you came up with a plan to stop Tucker, the next question is “How is Purdue’s defensive front against mobile quarterbacks?”
H&R: It can be a mixed bag. Sean Clifford didn’t do a whole lot on the ground against us in week 1. Payton Thorne got loose against us a few times last year against Michigan State, but it wasn’t bad. One thing that I think will help Syracuse is that Jalen Graham will be out. He played a hybrid LB/S role in our defense and it is a critical spot. He missed the Indiana State game and is likely out until at least October with a leg injury. He is one of our most important defenders and he can defend both the run and the pass. Sanoussi Kane stepped up very well for him against Indiana State, but again: it’s Indiana State. Syracuse is a big step up from that.
I have liked the way the defense line has played so far. Indiana State really only had one drive that ended with a goal line stand in the second quarter and the line caused a fumble on the first play of the game. The defense has gotten two pick-sixes so far and has caused four turnovers as a whole. We’re +2 on the turnover ratio, so that helps. Cam Allen had one of the pick-sixes and he has emerged as a great ball-hawking safety.”
TNIAAM: After the open you’ve had, are there any threats on offense or defense that have emerged as a surprise, or that we should look out for emerging?
H&R: “I want to see more from the running game. It was better than expected against Penn State, but we simply did not go to it enough, especially in the fourth quarter with the lead. Devin Mockobee had his first career action last week and he showed more of a burst than we have had out of the backfield in a while. He finished with 78 yards and a score, all in the second half as we had a big lead. It was an audition for a potential larger role. We also tried to get Tyrone Tracy involved a little more. When he transferred in he was seen as a poor man’s Rondale Moore in that he can line up all over the place. So far he only has 6 catches for 54 yards and 3 rushes for 34 yards, but we worked him more into the offense last week.
Purdue is a team that is going to be offense first. The magic number seems to be 100 in that if we can get to 100 yards rushing, it really opens up the passing game. O’Connell is a guy capable of bombing away for 500+ yards and he did it twice last year. If we have some diversity in the play-calling and actually get things going on the ground it can be a lot of fun. Purdue does already have 5 rushing touchdowns when it had 7 in all of 2021.
One thing you will not have to worry about is AOC running the ball. He is about as much of a pocket passer as you can have. He had an 8 yard TD run against Iowa last year and I swear it was the longest run of his career. He is still at -210 yards rushing in his career.”
TNIAAM: Is it possible to bring the Big Bass Drum inside the Dome?
H&R: “Haha, you tell me! Notre Dame was kind of pissy about it last year when we have used their main tunnel for it for decades.”
TNIAAM: Our only prior meeting, Purdue won 51-0... I’m assuming this isn’t what you’re predicting again?
H&R: “I was at that game and it was part of the “Kyle Orton for Heisman” campaign that ended abruptly a few weeks later when Wisconsin beat us with College GameDay in town for their only visit ever to Purdue. We all still remember “The Fumble” as we call it, and at 5-0, ranked #5 in the country with GameDay in town, it has become something etched in our memory as the high point of the last 50 years of Purdue football. As I recall, the Syracuse game was a last minute fill-in where you were tagged in by Cincinnati to fulfill their end of a home-and-home because they were joining the Big East at the time. I just remember it was a hot day where Purdue did no wrong.
I expect this edition to be much, much closer than that one. My nephew is getting married around 4pm on Saturday and I am in the wedding, so I will be a bit distracted as the game is going on, but I expect it to be a tight affair. I can only take so much from blowing out an FCS team by eight touchdowns. It really feels like we let one get away with the Penn State game and I think we can be right in the race for the Big Ten West because no one there is looking all that great so far. This is a great test for that goal, and I could see us squeezing out a 27-24 type win.”
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