Boilermakers finished 2011 with momentum and could be the Big Ten's sleeper team to watch for 2012.
By: Steven Lassan | 5/21/12, 10:15 AM EDT
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Big Ten Leaders PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Danny Hope, 16-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Gary Nord | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Tibesar
For the first time in coach Danny Hope’s tenure at Purdue, he will have three healthy, experienced options at quarterback. Hope’s plan always has been to play more than one — a system that allows a passer to be on the field at the same time as a Wildcat-type athlete.
The traditional option for the No. 1 quarterback is steady senior Caleb TerBush, who won seven games last season in his first year as a full-time starter. But there’s also a flashy option in sixth-year senior Robert Marve, finally healthy after two ACL surgeries and ready to show he’s capable of not just being a high-risk, high-reward player who struggles to stay within the system. Rob Henry, one of the team’s best athletes, is in the mix as well after missing last season with a torn ACL. Henry might also take some snaps at running back and/or wide receiver.
The offense’s success could hinge on the line. Gone are three starters to graduation, and two more projected starters missed spring ball with injuries. The unit will have little time to develop chemistry.
If the line holds up, the quarterbacks have some solid playmaking options, namely receivers Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross and running backs Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden, if he’s able to return from a knee injury. In Bolden’s absence in the bowl game, Shavers ran the ball 22 times — a season high for a Purdue ball-carrier — for 149 yards.
The goal of the defensive scheme, installed by new coordinator Tim Tibesar, is to be multiple in formations by using interchangeable parts to disguise its intentions. Purdue likely won’t morph into a blitz-heavy defense, but with simple concepts, players should be able to be surer of their assignments and play with more aggression.
It should help that there’s plenty of talent to execute the new schemes. Tackle Kawann Short, a mix of power and athleticism in the middle, is a likely a future first-round draft pick. Cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are proven players who can be game-changers. There’s depth in the secondary, too, namely up-and-comers Taylor Richards, Frankie Williams and E.J. Johnson. This will allow the Boilermakers to be more productive in their nickel and dime packages against spread offenses.
Dwayne Beckford was reinstated to the team after a spring suspension for off-field incidents. He was the No. 2 tackler last season and provides a physical presence at middle linebacker.
Sophomore Raheem Mostert led the nation in kickoff returns with a 33.5-yard average. Mostert broke four returns of at least 70 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown against Western Michigan in the bowl game. The biggest issue on special teams is the placekicking. Carson Wiggs, who hit 19-of-25 field goals last season, graduated, leaving true freshman Paul Griggs to handle placekicking duties. Cody Webster will be the punter. He averaged 42.9 yards last season.
Hope never needs a reason to be optimistic. Purdue’s fourth-year coach always has a positive spin on the state of Boilermaker football. But heading into 2012, there seems to be some basis for such an attitude. The Boilermakers are brimming with confidence after reaching their first bowl game since 2007.
With proven experience at quarterback for the first time in Hope’s tenure and a defense littered with potential all-league talent, a second straight winning season is a realistic goal.