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September 18, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
The Wisconsin Badgers will host Purdue in their Big Ten opener this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, so Brian Neubert of GoldandBlack.com stops by once again to fill us in on the Boilermakers, who are off to a slow start at 1-2, after losing a hard-fought game to Notre Dame last week.
I asked Brian a few questions about Purdue's season so far, and he was gracious enough to give some great insight.
Obviously the Boilermakers are off to a pretty slow start at 1-2, even with their competitive game against Notre Dame. What do you think has been the problem so far for the Boilermakers? Did you expect a sluggish start out of the gate?
Brian Neubert: I think the first thing that I should probably point out is this team went 6-7 last year and got blown out in a bowl game by Oklahoma State. It's not like Purdue came in to this season as one of the most talented teams in the country where a lot was expected from them. Then you factor in the schedule- Cincinnati is a very good team. They won 10 games last year, bring a lot of guys back. Opening your season like that is probably not an ideal thing for a team in transition. I think they're just getting settled with their personnel. They're breaking in a new offensive system, a lot of players are adjusting to that system. A lot of these guys were not recruited to play in this system.
There's been some communication issues and whatnot. What you hope to see in week one was a more organized and more disciplined team than they were last year, and that was kind of the big disappointment right away. There are going to be situations this week where Purdue could be a better team than they were the week before, even if it doesn't show up in wins and losses.
What do you think changed in their game against Notre Dame? I watched most of it and the Boilermakers were going toe to toe with a top 20 team- did they just flip a switch from weeks one and two going in to their third game?
BN: I think they just kind of settled in a little bit. I think everyone got a little more comfortable with what they're doing, although they still haven't been able to run the football and that's supposed to be the bedrock of what they want to do offensively. I think their quarterback play has gotten a lot better. I think Rob Henry had the best game of his career on Saturday night. I think that's a big part of the reason why Purdue fielded an effective offense. They just looked more like they're supposed to look.
What have you seen from Purdue on defense so far? Is this unit performing as well as you thought they would? I seems to me like the Boilermakers have had one or two great pieces recently like Ryan Kerrigan and Kawaan Short, but they just haven't put it all together recently.
BN: It has to start with the defensive line. Historically, when Purdue has been able to bear good teams it's been because they've had some of the stars that you mentioned. It has to start with Bruce Gaston, Ryan Russell, guys like that who are either standouts now or have the potential to be standouts in the future. They competed very well against Notre Dame.
Historically against Wisconsin it's just been such a bad matchup because they've been so much less physical than the Badgers and less physical all across the board. Their defensive line has to play well, because they have to protect their linebackers. It's really important for them to be able to defend the pass. They have a solid secondary, but they need to get some pressure because you can't expect them to hold their coverage forever.
How about on offense? I know Darrell Hazell is bringing in a new pro-style offense, which is obviously a lot different from what we're used to seeing Purdue run. How have the players adjusted so far, and do they have a big strength or weakness?
BN: I think Purdue is still looking for its identity offensively. What Purdue wants to do is have a physical running game and kind of a west-coast passing game with short passes and high percentage stuff. They haven't been able to establish the running games yet. I think that's really going to limit them, as long as that's the case. This isn't an offense that, personnel-wise, is built to beat you in the passing game. And I don't know if Rob Henry is your prototypical drop-back, pro-style passer. They're kind of getting by with a lot of roll-out stuff- I'm not sure if they can sustain that without a solid running game.
Finally, what do you think Purdue needs to do better if they want to compete for a division or conference title in the near future? Is it just getting adjusted to new faces and schemes, or is there more to it than that?
BN: In the long term Hazell has got to recruit well. But for the style of play they want to win with, he's from Ohio State- that's how he wants to win. He wants to be a physical team, run the football, play good defense, don't turn the ball over. They have to get to the point where their offensive line is really strong and physical. That's not easy. I think so much depends on how they're able to develop their offensive line and the physicality of their offense in general. And then they need to recruit good skill position players to complement that.
From a defense standpoint, you just want to get it fixed. I think they have good players now, I just don't think they have enough of them. You can't win if you can't stop people, and I think you're going to see them run in to trouble if they can't stop people- starting this weekend against Wisconsin.
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