Monday, September 7, 2009

Maiden Voyage a Success - Danny Hope Era at Purdue Begins

The Danny Hope era at Purdue is officially kicked-off. There was a lot of mystery regarding this team coming into this first season. The mystery stems from all of the transition that has been experienced since the first of January.

Along with a new head coach, the offense is being led by a new Quarterback. Joey Elliot is by nature a relatively lively person. This translated to a bit of jitteriness at the beginning of the game. Relatively quickly, Joey got settled down, thanks in part to a phenomenal running game. Joey finished with a QB rating of 140.6. This is driven by the 60% completion percentage and 3 touchdowns he threw. He threw for 220 yards during the game which is low for Purdue standards. However, that being said, Joey didn’t need to throw for 500 yards Saturday as he was supported by 315 yards rushing.

There were three interceptions thrown, two of which contacted our receiver first. The last interception will make Joey cringe when he reviews film. On a roll-out play he floated a softy across the grain and a linebacker meandered over and grabbed it out of the air. Being relatively harmless, this gives Joey a great teachable moment for going forward.

I normally would go over the running game now but I want to focus on why the running game was so solid. The offensive line Saturday played with a sense of urgency and purpose. Football games are won and lost in the trenches and this game was no exception. There was only one sack on the day and Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor had coliseum sized holes for running lanes. The receivers did an acceptable job of blocking downfield. I want to tip my hat to the O-line for winning this one for us. With new receivers and a new QB this is a picture perfect way of making their initiation into a season easier.

I have watched Jaycen Taylor since he transferred from Cali. I always thought he could be a special player for the boilers. When I heard that Ralph Bolden got the start over Jaycen, it meant one of two things. His injury was still impacting his performance or we got something special in Ralph. Jaycen looked like he was back to 100% Saturday and we have confirmed that Ralph Bolden can be an electrifying player for Purdue. Ralph received the “co-Big Ten Offensive Player-of-the-Week” award for his 234 yard, 2 touchdown performance against the Rockets. He demonstrated home run speed which will only make our passing offense that more effective this season with the threat of a vaunted running game.

Keith Smith had 8 receptions for 117 yards and 1 touchdown. I don’t know if we can say we have any major threats but we can definitely move the ball downfield. I was pleased with Keith’s performance even though he did take his eyes off of one pass during the game which could have been a significant gain. The major concern is if Joey can throw to anyone other than Keith. With 17 receptions total, almost half went to Keith. Defensive coordinators will be able to take that away quickly, so either Keith Carlos or Aaron Valentin will have to make some noise in the next game to prevent that from happening. I am not going to dwell on this much; Joey was taking what the defense was giving him.

The defense was sold on having to carry the offense this year. Not only do I want my money back on buying that, but it could be the offense carrying the defense.

I don’t want Purdue to be in a position that they have to score over 36 points a game to win. That is too much pressure on an offensive unit.

Speaking of pressure, for as much as we heard about Mike Neal and Ryan Kerrigan, there wasn’t very much pressure on the Rocket QB. Also there were a TON of missed tackles in the first 2 quarters from over-pursuing of the ball carrier. That can be corrected; I remember watching games and not seeing anybody pursuing the ball carrier, so no complaints.

We have a senior laden secondary. However, they are all alone on an island out there. If we cannot reduce the amount of time a QB can wait to throw the rock, then we are going to continuously be lit up by opposing passing games. To be fair, the rockets gave up on their running game quickly be falling behind 14 – 0. We held them to 70 yards rushing for the game which Ralph surpassed on the first drive of the game. Some props have to be given there, we typically are not known for shutting down running games. It shows you what getting out to a good start can do to a game.

We gave up 423 yards passing against the Toledo Rockets. I repeat the Toledo rockets. This is a combination of 2 things, being down big and early the Rockets stopped running the ball as much. Secondly, Aaron Opelt had a lot of time to sit back and wait for Stephen Williams and Eric
Page to get open, and they did, repeatedly. Both receivers ended with over 100 yards receiving. Stephen Williams, who is a difficult match up, had almost 200 yards receiving. That guy is a stud.

Let’s wrap up with special teams, Carson Wiggs is my hero. 7 extra points and a field goal that was teed up in downtown Lafayette makes for a solid game. It’s now Monday and his kick still hasn’t landed yet. This is a tremendous weapon if he can nail his consistency. So far so good.

We travel to Eugene this weekend to take on the Ducks of Oregon. They just got bitch slapped by the Broncos of Boise State. Then their starting running back, LeGarrette Blount, proceeded to return the favor and he’s done for the season. Hopefully, this hampers their running game to the point that Purdue can pull out a close one at Oregon. Unfortunately, if we go to Eugene and win, then Purdue will not sneak up on any other team this season. Talk to you next week.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Painting the wrong picture: Purdue’s Football outlook is not as bleak as it reads…

I read an article in the South Bend Tribune today that made me blink multiple times before I re-read the article. Here is the link to the article: LINK

I feel that the article’s intention was not to paint the picture of how Danny Hope is coming to Purdue to resurrect a fallen program. On the contrary, its intention was to highlight the intrinsic difficulties in following a respected coach of who was a campus icon.

That being said, the article reads almost with the air of an obituary for Coach Hope. Much of this editorial aftertaste is attributed to the closing of the article highlighting all the obvious issue that Purdue will be facing going into next season. Touching on Justin Siller’s dismissal and McBurse’s Clearinghouse process leaves a reading feeling sorry for Coach Hope’s position.

Personally, I do not thing that the cupboard is as bare as the article implies. I, of course, am always hopefully optimistic regarding our football team. I grew up in the Fred Akers/Jim Colletto years of Purdue football. Therefore, there is still a sparkle in my eye regarding the last ten-plus years of Boilermaker football.

Coach Hope has at his disposal a competent stable of running backs, bolstered by McBurse’s clearance to play by the NCAA. Jaycen Taylor will by cleared by fall and Ralph Bolden is an up and coming dual threat back who is just a sophomore.

Joey Elliot at QB is a fifth year senior who has had enough game experience and skill to actually vie for a starting spot last year against Curtis Painter, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts.

There are question marks as with every program. Will the receiving corps step up and deliver? Is the defense going to be able to carry the offense early in the season until the unit gels? Only time will tell on questions like this. But as writers and fans, these are the questions that entertain us until the season begins.

I think that the Boiler faithful is ready and excited for Coach Hope. Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke has done a masterful job of managing the alumni and fan base expectations through two major coaching transitions. Using the succession plan model has given both Coach Hope and Coach Painter head starts in public relations and recruiting setting both coaches up for success rather than failure. Coach Hope’s energy and passion have been well documented and on display to help inject tremendous positive energy into the team and the fans.

There is no denying that the last couple years of Purdue Football have lacked the passion and enthusiasm that existed during Tiller’s early years. However, Coach Hope is taking over at exactly the perfect time. Here’s wishing Coach Hope the wisdom, passion, and energy for a successful tenure at Purdue University.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Purdue Basketball - Life is about choices

The concept of student athletes making the same types of poor decisions is becoming practically cliché. During the early hours of Wednesday, April 15th, Lewis Jackson, the sophomore with tremendous potential, was stopped for speeding in his native Illinois.

These kinds of incidents are seemingly becoming a broken record of sorts. We all get the "here we go again" feeling whenever a program has a student athlete make poor decisions.

Lewis is facing four charges stemming from possession and consumption of alcohol and marijuana. All charges are filed as misdemeanors. Nevertheless, opportunities like this can become turning points in a young person’s life. To think that kids will never make the wrong choice is ignorant on society's part. However, how we address these coach able moments can be the difference between an individual growing up to be a shining example of redemption and another example of failure to reach one's potential.

This reminds me of the Mike Robinson situation that was similar and different at the same time. The charges were totally different. Mike Robinson was a small forward for Gene Keady in the 90's who was caught up in shoplifting charges. The reason for the correlation was the Mike grew from the experience. Not only did he become a more mature individual, but he actually became a better leader on the court. Most of us grow from absorbing the consequences from our decisions and overcoming the adversity.

I just hope that Lewis becomes better and more mature from this situation. Not only does he have to face the consequences himself, but his teammates will be sharing the burden of those same consequences.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A look back while turning forward

Reflecting on this very successful Purdue Basketball season, I wonder about the true potential for this current team. When was the last time a Purdue Basketball team had this much talent on it? Was it the Glenn Robinson/Counzo Martin team? Was it the teams who won 4 straight Big Ten titles? It's hard to tell, but easy to speculate.

This season had a few ups and downs. One thing that the Purdue faithful learned was how truly valuable Robbie Hummell is to this team. Even with JuJuan Johnson's emergence as a budding star in the Big Ten, the team lacked a unifying presence on the court without Hummell. He might not always put up the scoring numbers, but it is more about how he contributes to all the statistical categories other than points. His contribution to a game that is not tracked with a statistical category makes it easy to not appreciate his understanding of the game, that is, until he is not present in the lineup. Without Robbie in the lineup, the Purdue team was still talented and could compete, but it is clear that we lost our competitive difference without Robbie. Many of the games we lost without Robbie were very close games, but we could not close out the game without his clutch performance.

JuJuan Johnson has emerged as a force in the middle. Early in the season I think we caught a few teams by surprise with his improvement and increased initiative on the floor. What is most exciting is that JuJuan can still improve so much more and become absolutely dominate with more time spent refining his game. He has the physical talent to excel that much.

We all know he needs to add another 20 to 30 pounds. If he stays all four years, he might actually get too that. I believe he added 10 or 15 between his freshman and sophomore years.

He is particularly comfortable facing the basket, but he needs to improve his 'back to the basket' tools that he has available. Also, while he has established an inside presence for Purdue, our particular team can tremendously benefit from the "inside/Outside" NBA game plan. I would like to see JuJuan's assists to increase next year from gaining the double team and kicking the extra pass out to an open three.

Next year I feel that this team might be able to play up to its expectations. Being a long-time Boilermaker fan, I am cautiously skeptical. I think for the most part, we will win the games that we are supposed too. I do think that we tend to drop one game during the season that we should have won, but ended up playing flat for that game. To his credit, Matt Painter has done an excellent job of making half-time adjustments this past season to mitigate that risk.

Against highly ranked opponents, we have a tendency to not come through in those situations. That primarily is what will have to change. For instance, all the hype around the Duke/Purdue game this past year leading up to, quite frankly, our worst loss. You could see how Duke was playing on another level that we were not. One can speculate as to what contributed, but simply put, I do not think we were ready to compete with the Duke's, North Carolina's, and UCONN's.

We ended this season with a 27-10 record. I would look for that to improve a couple of games, but until the schedule is released, it will be hard to tell.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is JaJuan Johnson out of his mind?

I have heard reports that JuJuan Johnson is considering testing the NBA draft waters. What kind of advice and information is this young man receiving?

How high does he really think he would be drafted at the moment? I cannot fathom that he would be a first or maybe even second round pick at the moment.

He needs to come back for his junior season, add 15 to 20 pounds of muscle over the summer, and have another stellar season under his belt. He needs to work on his low-post game. Specifically working with his back to the basket.

He can face up ok, and he runs the floor well, but he has proven that he cannot defend true first round talent as of yet. He just doesn't have the horsepower.

Maybe I am being unfair, he can probably play at the next level in a year or two, but not yet. Let me know your thoughts.