We’re in the full-on “you can see whatever you want to see” portion of the college football season, where the in-season numbers don’t tell us enough ... and in some cases give us conflicting impressions. Mizzou’s defense, for instance, has already been nightmarishly awful for one quarter of the season and mostly fine for three quarters.
What do we make of Purdue, then? I’m reasonably confident in what I said about the defense yesterday because the Boilermakers’ strengths (linebacker play) and weaknesses (secondary) match both what we saw last year and what I expected to see when writing about them in the offseason. The offense, however, has provided mixed impressions that come in somewhere between what Purdue’s offense was last year (awful) and what WKU’s offense was the last couple of years under new Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm (very good).
Let’s walk drive-by-drive through the Boilers’ Week 1 game against Louisville and see what we find.
- Drive No. 1 (0-0, starting at Purdue 37): Starter Elijah Fuller throws incomplete on first down, which sets up a quick three-and-out after a short run and a loss of four on a pass to running back Tario Fuller. PUNT
- Drive No. 2 (0-0, starting on UL 36 after a shanked punt): Louisville is called for holding, then Sindelar fires incomplete twice -- both on passes to the end zone -- before hitting Jackson Anthrop in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown. All vertical passing here. TD
- Drive No. 3 (7-7, starting on PU 18): Another three-and-out prompted by a first-down incompletion. Sindelar looks deep again but doesn't find what he's looking for an misfires closer to the line of scrimmage. Two passes net seven yards, and PU punts. PUNT
- Drive No. 4 (7-10, starting on PU 20): David Blough now in the game. Louisville commits a pass interference on the first play of the drive, then PU manufactures a couple of first downs with short passing on first down, mixed with some rushes. Brycen Hopkins drops a third-down pass from Blough at the UL 36, and Purdue has a field goal blocked. MFG
- Drive No. 5 (7-10, starting on PU 22): Blough is sacked for a short loss on the first play, then gets going with the short passes. Nine yards to Anthrop, nine to Isaac Zico. After D.J. Knox rushes for 13 yards, Blough looks further downfield, finding Anthrop for 15 yards and Cole Herdman for 11. On third-and-goal from the 8, Richie Worship flares out of the backfield, breaks a couple of tackles, and scores. TD
- Drive No. 6 (14-10, starting on PU 12): Blough's still in and pitches to Tario Fuller for five yards, but he's incomplete on second down, and the pocket gets blown up up the middle for a sack on third down. Three-and-out. PUNT
- Drive No. 7 (14-13, starting on PU 25): After a run stuff on first down, Phillips drops a pass, then Hopkins comes up a yard short on third-and-long. Three-and-out. PUNT
- Drive No. 8 (14-13, starting on UL 40 after a fumble): Another short rush on first down, then Blough hits Herdman over the middle for 19 yards, then does it again for 13. A shovel pass to Knox gains four, then Blough finds Hopkins on play-action for an easy two-yard score. TD
- Drive No. 9 (21-19, starting on PU 25): After an initial first down, Blough fires late to Anthony Mahoungou, and it's almost intercepted. He hits Herdman once again over the middle. But after a quick pitch to Zico, Blough feels pressure and throws a panicked pass over the middle. It's way off taget, and Stacy Thomas Jr. picks it off and takes it 61 yards for the go-ahead score. INT
- Drive. No. 10 (21-25, starting on PU 35): PU calls a couple of runs to settle Blough down, but he's getting pressured more and throws back-to-back incompletions. He connects with Hopkins for 22 yards on third down, but on the next play PU is called for holding. Blough takes a sack, then throws a pick in the end zone. INT
- Drive No. 11 (21-25, starting on PU 33): To no one's surprise, Sindelar comes back into the game. Three rushes gain 12 yards, then Sindelar finds Phillips for 13. He generates another first down with a couple of short passes into space, then UL commits pass interference on a longer throw. After a poor throw into coverage, Sindelar throws into coverage again but throws a laser and gets the ball to Anthrop between two closing defenders. A somewhat lucky score, but a score all the same. TD
- Drive No. 12 (28-32, starting on PU 20): On the first play, Sindelar is looking downfield again, but a perfectly executed corner blitz gets him sacked. He throws a poor screen to Knox, who falls down after catching it, and on third-and-forever, he fires incomplete under pressure. PUNT
- Drive No. 13 (28-35, starting on PU 4 after awful kick return): Sindelar hits Phillips on a rollout (something PU has begun to use more and more), then it's a dink-and-dunk fest. Louisville has taken away the deeper option, and while Sindelar is mostly patient and gets the ball to midfield, he gets greedy and fires into double coverage. Picked off. INT
- Drive No. 14 (28-35, starting on PU 17): Last chance. Sindelar fires into coverage again, and it's broken up. He connects on a short pass to Fuller, but he's incomplete into coverage on third down, and another check down to Fuller on fourth down gains only one yard. TURNOVER ON DOWNS
Basically, Sindelar was the aggressor who trusted his big arm to make a lot of tough throws and was sometimes right, sometimes wrong. He seemed to look long first, then check down. Blough, meanwhile, seemed to more quickly take what was given to him and therefore finished with a much better completion rate (69% to Sindelar's 48%). He was also more prone to throwing panicked throws under pressure.
As the game wore on, Louisville was better able to adjust, get pressure up front, and cover the deeper routes Sindelar in particular was looking for. Eventually, both quarterbacks lost their discipline.
This game was close for a couple of reasons. First, Louisville fumbled three times and lost all three. In all, Purdue recovered four of the game's five fumbles. Second, when given a short field, the Boilermakers took advantage. They got the ball inside the Louisville 40 twice and scored both times.
I won't go drive for drive with the Ohio game, but a quicker summary:
- Sindelar started again, and PU kicked a field goal on its first drive thanks to a 39-yard run by Fuller. (The Boilers ran the ball on five of the first seven plays, which had to throw the Bobcats off.)
- They punted on their second drive but again found a little bit of run success on their third. Once past midfield, they went to the air, and Sindelar hit Phillips for 22 yards, then Hopkins for 17 yards over the middle for the touchdown. They love their matchups with their tight ends on opposing linebackers.
- Ohio responded with a touchdown, and PU again went three-and-out. Blough came into the game, and after another big Fuller run, Blough found Anthrop for 14 yards and Hopkins (again, the tight end!) for 38. Fuller scored on a short run. After an Ohio three-and-out, it was flea flicker time.
Boiler up to somethin pic.twitter.com/9nOctDbgXW— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 9, 2017
- It fell apart for Ohio from there. The Bobcats fumbled, Blough and Hopkins connected for another big gain to set up a field goal, and after another Ohio fumble, Blough rolled out behind a moving pocket, had all day, and eventually found Mahoungou in the end zone for a 31-yard score.
- It was 34-7 at halftime. Whatever happened in the second half didn't really matter.
Purdue gives you lots of looks from rollouts and moving pockets, and once they have you moving in one direction, the Boilers are happy to use your momentum against you and either pierce you up the middle or throw back from right to left.
This is very effective if the QBs actually have time for the plays to develop. After a while against Louisville, they did not.
Simply put, Missouri will win this game if its defensive front is able to defeat Purdue’s offensive line, rein in the between-the-tackles running, and get occasional pressure on the quarterback. The Tigers might be up for that task, at least eventually, but if they’re not, this becomes a shootout pretty quickly.
Here’s Purdue’s offensive depth chart, by the way.
David Blough (6’1, 205, Jr.) — 29-for-39 (74%), 410 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT, 4 sacks; 4 carries, 16 yards
Elijah Sindelar (6’4, 230, So.) — 20-for-42 (48%), 178 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack
Jared Sparks (6’1, 205, RSFr.) — 4 carries, 24 yards
Mizzou has to prepare for two different quarterbacks here. Because Blough does a better job of taking what he’s given, he’s posted a much better stat line so far. But if Mizzou’s pass rush starts to take hold, Sindelar is probably the better option.
Tario Fuller (6’0, 190, So.) — 24 carries, 171 yards (7.1), 1 TD; 6 targets, 3 catches, 3 yards
D.J. Knox (5’7, 210, Jr.) — 10 carries, 39 yards (3.9); 2 targets, 2 catches, 3 yards
Richie Worship (6’0, 260, So.) — 4 carries, 12 yards (3.0); 1 target, 1 catch, 8 yards, 1 TD
Brian Lankford-Johnson (6’0, 190, So.) — 10 carries, 61 yards (6.1)
Lots of different shapes and sizes in the backfield, but aside from a nice touchdown catch-and-run from Worship, Fuller’s been the star.
Gregory Phillips (6’0, 200, Sr.) — 14 targets, 9 catches, 84 yards (6.0)
Isaac Zico (6’1, 190, Jr.) — 5 targets, 2 catches, 12 yards (2.4)
Jackson Anthrop (5’11, 185, RSFr.) — 13 targets, 11 catches, 121 yards (9.3), 3 TD
Terry Wright (5’11, 180, Jr.) — 2 targets, 2 catches, 8 yards (4.0)
Anthony Mahoungou (6’3, 210, Sr.) — 10 targets, 6 catches, 84 yards (8.4), 1 TD
Corey Holmes (6’1, 190, Jr.) — 2 targets, 0 catches
Cole Herdman (6’4, 240, Jr.) — 8 targets, 6 catches, 146 yards (18.3), 1 TD
Brycen Hopkins (6’5, 240, So.) — 12 targets, 7 catches, 119 yards (9.9), 2 TD
Anthrop is the possession guy, and Purdue does a nice job of spreading the ball around until you forget about the tight end. Ohio didn’t really forget about the tight end, though — the Bobcats just didn’t have anybody who could cover them. It’ll be interesting to see how Mizzou goes about addressing that, as neither of the Tigers’ first two opponents have done that much with the TE position.
Grant Hermanns (6’7, 295, RSFr.) — 2 career starts
Eric Swingler (6’6, 305, Jr.)
Shane Evans (6’4, 310, Jr.) — 2 career starts
Mike Mendez (6’4, 295, So.) — 3 career starts
Kirk Barron (6’2, 305, Jr.) — 14 career starts
Bryce Brown (6’1, 280, RSFr.)
Matt McCann (6’6, 315, So.) — 12 career starts
Bearooz Yacoobi (6’5, 300, Jr.)
David Steinmetz (6’8, 310, Sr.) — 33 career starts (31 at Rhode Island)
Ethan Smart (6’6, 310, Jr.)
Watch the trench battle early. That’ll probably tell you what’ll happen late.