It’s a good news, bad news situation for Missouri as the Tigers get ready to welcome Jeff Brohm’s Purdue Boilermakers to town.
The bad news: Mizzou will have to face an aggressive, confident offense that will, more than South Carolina, attempt to create the type of breakdowns and mistakes we saw the Tigers make against Missouri State. We’ll learn pretty definitively if Missouri’s defensive improvement against South Carolina was because of Mizzou’s improvement or South Carolina’s philosophy.
There’s a chance we don’t like the answer we get, obviously.
The good news, however: Mizzou does still get to face Purdue’s defense, too. The Boilermakers have been rather accommodating thus far.
Against Louisville and reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, Purdue allowed 524 yards (6.6 per play) and 35 points. The Boilers allowed the Cardinals inside their 20 on 10 possessions and were bailed out by a series of missteps — Jackson losing a fumble at the 4, Jeremy Smith losing a fumble at the 1, the final drive of the first half ending at the PU 35. UL settled for three field goals as well. Considering UL created 10 scoring opps to Purdue’s four, this game could have just as easily finished 55-20 as it did 35-28.
The Boilermakers rebounded against Ohio. Sure, they ended up giving up 396 yards (a semi-alarming 5.9 per play), but a lot of that came in the second half, when they were already up big. Ohio’s first five drives ended in one score and four punts.
Missouri’s offense isn’t Louisville’s, but it isn’t Ohio’s either. I would set the bar for Mizzou around 6.3 yards per play and about eight scoring opportunities. If the Tigers remember how to finish their drives, that could mean 40+ points. If they bomb out like they did against South Carolina, it could mean more like 20 points and a major upset opportunity for the visitors and seven-point underdogs.
Let’s take a look at Purdue’s defensive depth chart.
Austin Larkin (6’3, 255, Sr.) — 4.0 tackles, 1 FF
Antoine Miles (6’2, 250, Sr.)
Lorenzo Neal (6’2, 325, So.) — 1.0 tackles
Eddy Wilson (6’4, 295, Jr.) — 3.0 tackles
Gelen Robinson (6’1, 280, Sr.) — 6.0 tackles (1 run stuff), 1 PBU
Keiwan Jones (6’2, 280, Jr.) — 1.5 tackles (1 run stuff)
Danny Ezechukwu (6’2, 250, Sr.) — 8.5 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sack, 1 run stuff), 1 PBU
Kai Higgins (6’4, 240, So.)
Purdue has been decent against the run thus far. The Boilers rank 44th in rushing success rate allowed — not bad when half of your schedule has featured Lamar Jackson — and Jackson’s the main reason it’s not a lot higher. Ohio’s trio of Julian Ross, A.J. Ouellette, and Dorian Brown combined to gain 116 yards on 25 carries (4.6 per carry), while Louisville’s Smith and Reggie Bonnafon combined to gain 41 on 11 carries (3.7).
Granted, they haven’t faced Damarea Crockett yet. But this is a sturdy, experienced group. Ezechukwu has had a nice start to the season, and it feels like Gelen Robinson has been in West Lafayette for about nine years.
This isn’t an incredibly active line, but it has produced by opening up opportunities for a solid linebacking corps. It has also been good thus far in short-yardage situations (16th in power success rate).
T.J. McCollum (6’3, 235, Sr.) — 14.0 tackles (2 run stuffs), 1 PBU
Andy Chelf (6’0, 190, So.)
Ja’Whaun Bentley (6’2, 260, Sr.) — 13.0 tackles, 1 TFL (4 run stuffs), 1 PBU, 2 FF
Garrett Hudson (6’2, 245, Sr.) —1.5 tackles
Markus Bailey (6’1, 235, So.) — 9.0 tackles (3 run stuffs), 1 FF
Rob Simmons (6’5, 230, Jr.)
The linebackers are easily the most proven unit on the defense. Bentley and Bailey combined for 13 tackles for loss, and Bailey added in four picks. Meanwhile, Brohm brought T.J. McCollum with him from WKU, where he recorded four TFLs and three pass breakups in 2016.
Thus far, you can see the results. They have combined to take part in nine run stuffs and have forced three fumbles. This is an active unit and a big reason why the run defense has been solid so far. Defensive co-coordinator Nick Holt crafted an aggressive, hard-hitting unit at WKU, and this unit hits hard.
The problem: it doesn’t get to the quarterback very well. Purdue is 91st in standard downs sack rate and 110th in passing downs sack rate. The Boilers want to be more aggressive than they’re capable of being at the moment, and without a pass rush, the secondary is getting absolutely gouged on passing downs.
Josh Okonye (6’0, 200, Sr.) — 10.0 tackles, 1 TFL (1 run stuff)
Antonio Blackmon (6’0, 195, Jr.) — 1.0 tackles
T.J. Jallow (6’2, 200, Jr.) — 5.0 tackles
Simeon Smiley (6’0, 205, RSFr.)
Jacob Thieneman (6’2, 210, Jr.) — 12.0 tackles
Navon Mosley (6’0, 190, So.) — 8.0 tackles
Da’Wan Hunte (5’9, 190, Sr.) — 8.0 tackles, 2 PBU
Kamal Hardy (5’11, 185, Sr.)
As solid as Purdue has been against the run, it’s been equally shaky against the pass. The Boilermakers are 108th in passing success rate and 127th in passing downs success rate.
Falling behind schedule isn’t as big a deal against Purdue as it is against, say, South Carolina. Mizzou was absolutely miserable on passing downs last week but will have a pretty significant chance to rectify that.
The secondary is not without skill. Hunte had six pass breakups last year, and Okonye had three at Wake Forest before transferring. But the safety corps is green, and the lack of a pass rush has caused problems.
This defense will present an almost perfect test for Missouri. All we’ve learned so far this season is that the Tigers can completely obliterate an out-manned defense (Missouri State) but will struggle with consistency against a more disciplined, sound unit (South Carolina). Purdue is somewhere in between.
If last week’s issues with drops were just that — last week’s issues — then Mizzou receivers should be able to find plenty of success against the Boilermakers. Drew Lock should be able to get the ball out of his hands quickly (and we know how important that is to his success), and Missouri will have a chance to make some plays. But it won’t take that many mistakes to give Purdue a shot at the upset.
Joe Schopper (6’0, 210, Jr.) — 8 punts, 49.1 average (75% success rate)
J.D. Dellinger (6’2, 195, So.) — 4-4 PAT, 1-2 FG
Spencer Evans (6’1, 200, Jr.) — 5-5 PAT, 2-2 FG; 13 kickoffs, 77% touchback rate
Jackson Anthrop (5’11, 185, RSFr.) — 4 PR, 3.5 average, 3 fair catch
KeyRon Catlett (5’10, 180, Fr.) — 5 KR, 12.4 average, 1 fumble
D.J. Knox (5’7, 210, Jr.) — 1 return, 17 yards
Good news: Deebo Samuel doesn’t play for Purdue. The Boilermakers have been pretty solid as a whole in special teams — punter Joe Schopper is averaging nearly 50 yards per kick, and Spencer Evans is putting most of his kickoffs into the end zone — but the return game has been marginal to date. That doesn’t mean disaster for Mizzou is impossible, of course, but it’s less likely at least.