Preview: Purdue

Joe Tiller's 12th season as head coach at Purdue will also be his last. Tiller took over the head job in West Lafayette in 1997 and although the Boilermakers had only been to five bowl games before that, he has guided them to postseason appearances in all but one of his years. But a succession plan is in place.

Associate head coach and offensive line coach Danny Hope was lured from Eastern Kentucky, where he was the head coach for five seasons, to replace Tiller for the 2009 season. Hope was the offensive line coach at Purdue under Tiller from 1997-2001.

Tiller has an 83-54 record at Purdue, including an 8-5 mark last year, and is one victory shy of Hall of Famer Jack Mollenkopf's school-record 84 wins. Tiller transformed the Boilermakers' offense into a wide-open spread attack with the help of some record-setting quarterbacks.

Tiller's first season in West Lafayette was also the inaugural one for Drew Brees, who would graduate as the Big Ten's all-time leader in passing yards (11,792), completions (1,026), passing touchdowns (90) and total offense (12,692). Kyle Orton followed Brees and was a three-year starter, who also started three bowl games for Purdue and tied Brees' school-record for passing yards in a game (522).

Just as Tiller broke in with Brees, he will walk away as his latest quarterback prodigy, Curtis Painter, completes his collegiate career. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior gunslinger will be in his third full season starting under center and has a chance to surpass Brees' records for career passing yards, completions and total offense before he graduates.

Painter has completed 760 of his 1,269 career pass attempts (59.9%) for 8,763 yards and 54 touchdowns. Painter led the nation in interceptions as a sophomore with 19, but made it a personal goal to make better decisions last year. Painter improved his touchdown-interception ratio from 22-19 in 2006 to 29-11 in 2007.

Painter is a pure passer who has split his two career matchups with Notre Dame. Painter threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns as the Boilermakers beat the Irish 33-19 at home last year. In 2006, Painter had a day, throwing for 398 yards and two scores, but Notre Dame won 35-21.

Redshirt freshman Justin Siller (6-4, 220) will battle with senior Joey Elliott (6-2, 211) for the backup job behind Painter. Siller gives Purdue a more mobile option, but Tiller gave Elliott the edge after the spring game.

Some NFL Draft experts have already pegged Painter as the top quarterback for the 2009 Draft, but he will have to break in some new targets in his senior year. Purdue lost four of its five leading receivers from 2007, including the explosive Dorien Bryant.

The game-breaking Bryant led the Boilermakers with 87 catches for 936 yards and eight touchdowns. Painter's number two target was tight end Dustin Keller, who hauled in 68 passes for 881 yards and seven scores.

Purdue's top returning receiver is 6-3, 199-pound senior Greg Orton. Orton had 67 grabs for 752 yards and three touchdowns. Orton proved to be a reliable third option, but will have to step up and become a number one receiver if the Purdue offense is going to continue to roll.

5th-year senior Desmond Tardy (6-1, 199) caught 10 passes for 93 yards and will be looking to fill the role that Orton had the last two seasons along with some junior college transfers.

Senior Aaron Valentine (6-1, 205), senior Joe Whitest (6-2, 195) and sophomore Arsenio Curry (6-5, 210) will compete for playing time. 5th-year senior Brandon Whittington (6-2, 213) was playing well in the spring until he broke his foot and it's unknown when he will be back.

Junior Kyle Adams (6-5, 251) is the leading candidate to replace Keller at tight end along with junior Jeff Lindsay (6-4, 238). Both played in all 13 games last year, with Adams making eight catches for 109 yards and two scores. Lindsay had only three catches for three yards, but two of the grabs were for touchdowns.

While the Boilermakers have some receivers to replace, they do bring back their top rushers from 2007.

Senior running backs Jaycen Taylor (5-10, 180) and Kory Sheets (6-0, 206) have produced a formidable one-two punch, combining to rush for 1,471 yards last year and 1,457 in 2006. Sheets has 32 career rushing touchdowns while Taylor has just eight, but Taylor has proven to be the more dependable back as Sheets has had some ball-security issues.

Sophomore Dan Dierking (5-10, 186), who appeared in all 13 games as a freshman and had 42 carries for 181 yards, brings some youth to the position.

With a pass-happy offense, Purdue averaged just 128.8 rushing yards last year, but with Taylor and Sheets back along with three starting offensive linemen, look for that number to increase this year.

Senior Sean Sester (6-7, 325) is the anchor of the line at left tackle along with senior left guard Zach Reckman (6-6, 308) and senior right tackle Zach Jones (6-5, 300). Sester has started all 38 games that he has appeared in; while Reckman started 13 games last year and Jones 12. All three missed spring ball with injuries, but are expected back before the fall.

Senior center Cory Benton (6-3, 287) and junior guard Justin Pierce (6-4, 314) round out the starters along the line. The Boilermakers are green behind their starters, but the backups got plenty of reps with all of the injuries this spring.

The key for Purdue's offense will be overcoming the injuries up front and developing a go-to wide receiver. With Sheets and Taylor back, it will be interesting to see if the Boilermakers rely on the running game a bit more even with a top of the line passer like Painter in his final season.

While the Purdue offense has the chance to be explosive, its defense will try to build on a decent, but unspectacular 2007. The Boilermakers were ranked 54th in both scoring defense (26.5) and rush defense (148.9), but ranked 63rd in total offense (389.2) and were 75th against the pass (240.2).

The strength of this year's defense will be the line, led by 5th-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Baker (6-5, 280).

Irish fans will remember Baker from the 2004 recruiting cycle when he went back and forth between Notre Dame and Purdue before settling on the latter more than a month after Signing Day. Baker has appeared in 39 games at Purdue, including 29 starts. He has earned the team's defensive Pit Bull Award the last two springs as the most intense player.

Joining Baker on the interior is senior Alex Magee (6-4, 295). Magee has played in all 38 games since he arrived in West Lafayette, starting 22. Seniors Jermaine Guynn (6-1, 288) and Mike Neal (6-4, 293) both have extensive experience and will provide Purdue with a nice rotation inside.

Senior defensive end Keyon Brown (6-3, 241) started the final 12 games of the 2007 season and recorded 3.5 sacks. Sophomore defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (6-4, 255) played in 12 games last season and is expected to line up opposite Brown. Redshirt freshmen Nickcaro Golding (6-5, 225) and Gerald Gooden (6-3, 235) had impressive springs and will back up Brown and Kerrigan.

5th-year senior Anthony Heygood (6-2, 230) was moved from running back to linebacker last year and ranked second on the team in tackles (81) and tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss (15).

Heygood will play the strong side while senior Jason Werner (6-4, 221), who has struggled with back injuries throughout his career, is expected to start at Will. Junior Kevin Green (6-2, 236) and sophomore Tyler Haston (6-3, 222) have limited experience, but will battle for the position in the middle.

After that, the Boilermakers are admittedly thin and the staff has said that incoming freshmen Chris Carlino (6-2, 205) and Dwayne Beckford (6-0, 210) stand a good chance at making the two-deep.

Although the Boilermakers lost cornerback Terrell Vinson and strong safety Justin Scott, this year's defensive backfield is as deep, if not deeper, than the defensive line. Junior cornerback David Pender (6-1, 180) replaced junior Royce Adams (6-0, 190) as a starter midway through 2007, and now both have starting experience.

Senior free safety Brandon King (5-11, 192) started all 13 games last year and had 44 tackles. Junior free safety Brandon Erwin (6-0, 179) was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team after starting 14 games in 2006, but had his sophomore season cut short with a knee injury. Senior Torri Williams (6-2, 208) has had some injury issues, but appears ready to have an impact in his final year.

The front and back ends of the defense should be solid, but if Purdue is unable to develop some depth at linebacker, the middle could be soft.

Junior kicker Chris Summers is back after converting 18 of 22 field goals last year and may take on the punting duties as well if Tiller does not decide to go with sophomore Brody McKnight. The Boilermakers will miss Bryant's ability to change a game as a returner and have not yet settled on a replacement.

Tiller's career record against Notre Dame is 5-6 and he would love to finish his career with a .500 record against the Irish. Everyone is aware that this will be Tiller's final go-round and emotions should run high among the players. Those kinds of feelings can be positive for a team, but nothing is a sure thing when young adults are involved.


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