Skill Position Starters
"They've gone more conventional than in the past and that's one of the reasons why they've been running the ball so efficiently," said Irish head coach Charlie Weis of a Purdue team averaging more than 210 rushing yards per contest through three weeks.
"They actually get in the I-(formation) a lot and put multiple tight ends in there and they run a lot of conventional stuff."
In addition to its new power look, Purdue still employs its familiar shotgun set, spreading multiple receivers and utilizing a solo running back, budding sophomore star Ralph Bolden.
Below is a closer look at the Boilermakers offensive starters and key reserves.
- Quarterback – 5th-Year Senior #14 Joey Elliot: Has totaled six touchdowns (four passing) but he's also already tossed five interceptions in three games this season. Elliot is a true running threat and showed his speed with a 58-yard touchdown run last Saturday vs. Northern Illinois. He's a better passer on the move than from the pocket and the Boilers will attempt to get him into space (Elliot often moves right with two pass protector, including his tight end, on designed roll-outs) to avoid ND's regular blitzes.
Elliot has to be accounted for by Irish linebackers as the senior can make plays with his feet and regularly looks downfield prior to tucking the ball to run, but he likely ranks as the least dangerous of the six quarterbacks who have taken a snap vs. the Irish this season (Colin Kaepernick; Tate Forcer; Denard Robinson; Kirk Cousins; Keith Nichol; and Elliot).
- Running Back – Sophomore #23 Ralph Bolden: Weis described him as a "home run hitter," and Bolden has shown that ability early with 14 runs in excess of 10 yards (including a 78-yard touchdown in the opener) and has caught four passes gaining 24, 22, 34, and 20 yards through three contests this season. Bolden, a compact runner at 5'9" 194 yards effectively runs through arm tackles, but his gift is making players miss in space and accelerating into the open field with a true second gear. He appears more dangerous out of Purdue's spread package (and hurry-up offense) than in the Boilers newfound Power-I set.
Starred vs. Oregon carrying the ball 29 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns (and caught another) vs. the Ducks in Purdue's near-upset in Eugene.
- Wide Receiver – 5th-Year Senior #17 Aaron Valentin: Doubles as the Boilers punt returner with nice cut-back skills, patience to find his assigned blocks, and enough speed to take it to the house as he did vs. NIU last week, returning a punt for a 62-yard touchdown. Valentin was the MVP for both teams in the first half of last week's contest vs. NIU as the senior muffed his next two return attempts, losing both to the Huskies.
Valentin has 16 receptions and caught a key 15-yard touchdown (on a pass from WR Keith Smith) at Oregon to draw the Boilers within two points (conversion failed) with one minute remaining. He's a dangerous kick return man as well, bringing back a third quarter kick for 34 yards to set up Purdue's second touchdown.
- Wide Receiver – Junior #8 Keith Smith: A possible matchup problem (especially if Irish cornerbacks continue to employ a pre-snap cushion) at 6'2" 226 pounds. Smith will play from the slot and offers a physical presence on medium-range throws over the middle and has a knack for breaking one-on-one tackles after the catch. Smith has been held in check over the last two weeks, registering 9 receptions for 105 yards after a big opening game effort (8-117-TD) vs. Toledo.
Often used on "bubble screens" in the same manner as the Irish use Golden Tate and, last week, tight end Kyle Rudolph, who split wide for four bubble-screen catches last Saturday. The former safety does not have great hands.
- Wide Receiver – Junior #1 Keith Carlos: Generally enters the game in the team's three WR sets. Carlos caught his first career touchdown vs. Toledo and contributed three receptions for 33 yards (and two first downs) in Oregon. Had a chance for a big reception in the fourth quarter during Purdue's comeback effort vs. the Huskies, but didn't extend his hands (allowed the ball to hit his facemask) as he struggled to negotiate his footwork on the sideline.
- Tight End – Junior #85 Kyle Adams: Used as an outlet receiver by the Boilers through three starts but also through a key downfield block to spring QB Joey Elliot for a 58-yard touchdown run. Appears to be only an average blocker at the point of attack. Adams has good hands and has posted nine receptions over the Boiler's last two contests.
The right side of the Boilers O-Line boasts 634 pounds of beef. Sophomore Ken Plue is the biggest of the group at 6'7" 322 pounds. Purdue has averaged more than six yards per carry as a team, though they were ineffective during last Saturday's loss to NIU, possessing the football for just over 18 game minutes (vs. the Huskies 41-plus).
- Left Tackle – Sophomore #68 Dennis Kelly: Good athlete that played tight end in high school. Kelly, at 6'8" 291 pounds played five games last season as a backup tackle. He's been solid in pass protection on Elliot's backside though Purdue often rolls Elliot to his right (away from Kelly) in their short passing game.
- Left Guard – Junior #72 Justin Pierce: Should fill-in as the team's starting left guard due to the one-game suspension of 5th-year senior Zach Reckman. Pierce has started eight games over the last two seasons including five in 2008.
- Center – 5th-Year Senior #54 Jared Zwilling: 6'4" 293 pounder is a team captain and former defensive lineman whom Weis cited for being strong at the point of attack and was easily the team's most consistent run-blocker in last week's loss to Northern Illinois.
- Right Guard – Sophomore #73 Ken Plue: The largest of the Boilers lineman at 6'7" 322 pounds, Plue has nine career starts (over the Boiler's last nine contests). He often engages the defender effectively but fails to finish as a run-blocker and struggles mightily blocking in space, both on screens and toss plays to the right side but doesn't appear to be a poor athlete for his size. Plue was an effective blocker on Purdue's final touchdown drive last week.
- Right Tackle – 5th-Year Senior #61 Zach Jones: Leads the offensive line with 27 career starts. At 6'5" 312- pounds, Jones is an imposing presence but ranks as a mediocre run-blocker in space and like his line-mate Plue, does not distinguish himself as a lead blocker in the screen game.
- Fullback – Sophomore #48 Jared Crank: At 6'2" 235-pounds, Crank serves as the lead blocker for Bolden when Purdue employs its Power-I set. Limited offensively and suffered a bad, point-blank dropped pass for an easy first down last week in the flat.
- Wide Receiver – Senior #10 Royce Adams: Has started 21 games for the Boilers, all at cornerback. Adams has yet to catch a pass this season though started the season-opener vs. Toledo. He's officially listed in an "OR" situation with Purdue's third receiver, Keith Carlos, who often mans the slot.
- Running Back – 5th-Year Senior #33 Jaycen Taylor: Has more than 100 yards rushing and already posted three touchdowns this season including a 5-yard score to give the Boilermakers an early lead at Oregon in Week Two. Most of Taylor's damage was incurred by the Toledo Rockets in the teams' season-opener as Taylor contributed 81 yards and two touchdowns to Purdue's 315-yard team effort on the ground.
- Tight End – Junior #88 Jeff Lindsay: Lindsay is moved around in Purdue's multi-faceted attack, lining up at H-Back and serving as the Boilers "move" tight end, according to Weis. The 6'3" 238-pound junior has just seven career receptions.
- Left Guard – 5th-Year Senior #75 Zach Reckman: Purdue's starting left guard was suspended by the Big Ten for his (ridiculous) late hit at the end of the Boilermakers loss to Northern Illinois.