A Closer Look: Purdue Boilermakers

The second half of the season is upon us, and No. 7 Ohio State will look to gain bowl eligibility and improve to 4-0 in the Big Ten with this weekend's trip to face Purdue. We take a gander at the Boilermakers' struggles and what the team does well in this week's Closer Look game preview.

Purdue (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten)
Saturday, Oct. 17
12 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Ross-Ade Stadium; West Lafayette, Ind.

The Boilermakers
Head coach: Danny Hope, 1-5 at Purdue, first year (36-27 overall)
2008 record: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 37-12-2
School location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Enrollment: 40,090
Colors: Old Gold and Black
Stadium: Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)
Fight songs: "Hail Purdue"

Purdue Players To Watch
RB Ralph Bolden: The sophomore answered the bell early for Purdue, winning a fall camp battle for the starting role before rushing for 357 yards in the team's first two games. Since then, he's been kept under wraps thanks to opposing teams' defensive adjustments. Shutting down the speedy Bolden will be the No. 1 goal of the Buckeye defense.

"He's been a dominant player in practices and taken a bunch of them the length of the field," head coach Danny Hope said at the start of the year. "We have a good defense and they bottled him up and he broke outside and took it to the house several times in practice."

WR Keith Smith: The Boilermakers will line up Smith all over the field, including perhaps in the backfield if they're so inclined. That has helped him exploit mismatches all over the field on the way to 42 catches and four touchdowns receiving. The 6-2 Smith is tough to defend both because of his size and athletic ability.

"He catches the ball great," Hope said. "He seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on. He has lost some weight, and he is in great shape. He is an outstanding player."

DE Ryan Kerrigan: Ohio State had trouble with Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, who is the only defensive lineman in the Big Ten with more tackles than Kerrigan. The junior has 32 stops to go with four sacks, and he had two sacks of Terrelle Pryor a season ago. In his last three games, Kerrigan has a total of 21 tackles.

SLB Jason Werner: The heart and soul of the Purdue defense, Werner has led the way with a team-best 50 tackles while serving as a team captain. His 11 tackles for loss – 1.83 per game – place him third in the league and tied for ninth in the country. He's also capable of causing turnovers with one pick and a forced fumble this year.

"He's an outstanding leader and he understands football as well as anyone I've been around," Hope said. "He can coach those young guys as good as our coaches can. He's very smart, he makes plays and he plays fast."

Sept. 5, Toledo, W 52-31
Sept. 12, at Oregon, L 38-36
Sept. 19, Northern Illinois, L 28-21
Sept. 26, Notre Dame, L 24-21
Oct. 3, Northwestern, L 27-21
Oct. 10, at Minnesota, L 35-20

Projected Starters
QB 14 Joey Elliott, 6-2, 216
RB 23 Ralph Bolden, 5-9, 194
WR 17 Aaron Valentin, 6-1, 205
WR 8 Keith Smith, 6-2, 226
WR 1 Keith Carlos, 6-1, 200
TE 85 Kyle Adams, 6-4, 251
LT 68 Dennis Kelly, 6-8, 291
LG 75 Zach Reckman, 6-5, 297
C 54 Jared Zwilling, 6-4, 283
RG 73 Ken Plue, 6-7, 322
RT 61 Zach Jones, 6-5, 312

DE 97 Gerald Gooden, 6-3, 235
DT 92 Mike Neal, 6-4, 302
DT 93 Kawaan Short, 6-4, 310
DE 94 Ryan Kerrigan, 6-4, 263
WLB 30 Joe Holland, 6-1, 220
MLB 47 Chris Carlino, 6-2, 215
SLB 24 Jason Werner, 6-2, 221
CB 7 Brandon King, 5-11, 192
SS 4 Dwight Mclean, 6-1, 210
FS 2 Torri Williams, 6-2, 208
CB 9 David Pender, 6-1, 175

K 37 Carson Wiggs, 6-0, 202
P 13 Chris Summers, 6-1, 179
PR 3 Waynelle Gravesande, 6-0, 182
KR 17 Aaron Valentin, 6-1, 205

Five Fast Facts
1. Purdue has been outpossessed this year, averaging just 27:00 of possession per game compared to 33:00 for the opponents. Still, Purdue is outgaining teams 410.2-379.9 yards per game.

2. Cleveland Glenville graduate Royce Adams will miss the Ohio State game after suffering a knee injury on Oct. 3 against Northwestern. Adams had played both wideout and defensive back this year, making five tackles and one catch. Other notable Ohioans on the team include offensive guard Zach Reckman, who attended Cincinnati Indian Hill, and the player who replaced him when he was suspended for a game earlier this year. That would be redshirt frosh Rick Schmeig, a Cincinnati Oak Hills grad.

3. Purdue has outscored teams 59-16 in the first quarter but has been on the wrong end of the scoresheet in the second (83-37) and third (52-28) stanzas. The Boilermakers also have won the fourth, 47-32.

4. The Boilermakers went 1-3 in nonconference games, continuing a trend for Hope. While the head coach at Eastern Kentucky from 2003-07, Hope had a losing record in out-of-conference play in every season before going 32-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

5. Purdue has lost fumbles on kickoff returns in each of the past two games.

Offensive Scouting Report
Pretty much all discussions of the Boilermakers this week have hinged on Purdue's inability to hold on to the football, so for the sake of consistency that's where we'll begin as well.

The home team for this weekend's game has lost 20 turnovers on the season in the form of 11 fumbles and nine interceptions, and Purdue's minus-9 turnover rating is last in the Big Ten. No other conference team has more than 13 turnovers.

"If you watch the film, if Purdue doesn't have a turnover here or a turnover there or a special teams problem here or there, who knows what their record is," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said.

That has prompted some around the Ohio State program to say that Purdue is much better than its record, perhaps the best 1-5 team in the country (and considering Washington State is the only other team at 1-5, those people probably have a point).

When Purdue's offense has actually been able to hold on to the ball, it has done a credible job. The Boilers have averaged 28.5 points per game, topping 20 in every game, and have 410.2 yards on average this year.

The attack starts with fifth-year senior quarterback Joey Elliott. On the year, Elliott is 128 for 213 (60.1 percent) for 1,575 yards and a passing efficiency of 132.3 that is sixth in the conference. He's thrown for 12 touchdowns, which is tied for best in the league, but his nine interceptions are the most of any Big Ten quarterback.

"I think when you get in a situation that sometimes he thinks he gets in, I think maybe he tries to force it a little bit, being the leader on that football team and trying to force things a little bit," OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes said. "But right now I think he's playing well, being a leader."

He's added 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries and is directing a passing attack that is second in the league with 265.0 yards per game.

Junior Keith Smith and fifth-year senior Aaron Valentin have stepped up as dependable targets at wideout for Elliott. Smith is second in the league in receptions and yards per game. For the year, he has 42 catches for 585 yards and four touchdowns along with a touchdown pass against Oregon. Valentin leads the team in receiving touchdowns with five, and for the year he has 29 catches for 356 yards.

Two junior college transfers have established themselves as the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers. Keith Carlos, a big target at 6-1, is the third starter, and he's third on the team with 16 catches for 196 yards and a TD. Speedster Cortez Smith has four catches for 30 yards. The Boilers also try to get freshman Antavian Edison into the mix.

Purdue's play at tight end has been encouraging. Junior Kyle Adams has returned from a knee injury that ended last year's season to catch 16 passes for 132 yards, while backup Jeff Lindsay has five catches for 41 yards.

The big story for Purdue at the start of the year was running back Ralph Bolden, who ran for 357 yards in the first two games, a Purdue record. Since then he's been kept in check by the opposition, but on the year he has 115 rushes for 599 yards – second in the league – and four touchdowns to go with 11 catches for 173 yards and a score.

The emphasis on the running game early – including the adoption of some I-formation sets with fullback Frank Halliburton – is a hallmark of Hope, a former offensive line coach, Haynes said.

"The thing I know about him is it's all about toughness," Haynes said. "They're doing a little bit more running. I think that was his stress to sit there and bring more toughness to the football team."

Backup Jaycen Taylor is a versatile fifth-year senior with 26 carries for 118 yards and three touchdowns.

The Boilermakers' offensive line was beset by injuries in years past, but the unit matured through that adversity and become a solid group that starts three fifth-year seniors.

One of those is right tackle Zach Jones, who has made 30 straight starts at his position. The other two fifth-year seniors are captain Jared Zwilling, who plays center, and left guard Zach Reckman, who missed one game earlier this year after violating the Big Ten's sportsmanlike conduct policy.

The other two starters are sophomores in left tackle Dennis Kelly and right guard Ken Plue.

Defensive Scouting Report
Those upset about the offensive production for Ohio State a week ago against Wisconsin could feel better once the Buckeyes play Purdue, which is ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten with 30.5 points allowed per game. In addition, Purdue is eighth in yardage allowed at 379.7 and 10th in rushing defense at 167.3 yards.

Still, the Boilers were a solid defense a season ago and aren't as bad as the numbers might indicate because the offense's turnovers have put the stop troops in bad situations.

"They have a fast rush-up-the-field defensive end (in Ryan Kerrigan)," OSU's Brandon Saine said. "They have three good linebackers and a couple of older guys in the secondary. They play Big Ten football. They'll hit you just like anybody else will."

The Boilermakers have been gashed up front at times, but they do boast two defensive linemen who are among the top producers in the league.

Despite playing at a position loaded in the conference, junior defensive end Kerrigan is making a push for All-Big Ten honors. The 6-4, 263-pounder is second among Big Ten defensive linemen with 32 tackles to go with 7½ tackles for loss and four sacks. He's nearly been matched by redshirt freshman Kawann Short, who tops Big Ten defensive tackles with 30 stops to go with an interception and a TFL.

The most experienced member of the defensive line is tackle Mike Neal, a 6-4, 302-pound fifth-year senior who can bench press 510 pounds. Neal has 17 stops to go with five tackles for loss and a forced and recovered fumble.

The fourth starter along the line is end Gerald Gooden, a sophomore with 14 tackles and two sacks.

The team's leading tackler is fifth-year senior strongside linebacker Jason Werner, who has returned after missing last year with a back injury. The 6-4, 221-pounder has come back with a vengeance, making 50 tackles, 11 TFL and three sacks to go with a forced fumble and an interception. He's also a team captain.

Chris Carlino has settled into the middle linebacker spot after earning five starts last year as a freshman, making 37 tackles and an interception. His tackle total has been matched by weakside linebacker Joe Holland, who has started every game since arriving in West Lafayette last year as a freshman. To go with those 37 stops, he has a sack and an interception.

The four starters in Purdue's secondary have 86 career starts between them, which is perhaps why the Boilermakers have allowed only five touchdowns allowed through the air.

Cornerbacks Brandon King and David Pender are seniors who have 55 career starts between them. King has returned from a deep thigh bruise suffered earlier this year to make 21 tackles in four games.

"He is a lot of fun to be around and an upbeat guy, and those guys have played a lot together," Hope said. "So when they're together there's more chatter, there's strength back there. They really know each other. Kind of like a family reunion when you go to it and everybody is comfortable back there. He brings a lot of things to the table."

Pender has added 20 tackles this year along with seven pass breakups and an interception. Williams adds even more experience to the group, as one would expect out of a sixth-year senior. The free safety – who missed 2005 and ‘06 with leg injuries – has 42 stops to go with his fifth career interception. Strong safety Dwight Mclean has 32 stops and a forced fumble.

Backup safety Albert Evans, a sophomore, has 14 stops, while junior Josh McKinley, another safety, has 11 tackles.

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