It's hard to imagine it's been six years since Joe Tiller emerged at Purdue and put the Boilermakers back on the map with one of the most innovative, explosive offenses in college football. Tiller's influence on the conference cannot be understated. He forced the Big Ten to catch up with the rest of college football, ditching its three yards and a cloud of dust reputation for a wave of offensive makeovers across the league.
The current Badgers offense, which includes everything from cluster formations to running backs lining up as wideouts, partially stems from the way Tiller has changed the conference over the past six seasons.
But even though Tiller's initial focus was on the passing game and the spread offense (and with Drew Brees at quarterback, who could blame him), over the years Tiller has balanced out the Purdue offense with an added emphasis on the running game.
Tiller has learned that in the Big Ten, and throughout college football for that matter, championship teams must feature top running games. A team that is outstanding passing the ball but can't get it done on the ground won't get very far in the Big Ten, which still emphasizes the power aspect of the sport.
Here is a look at Purdue's latest offense, which returns eight starters and features more balance than Tiller's first few years in West Lafayette, which many people feel could lead to a top three finish in the conference for the Boilermakers.
The Boilermakers haven't found another talent like Brees, and probably won't for years, if not decades to come. But they do feature two outstanding quarterbacks that constantly battled for playing time last season.
Kyle Orton, a 6-4, 220-pound junior, is the starter heading into fall camp. Orton has a rocket arm, and after relinquishing his starting position to backup Brandon Kirsch midway through last season, he came on very strong towards the latter part of 2002.
Orton was named the MVP of the Sun Bowl, as he led Purdue to a 34-24 victory, giving the Boilermakers a winning record on the season (7-6). He finished the year with 2,257 yards passing, completing 192-of-317 attempts (60.6 percent) with 13 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
But it was the way Orton finished the season that inked his name into the starting role for this season. In his last seven games, Orton completed 83-of-119 attempts (70.9 percent).
If Orton's performance slides, however, Kirsch will be waiting in the wings. Kirsch appeared in eight games (starting four) as a true freshman, throwing for 1,067 yards, with a 59 percent completion percentage and eight touchdowns.
Purdue's running game took a major step forward last season, ranking fourth in the conference and 30th nationally with 196.5 yards per game. Following a dismal year for the ground game, in which the Boilermakers ranked 103rd in the NCAA, Joey Harris and Brandon Jones led Purdue back to respectability.
Harris and Jones surprised many fans, beating out returning starter Montrell Lowe for the starting role and performing well above expectations. Harris, a 5-11, 208-pound senior, paved the way with 1,115 yards on 250 carries (4.5 yard per carry average) with eight touchdowns.
Harris, a star on the Boilermaker track team, became just the fifth player in school history to reach the 1,000-yard mark, and the first since Mike Alstott in 1995. He was also the second player in school history to record six or more 100-yard rushing games in one season.
While Harris was the speed back, Jones took care of much of the dirty work. The 5-11, 225-pound sophomore was relied on for the tough short-yardage carries, and he delivered. Jones finished with 668 yards and three touchdowns.
The Boilermakers return the two players atop the Big Ten's catches-per-game statistical category. John Standeford and Taylor Stubblefield remain the top two receivers in the PU offense.
Standeford, a 6-4, 191-pound senior, finished last year with a Purdue-record 1,307 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. He was ranked 11th in the country with 100.5 yards receiving per game, and 24th nationally with 5.8 catches a game.
Stubblefield, a 6-1, 172-pound junior, was No. 1 in the Big Ten with 7.7 receptions per game, and despite missing the first three games of the season with an injury, he led the Boilermakers in receptions for the second consecutive year.
Standeford and Stubblefield aren't the only players expected to get a lot of catches in 2003. Expect to see more of Ray Williams, a 6-2, 188-pound sophomore that made a solid impact during his freshman season. Another name to look out for is Andre Chattams, a 6-foot, 202-pound freshman from Dayton, Ohio.
This is the primary area of concern for Tiller heading into the season. The offense graduated three starters last year, and all of them were on the offensive line. But the Purdue staff did a lot of experimenting during bowl practices and spring football, and there is confidence that the line will be solid this fall.
The unit is anchored by Kelly Butler, a 6-8, 315-pound monster that will start for the third consecutive year. Butler is the most proven member of the offensive line, and the staff flirted with the idea of moving him to left tackle during the spring.
That proved to be unnecessary with the development of redshirt freshman Mike Otto, a 6-5, 295-pounder that will step in to start at left tackle when fall camp begins. The rest of the line features converted guard Nick Hardwick, who will start at center, and first year starting guards Matt Turner and Tyler Moore.
Purdue Week: Offensive Preview
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