Opponents preview: Purdue offense

Part two of BadgerNation.com's preview of the Boilermakers

Purdue loses just four starters from last year, but two were mighty significant in quarterback Kyle Orton and receiver Taylor Stubblefield. The Boilermakers should reload at those positions, however. The bigger question is whether the line can achieve respectability, protect quarterback Brandon Kirsch, and help a solid if less-than-dynamic tandem of veteran running backs get the ground game going.

2004 by the numbers

Total offense: 446.5 yards per game (No. 13 nationally); 416.1 in conference-only games (3)
Scoring offense: 31.8 (20); 25.9 (3)
Passing offense: 321.2 (4); 307.2 (1)
Passing efficiency: 150.2 (10); 135.9 (2)
Rushing offense: 125.3 (87); 108.9 (9)
Touchdowns: 49 – 38 passing, 11 rushing; 27 – 21 passing, 6 rushing
Third-down conversions: 49 percent; 47.8 (1)
Turnovers lost: 18 – 8 interceptions and 10 of 22 fumbles (28); 16 – 8 interceptions, 8 fumbles (10)
Field goal kicking: 10 of 18; 6 of 12 (10th in percentage rank)
Kick returns: 24.9 (6); 22.8 (4)
Punt returns: 5.2 (112); 4.0 (11)

Quarterbacks analysis

Kyle Orton is gone after a strong senior season but junior Brandon Kirsch (6-3, 208) is a very capable replacement. At Kirsch's direction, Purdue's offense will still be very effective, but Kirsch is a much different kind of quarterback. Orton took few chances with the ball and rarely turned it over, though he had some very poor timing with the turnovers he did commit. Kirsch is more of a free wheeler, who will throw significantly more interceptions, but may also make more big plays. He is also a much more dangerous runner than Orton was.

For that reason, Purdue's offense will be more versatile this season. Kirsch has the arm and the smarts to distribute passes accurately and effectively in the Boilermakers' spread set. But he also presents Purdue with the opportunity and ability to run the option and more roll out and sprint passes.

Kirsch has proven capable in his auditions up to this point. He played in eight games as a true freshman in 2002, including four starts, and completed 79 of 134 passes for 1,067 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 423 yards and three touchdowns on 72 carries. He led the team that year and set a school record for quarterbacks with a 5.9-yards-per-carry average. A shoulder injury limited him to three games in 2003, and he was 3 of 4 for 27 yards and a touchdown, with 10 rushes for 48 yards (he was granted a medical redshirt for 2003). Last seasons, Kirsch went 58 of 94 for 711 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in six games, including two starts. He also went 35-88-1 rushing.

How well Kirsch holds up to an entire season of Big Ten pressure remains to be seen. Dealing with tight games was Purdue's undoing last season.

Kirsch's backup is redshirt freshman Curtis Painter (6-4, 212), who has all the tools to thrive at the position but obviously needs experience.

Offensive line analysis

Three of five starters return for a unit that must show considerable improvement. The Boilermakers gave up more sacks in league-only games (27) than any other team in the Big Ten and had one of the league's worst rushing offenses. Yes, Purdue throws a lot of passes, which certainly affects each of those statistics, but improvement is possible and necessary if PU is going to compete for the Big Ten crown this year.

Senior center Matt Turner (6-3, 290) is a good one, but in the center-loaded Big Ten he is a middle of the road player. He started six games at left guard in 2002, and all 13 games at left guard in 2003, before moving to center prior to last season.

Junior Mike Otto (6-5, 292) returns at left tackle after an enigmatic sophomore season. Otto has a lot of potential, but he did not put it in gear often last year.

Junior Uche Nwaneri (6-3, 313), a converted defensive lineman, started all 12 games at left guard last year.

On the right side Purdue will be breaking in new starters in sophomore Jordan Grimes (6-3, 313) and redshirt freshman Sean Sester (6-8, 282). Grimes last year became the first offensive lineman in Joe Tiller's time in West Lafayette to play as a true freshman. He played in 10 games and started once at right guard. Grimes should boost the Boilermakers' run blocking on the right side.

Purdue's depth on the line is weak. The top reserves are redshirt freshman center/guard Zach Smith (6-4, 285), sophomore tackle Ryan Noblet (6-6, 291), redshirt freshman tackle Garrett Miller (6-8, 263), sophomore guard Nick Fincher (6-4, 287) and sophomore center Robbie Powell (6-5, 283).

Receivers analysis

Taylor Stubblefield will be missed, there is no doubt about that, but Purdue still has a lot of talent here.

Kirsch's top options will be junior Kyle Ingraham (6-9, 228), senior Ray Williams (6-2, 193), sophomore Dorien Bryant (5-10, 175) and senior tight end Charles Davis (6-6, 260).

Davis is the elite option in the bunch, one of the Big Ten's top tight ends both as a receiver and run blocker. He has started 26 games over the past three seasons, including eight last year, when he caught 34 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns and was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media (honorable mention by league coaches). In his freshman and sophomore seasons Davis tallied a total of 18 receptions for 138 yards. Also a member of Purdue's basketball team, he is best known to Badger fans as the player who rolled up on Erasmus James' ankle last season.

After catching 13 passes for 140 yards as a freshman in 2003, Ingraham had a breakout season last year and should be the go-to guy this fall. The big target presents major matchup issues for teams. Starting all 12 games in 2004, Ingraham had 51 catches for 624 yards and seven touchdowns.

The next leading returning receiver is the comparatively diminutive Bryant, who had 38-584-3 as a freshman a year ago.

Williams was a full-time starter in 2003 (13 games) and started six games in 2004 and 2002. A solid role player, he has gone 8-141-0, 15-204-3 and 14-146-0 in his three campaigns.

Reserves junior Andre Chattams (6-0, 204) and seniors Brian Hare (6-3, 190) and Kevin Noel (6-3, 203) provide adequate depth. In his first year with the Boilermakers last year, Hare, a junior college transfer, caught 13 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns, leading the team with a gaudy 26-yards-per-catch average. Chattams has played in 17 games, with four starts, the past two years and has six career catches for 41 yards. A little used reserve, Noel had one catch for nine yards last year.

Purdue is understandably giddy about incoming recruits Selwyn Lymon (6-5, 190) and Greg Orton (6-4, 190), who should quickly surge up the depth chart. Lymon was Scout.com's No. 5 ranked wide receiver prospect in the nation for the class of 2005, while Orton was No. 21.

Davis's backup at tight end is sophomore Dustin Keller (6-4, 245), a converted wide receiver who caught five passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in nine games.

Running backs analysis

Purdue's best rushing threat this year very well may be quarterback Brandon Kirsch. But the Boilermakers want to have some semblance of balance to their offense, and that means fifth-year senior tailbacks Jerod Void and Brandon Jones need to be more productive this year.

Void (6-2, 212) is fifth in PU history with 26 career rushing touchdowns and 13th with 1,733 rushing yards. He started 11 games last year, played in 12, and led the team with 625 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Void is a dependable, workmanlike back, but he is not a danger to break long runs or to take control of a game. For his career, he averages 3.9 yards per carry.

Jones (5-11, 235) is a similar if more powerfully built back. He has played in 38 games with 1,431 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in his career.

Jones and Void are also reliable pass receivers. Last season, Jones had 22 catches for 283 yards and three scores, while Void went 22-202-0.

Redshirt freshman Kory Sheets (6-0, 201) is next on the depth and will get some carries as a change-of-pace back. His speed could be just what PU needs at the position.

Special teams notes

In 2003, place kicker Ben Jones was a star. He made 25 of 30 field goals, setting a school record for field goal percentage (.833) and tying a Big Ten season record for made field goals. He was an incredible 10 of 11 from 40 yards or further, including a made field goal of 50, with his only miss from that range coming at 53. He was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award for the nation's best kicker.

By comparison, 2004 was a disaster. Jones made just 10 of 18 field goals. He was a miserable 1 of 3 from 20-29 yards, a respectable 6 of 8 from 30-39 and 2 of 5 from 40-49, which was disappointing considering his flawless execution from that range the previous year.

Jones missed a 42 yarder late against Wisconsin that would have sent that game, a 20-17 Badger win, into overtime. He missed from 29 early in the fourth quarter against Northwestern as Purdue eventually lost by three. In a 2-point loss to Iowa, attempts from 32 and 27 out were blocked.

Injuries and inconsistency played into Jones' ineffectiveness in 2004. Purdue needs the 2003 Jones to show up this time around.

The kick return game was strong last year and should be fine this year with Void and Bryant pushing for the role.

The punt return game was terrible in 2004. Redshirt freshman reserve safety Lance Melvin (5-9, 193) is currently listed as the No. 1 punt returner, with Bryant and junior receiver Jake Cunningham (5-11, 185) also in the mix.

Matching up with Wisconsin

Few teams, if any, will feel comfortable matching up with the Boilermakers' receivers. Purdue has depth, impressive talent and versatility, with a nice combination of possession receivers, deep threats, do-it-all types and role players. Add into the mix a capable group of running backs and one of the nation's better tight ends and Kirsch could have a lot of fun in his first year as a full-time starter.

In the past, though, the Badgers have done better than most at matching wits with Joe Tiller, and UW has done a very solid job of slowing down Purdue's passing game. UW may not have the depth in the secondary it boasted last season, but the Badgers will not be intimidated either.

The toughest matchups to deal with will be Davis, who may prove too physical and athletic for UW's safeties or linebackers, and Bryant, whose nifty ability in the open field could be key.

The Badgers will have an edge up front and should be able to stymie Purdue's running game. The x-factor is Kirsch's rushing ability. Can he do for Purdue what Drew Tate did with his feet for Iowa last year? It is possible. If he can come close, UW will have a tough time holding the Boilermakers below 30.

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