With the Most Important Players and Position Previews sections of our Summer Guide having wrapped up, we now move on to our Know Your Opponent series, in which we preview every team Northwestern will face this season. When we hit game week, we will have more in-depth and comprehensive coverage, but for now we give you a general overview of the team so you know what to expect in general.
Purdue lost to Northwestern last year in a struggle dominated by defense (or completely inept offense, depending on your point of view).
Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Returning experience: 68%
2015 record: 2-10 (1-7 Big Ten)
Coach: Darrell Hazell, 4th year (6-30!)
The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Football Outsiders. You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.
2015 S&P+ Overall: 86th
2015 S&P+ Offense: 84th
2015 S&P+ Defense: 79th
2016 S&P+ Projection: 88th (42 spots below Northwestern)
Purdue was just a really bad football team last year, especially by Big Ten standards.
Oh wait, you want me to write more? Okay, you asked for it. Purdue won one game against an FBS opponent last year, a stunning 55-45 victory over Nebraska in West Lafayette that Nebraska’s defense still has nightmares about. To be fair, there were some close calls, including a surprisingly close 24-21 loss to then-No. 2 Michigan State in East Lansing. Purdue drew within a field goal with just under seven minutes left in the quarter but could not complete an upset.
Wait, that really happened? Michigan State was favored by 24.5 points!
Other Purdue season highlights included a 10-point loss to Marshall (yikes), a 27-point blowout against Virginia Tech at home (ouch) and 28-point blowouts at home to Minnesota and Indiana (“all trains have been cancelled”). Purdue is one of the two Northwestern opponents in 2016 who did not play in any postseason games whatsoever.
Last season, Purdue’s offensive weapons were what we thought they were (RIP Dennis Green). In the previous three seasons, Purdue has never had an offensive S&P better than 79th. In his mostly unsuccessful tenure as Purdue head coach, Darrell Hazell has been incapable of developing a solid offense. As a result, offensive coordinator John Shoop was fired and replaced with Terry Malone.
Purdue’s had occasional flashes of decency behind David Blough, who took over at quarterback from Austin Appleby. The Boilermakers scored 55 points against Nebraska. Then again, Northwestern scored over 30 against Nebraska, so maybe Nebraska’s defense is just really bad. But I digress.
Blough was better than Appleby, but only marginally. Neither quarterback could take care of the football, leading to 26 Purdue giveaways last season. Freshman running back Markell Jones was solid but he could not do enough to keep Purdue’s offense churning. Jones will be back next year, but his offensive line significantly underperformed last season and will not be adding anyone impressive.
In fact, other than Brown and Blough, there appears to be little reason to expect Purdue’s offense will be significantly better next season. The roster just does not have enough incoming talent this year to make a huge difference. Barring a breakout from two or three of Purdue’s players (most importantly Blough), Terry Malone will have to find some inventive ways to get production of the existing roster.
Despite the lack of talent, it’s clear that Blough has to play consistently for Purdue to gain any traction on offense. In isolated moments and quarters, Blough looks like a very good quarterback, but with Purdue’s pass-heavy system (you may remember them throwing 45 times against Northwestern’s secondary, which was not a great idea), Blough’s lack of experience made it very difficult for him. Blough will be helped by the return of DeAngelo Yancey, Cameron Posey and Domonique Young. While those three are solid, they struggled in Purdue’s offense last year. Yancey is the best of the three and will be Purdue’s major playmaker. However, he has to work on catching the football and running better routes to get open because his 49 percent catch rate from 2015 is untenable for a quarterback with barely 10 games of experience.
Purdue let up 458.3 yards per game last year. That’s bad. And just like on the offense, the defense will also be bringing most of last year’s players back for another round. Hazell has built some okay defenses during his tenure, but last year’s defense was almost completely devoid of big playmakers and cohesion.
Purdue’s front seven should be decent in 2016, with defensive tackle Jake Replogle and highly-touted recruit Gelen Robinson leading the way. The two combined for 23 tackles for loss last season and will need to sustain this effort in 2016. Unfortunately, Purdue’s run defense and secondary are so bad that the pass rush might not even matter. The secondary is also losing its two starting cornerbacks, which will be a problem.
Purdue just wasn’t able to stop anybody in the second half of last year (except Northwestern—that’s really depressing) and is losing some average-level talent that may not be replaceable. Realistically, the defense will be below average unless Robinson and Replogle are able to turn into twin J.J. Watts. Even if that were the case, Purdue’s defense would still only be average because the secondary and the run defense are that bad. Like on the offensive side of the ball, Purdue’s recruiting struggles have left the defense with little existing talent and very little incoming talent.
Three Players to Know
WR DeAngelo Yancey — Yancey was Purdue’s best offensive player last season, catching 78 balls and attaining a very good ISOPP (explosiveness rating) of 1.78. He is dangerous. Whether Blough will be able to get the ball to him is another story.
RB Markell Brown — The sophomore running back looked great running and catching the football last season as a freshman and really should have been starting over D.J. Knox for most of the year.
DT Jake Replogle — Replogle’s 47 tackles, 2 sacks and 14 tackles for loss certainly jump out on the page. He has the size and skills to be an above-average defensive lineman, perhaps even in the NFL, and he should only get better in his senior season. He’s currently ranked 8th on NFL Draft Scout’s ranking of defensive tackles.
Behind Enemy Lines
Travis Miller of Purdue’s SBNation blog Hammer & Rails takes our questions.
Best case scenario:
That John Shoop was the problem all along and the offense wakes up from a three-year hiatus. The pieces are there for some actual production with a good RB, solid, experienced receivers, and a talented QB.
Worst case scenario:
Hazell continues to be Hazell and we go 2-10 or worse again. The nightmare scenario is 0-12, but Purdue does not find its new AD by December and Morgan Burke keeps Hazell because of the buyout above $4 million.
Northwestern at Purdue Prediction:
Last year's game was a good one until Shoop decided to not have the offense play the fourth quarter. It could be a close one again but I trust Northwestern to beat Purdue because we still have Hazell.
I am very out on Hazell. He has been a disaster from the first game forward and he is basically rolling back last year with new coordinators. Our lone hope is that John Shoop really was that bad and was the cause of the problems. I can see some scenarios where 7 wins happen because the schedule is so weak, but I can also see a disaster of 0-12. I lean towards the latter because I don't believe in results until I see them now. Hazell has talked about progress without showing it for too long.
Darrell Hazell probably should have been fired last year, but it looks like the university did not want to pay the large buy-out on his contract. Instead, Hazell will remain for another year at the helm despite only winning two Big Ten games in 24 attempts. While the team has some bright spots and could improve from last year by a combination of luck and addition by subtraction, it’s hard to see a dramatic turnaround in the cards. However, that does not mean Northwestern should expect to walk into West Lafayette and blow the doors off of Purdue. As last year showed, Northwestern really doesn’t have the offensive capabilities to expect a blowout of anyone. While the game will probably be closer than it should be given the relative talent on the field, Northwestern’s a huge advantage over Purdue defensively and on special teams should make the Wildcats a comfortable favorite in this contest.
Date: Nov. 12