It's time to thin the Herd, boys and girls.
This weekend our Boilers are back in action, again at home, against the Thundering Herd of Marshall. Marshall is 2-2 and has been involved in a lot of points being scored, both for and against.
What do your handsome hosts think will transpire over the weekend? Let's get right to it, shall we?
(Oh, and this pic came up during my Google search for images for this post. Google is so wise.)
Maybe I've just had too much time to talk myself into worrying, but I've been concerned about this specific game since I first took a look at the schedule. Sure, there's no Chad Pennington or Randy Moss walking through the tunnel (well, it's Ross-Ade, so I guess walking through that...opening), but Marshall can still put some points on the board, as they say.
I know many have talked themselves into the exciting potential of this team in 2012. And that's great. However, as we've recounted before, Danny Hope teams absolutely always, without exception, find at least one non-conference game to lose that shouldn't even be close. Being at home is no exception. For those who have forgotten, in 2011 it was at Rice (and almost at home vs Middle Tennessee). In 2010, it was home to Toledo (and it wasn't even close). In 2009 it was home to Northern Illinois. All foes who should have been overmatched and were certainly less talented. But Purdue has shown in recent years a tendency to come out for second halves sleepy or unfocused... or sometimes come out for entire games in that state. Doesn't a game following a bye week right before potentially huge Big Ten matchups seem like an opportunity for such sluggishness?
Marshall absolutely fits the mold to continue that trend. There's no way the Herd should be -- or are -- as talented as Purdue. However, Marshall can throw the ball as well as run the ball. Sure, the D-line will likely bottle up the run and will (or should) win the battles in the trenches. But if Sophomore QB Rakeem Cato continues what he's done so far, I have concerns. Cato has thrown for almost 1500 yards in four games, including two games over 400 yards. Sure, sure, I know they were losing big to West Virginia and their Rice game went OT. So what? He's also completed over 70% of his passes, so the guy is accurate. And you know what else? Aside from Josh Johnson, I haven't been particularly impressed by Purdue's secondary this year. The secondary was supposed to be another strength, something that along with the line would help counter the weakness over the middle at linebacker. But if a team like Marshall is able to pick apart Purdue both over the middle and longer down the field... I become more jumpy.
Another gut instinct might be to look at Marshall's last game and note that they needed overtime to defeat Rice. I know I had that knee-jerk reaction, but then I remembered that Purdue couldn't accomplish that feat in 2011. We know the transitive property isn't foolproof -- or even worthwhile, most of the time -- but it's just one more thing tossed into my cauldron of doubt.
Other things that nibble away at my good feelings about Purdue's strong start are that they are still among the worst in the nation at turning the ball over (with eight giveaways so far three games for a cool 2.67 TOs per game). I don't know about you, but when I read that statistic, I was surprised. We heard a lot about that in previous years, but not as much this year... mainly because Purdue has been winning and has a good feeling of momentum. But if you turn the ball over five times against EKU (which they did), you can get away with it. If they turn it over even close to that number vs Marshall, they will lose.
Okay, so despite all that hand-wringing, let me say that I believe in these guys. I like the makeup of this team and these players a lot. I think their focus, drive and determination is better than we've seen from Purdue in a while. I actually do think that despite not being a good game coach, Coach Hope is making some good progress on the "culture" and getting guys to buy in completely. He deserves praise for that. And I have faith in these guys carrying out their assignments and playing the game well. They haven't been prone to terrible penalties and the special teams play has not hampered Purdue. These are all steps -- big steps -- in the right direction.
I agree with the majority of Purdue fans that Purdue should win this game. Maybe not with as little trouble as some are thinking, but I agree that Marshall should not be able to come into Ross-Ade and take a game away from the 2012 Boilermakers.
However, I lack faith in the coaching staff. And, as noted above, I've read this script before. Until Danny Hope and company prove to me that they won't lose one of these games, I'm going to have a hard time having blanket confidence. So while I don't think they have any excuse to lose, they also didn't have excuses against Rice, Northern Illinois and Toledo. This one goes in the "please prove me wrong, boys" category.
Before I got to see this team play, before I knew about Marshall's fast-paced offense, I didn't feel too bad about this game.
But now that I have as much info as possible, I still feel good about this one.
Danny Hope has always been a player's coach...but has never been an Xs and Os guru. He seems to motivate players, and point them in the right direction. The problem the last few years has been that his teams have really needed direction during games...and have been physically unable to simply overpower other teams. It's different this year. Purdue's front four is as good, if not better, than we thought they'd be. Russell's injury two weeks ago changes things if there's a carry-over into this game, but it sounds like he's ready to go...so the defense will be defined by the front's ability to put pressure on the QB and stop Marshall's running game. As they cause Marshall's pocket to collapse, everyone behind them will look better. Plus, Allen should be healthier, so I think both he and Johnson will be more than just a speed bump for Marshall's O.
On the other side of the ball, Marshall struggles mightily to stop the run... and has given up long runs... that's a giant "uh-oh" for the Herd. Shavers will pound 'em and Mostert might provide the first big play out of the backfield with the home run. If TerBush can at least play like he did last year at the end of the season, Purdue wins going away...if he continues to struggle making easy throws, I'd love to see Henry behind center; at the very minimum, he can run the hurry-up with skill.
A nearly perfect weather day will help produce smiley-happy faces for the Boilermaker faithful tomorrow as Hope strives to make Purdue fans forget about previous pre-con woes...Purdue improves to 3-1; but a sluggish start could make this one closer than it should be.
It's time to thin the Herd, boys and girls.