Boilers Win First Fall Scrimmage
Around 1,000 die hard Boilermaker fans came to Ross-Ade for a scrimmage earlier today...but sadly, I wasn't one of them. I spent the day with LBD and Mrs. BDowd...so I wasn't able to watch the jersey scrimmage today in God's country...but that's not gonna stop me from giving you a little BS taste of what happened. My pal Adam was there...and he sent me updates about the haps as it all occurred...and we can firmly say this: progress has been made since our Boilers last public scrimmage.
He and I were both there in the Spring...we watched an inept offense flounder aimlessly and struggle just to move the ball, let alone score points. Today, it wasn't a fireworks display, by any means, but the offense moved the ball and at least had a bit of identity.
Here's what defines the first unit, regardless of whom is running the controls (Appleby or Etling): Misdirection and short passes underneath. But unlike the Spring game, there is a new crispness to the offense.
So here's the composite report based on my buddy's account and a few others that I've read: Akeem Hunt had the biggest, most-noteworthy play of the day in the form of what looked like a busted play. It was a messed up draw that Appleby gave to #1 kind of late...and Hunt simply outran the defense toward the sideline before breaking it up the field and eventually scoring 70+ yards later.
Hunt is now officially a slot receiver/RB...not just an RB. Mostert continues to show promise and a bit more pop at the RB spot than Hunt did up the gut last season. I like the skilled positions as I look ahead: Mostert, Hunt, Holmes/Sinz/Macarthy, Anthrop, Knauf, Yancey and newcomer, Gregory Phillips.
There's speed and skill in that group...but there will also be growing pains with them as the coaching staff and QB try to figure out how to find a rhythm while utilizing the weapons as well as possible.
That said, the offensive line still has question marks- fewer than a year ago, fewer than last Spring, but real questions and concerns...mainly at the left tackle position. Hedlin, the sizable Swede will be the starter...for game four. Prior to that, it will be interesting. And, regardless if you're a fan of Shoop or not, you can understand why misdirection and short stuff will be the MO for the offense...at least early on.
If you've read some of the reports, Appleby had better numbers (statistically) today, but according to a few people that were there, Etling just makes better and quicker decisions. That wouldn't contradict what we saw in the Spring. Appleby does look like he holds onto the ball too long at times...and that's especially dangerous when your left tackle is learning on the job.
BTN's Dave Revsine and a few other people in the know who have watched practice say that it'll probably be Etling who starts in game one...But I still want to see what Appleby can do as the starter. AND, in spite of Etling's starts last season, I just don't see an overwhelming case for why he's definitely THE guy. I guess that's kind of the problem; no one has done enough to make them the clear starter. We'll find out Monday who Hazell and Shoop give the nod to.
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Russell continues to make noise. So is he going to have a one-season meteoric rise like we saw from Anthony Spencer a few years ago? Like Spencer, he's got some next-level-type tools- size, strength and a great first step...and like Spencer, he struggled for the first three seasons consistently playing with a high level of effort. This Purdue team desperately needs another great D End. As we've all seen, time and again, a great defensive end can change the complexion of a game and the identity of a team.
Atop of Russell's shining on the defensive side, Bentley continues to be a fixture at LB with the ones. According to a few people, Cedric Dale shined at DB as well. The LBs overall, look better, but still are a work in progress...like much of the team.
I get asked multiple times each week what would be defined as a successful season. Simple: 6 wins and a bowl game.
What would be acceptable? I guess four or five wins. Make no mistake, in spite of my alma mater struggling to win just one game last year, I still don't think we should be OK with two or three victories...and this schedule is NO WHERE NEAR as tough as last season. Four of the first six games are against bad teams...One of those teams was as bad as Purdue last year...a second is an FCS opponent with an OK record last season. This isn't 2013...not everything is new to the coaching staff and we should all expect more in the left column.
Has anything changed for me based on what I've heard, read or watched since the last season ended? Not really. I don't think our Boilers are a bowl team, but I don't think we should accept crappy football as the new normal.
My hope is that we'll watch them grow up as the season progresses- Watch Appleby or Etling get comfortable, watch the LT spot get stable along with the rest of the offensive trench, watch Robinson and Bentley grow into their roles, and witness an offense that can run or pass against most opponents...and a defense that can stiffen when it needs to as the season progresses.
One more thing...
It sounds like Blough, while mainly getting reps with the threes this late summer, has shown flashes of brilliance and the ability to do some things that neither Etling nor Appleby can do. So perhaps, while the battle between Etling and Appleby has been tight, it could get even more interesting with the entrance of a third candidate.
Here's to one of the QBs doing something this season that makes next year's battle nearly-inconsequential...and an open/shut case.