It's time for the receiving corps to step up
After the Western Michigan game, in spite of the outcome, it was tough to be too optimistic. Following the CMU game, it was impossible to be optimistic about this season...but in the week prior to the ND game, some growth occurred from the team. A good friend of mine said that his take-away from the CMU game was that Hazell had made two horrendous hires in his offensive and defensive coordinators...but he continued...the last two weeks have shown that there actually IS a plan...and the plan looks like it's yielding some results.
Purdue's defense is starting to have an aggressive nature to it. They are hitting harder and swarming around the ball. Sure, they're still missing way too many tackles behind the line of scrimmage...but even that is getting better with each game. The defensive backfield seems pretty opportunistic as they're in the right position a lot to make plays on the ball...and up front, thanks to the emergence of Ryan Watson up the middle, the difference in pressure on the QB is very noticeable.
Oh yeah, that beleaguered group of LBs suddenly looks respectable. Bentley not only looks like a guy who's been on campus a while, he plays like it. Robinson has found his role and seems to always be around the ball and Gillium is playing the best ball of his career...and the others on the depth chart look solid as well.
On the other side of the ball, Etling has shown his youth by being inconsistent...but his accuracy is clearly improving. The offensive line is a real surprise in their play overall and the running backs have produced some big plays...but (as you might have read from me on Sunday), Green looks like a real, Big Ten RB and his legs never seem to stop churning until the whistle blows.
BUT, something's missing.
Purdue has quickness in Anthrop, Hunt (when he's in this role), Knauf (when healthy), size in Yancey, and the three-headed monster of Sinz, Holmes and Macarthy...but has shown no consistency; with the exception of Sinz ability to be the open safety valve.
Yancey and Anthrop seem to do the best job at creating space in different ways. But both have had noteworthy drops in every game that hurt the team's momentum. Hunt is electric in the open field, but almost never gets the ball in space; partially because of the play-calling, and partially because of his route running.
In my opinion, there's skill in the corps...but mentally, this group hasn't shown its mettle; yet.
With an OLine that seems to be improving each week, it's time for the receivers and tight ends to make gains; and they need to start doing so right away...for multiple reasons.
First, and most-importantly, the season is short. We're one-third the way through this campaign already, and the WRs have yet to play a complete game. The first half of the SIU game was pretty brilliant for Anthrop...but that's really where the kudos stop. Yancey started well, then dropped a guaranteed TD. Later, Anthrop and Posey both had big drops and Holmes was little more than a decoy the entire game.
The second reason these guys need to start improving is they're actually not that young. Anthrop is a Junior, Yancey and Posey have both started a ton of games and all of the contributing tight ends are Seniors.
Freshmen, Hart and Phillips are both in the rotation because older players like Mikesky and Monteroso haven't realized their potential yet...and numbers alone should have given Shoop and Hazell the ability to redshirt both of these guys; but Purdue doesn't have that luxury right now.
Saying this unit is young is a cop out; they now have too many starts under their belts and seem to have too much ability, size and speed to not have more consistency than they have thus far.
We've seen two receivers (or TEs) in rhythm this season: Sinz in the second half of game one, and Anthrop in the first half of game four...other than those two halves of football, the coaches have subbed regularly in an effort to try to find something that works, but dropped balls and lackluster route running have forced the revolving door.
In order for this team to win more than three or four games, it will take one or two of these guys; namely Anthrop, Posey and/or Yancey to start catching everything that's thrown their way. We saw last year that Yancey has the ability to change a game; his teammates need to see it again.
The good news about their lack of consistent production is that it seems like it's correctable. If Anthrop gets used to the idea that he's going to get hit after the catch and Yancey gives consistently-high effort, this offense will suddenly become formidable and defenses will be forced to play five DBs more regularly. We've seen glimpses of it; an entire game would almost assure that a game like Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern or IU would go in Purdue's favor.
I'm not under the impression that Purdue will become a world-beater this season with the emergence of a few wide receivers...But I am absolutely positive that for next season to be successful, this corps must start producing this year.
Iowa's defense is in the bottom-half of the conference in total defense and a few other categories...but they've been pretty stingy allowing under 20pts/gm. A fast start by Purdue's offense is imperative on Saturday, if our Boilers are to have any chance to win their first conference game since November of 2012. That said, any offensive production in the third quarter would be a good sign in itself.
Kickoff is at noon in God's country...and a predicto will drop in the next 12 hours or so on this very website.