Mostert Carries Boilers to Opening Win
If you've seen Raheem Mostert return kickoffs or run a track and field race, you know he's fast. But speed doesn't always translate into a player being a good running back. He played RB in spot duty for Coach Hope...and tried again a bit last year, but couldn't avoid coughing the ball up...so he's never started at running back...before earlier today. And in his first start as Purdue's main option, he did OK, I guess. 22 carries, 6.6 yards/carry and a touchdown. He displayed his speed, of course, but more than that, he showed vision, patience and maturity that you might expect of a Senior running back, but you probably wouldn't from a guy in his first start as the primary back. He ran well between the tackles, did a good job getting outside, finished runs well and blocked OK as well. Not too shabby...but Purdue really needed a big game from him today to get the win versus WMU.
Let's do an exercise really quick...see how you answer.
Do you consider today's win a success because Purdue won a game against a D1 opponent; something they haven't done in about 51 weeks?
OR, is today's win a bit tainted because Purdue just allowed a ton of yards and too many points against a bad MAC team coming off of a one-win season?
I'll be honest, I really liked seeing our Boilers win today...it definitely made it more fun to attend in person...and maybe even more so, it made the drive home pretty good too. And while it's nearly impossible to find a pretty loss, I can come up quickly with a bunch of ugly wins...this was kind of one of those...but a win is a win is a win is a win.
The only identity we've known Purdue's football team has had in the past year was that of a losing team...a team that was young, looked undersized and played like it much of the time. They don't know how to play with leads, because they have had almost none of them...but maybe they learned a little something today while playing with a 3-9 point lead for much of the game.
I know I learned something- Purdue can now run a little hurry-up offense when it needs to, can also have a four minute scoring drive that uses mostly running plays as its bread and butter and can make field goals longer than 20 yards with a bit of consistency. We couldn't say that about the team from a year ago...and we can't honestly say that Purdue would have beaten this year's WMU team with the squad from 2013; so progress is progress. But it's not all roses and lollipops; far from it.
Let's start with a look at the special teams- Purdue shows that it misses Cody Webster and the potential of that punter who transferred a little bit ago, as Meadows struggled in his new role...as a punter. That said, he was brilliant as holder and saved a few field goals that looked impossible after low snaps.
On punt returns, Frankie Williams made some Broncos miss and made some noise in the process while averaging over 31 yards/punt return...he did something else well too that I'll talk about in a moment.
His buddies in the return game, Prince Akeem and Mr. Raheem gave WMU's coaches no good options on kickoff either. While Mostert got no opportunities to return, Hunt averaged a bit over 20/return...and I believe both attempts were short in an effort to keep it away from both of the deep men (haven't watched the tape yet). Like Williams, they both played a huge role in today's win; I'll revisit that in a second as well.
Let's move on to offense now...where I'll address my biggest concern of the day...by far. Etling looked extremely apprehensive and almost seemed to be aiming the ball on many throws. Sure, Holmes, Hunt, Knauf and Anthrop all had drops, which obviously hurt his completion percentage, but his throwing motion made it look like he was aiming the ball. I'm not sure if the wind was in his head or what, as it was pretty windy, especially headed into the North end zone, but calling his performance 'shaky' as one of my friends said, seems pretty fair. He looked more like a guy starting his first game than one who had started half of a season versus some of the best competition in the nation last year. Plain and simple, he needs to be better. He missed open receivers in the flat, couldn't throw the fade route to his favorite target last season (Yancey) and seemed more scared to make a mistake in the middle of the field than believing he could make the throw. Many of his completions were to safety valve options. And speaking of, one thing Etling did EXTREMELY well was go through his progressions. I remember multiple times where it looked like he went through three or four options before checking down to a TE. That might say something for the Oline as well.
I really don't believe WMU's defensive backfield is that good...but their coverage coupled with somewhat conservative play-calling made it seem like Purdue receivers were almost never open.
So if I was to give a few game balls out today, Mostert would have obviously been one of them...but an unsung hero was a player that I knew nothing about before today. A back-up tight end named Jordan Jurasevich made two blocks in Purdue's final possession that were imperative. One was up the gut on an LB, I believe, the second was 11 yards up field on a DB that sprung Hunt's nifty game-sealing TD. Just because he made a big difference with very few opportunities, Jurasevich would earn a game ball from me and more chances to be on the field...if I was Coach Haze.
The play before that touchdown, Mostert ran up the middle, received a shot to the right side of his helmet from a WMU cornerback, that left #8 a touch shaken up, but left the tackler on the ground. WMU's Celiscar was knocked out cold on the play. His cheap shot was a text book reason why the the targeting rule was put into place- so guys like him would think twice about that type of play. Sadly, he was hurt so badly that he was taken to the hospital after (At least that's what I believe based on seeing an ambulance go to WMU's locker room after the game to pick him up). He had a concussion that was his fault...the refs, both on the field blew the call by not giving him a targeting penalty. And yes, even though a player has hurt himself, he still should earn the penalty in a case like that.
Back to assessing the offense. The line play seemed generally solid, especially as the game wore on. Etling had more time than any game I can remember last season as even the left side held up for most of the day.
TEs and WRs played inconsistently. Knauf made an important catch as he battled through what should have been pass interference (which clearly wasn't something the officials were interested in calling on WMU today), but also dropped an easy catch earlier in the second half. Anthrop and Yancey were both pretty quiet, but Sinz and Knauf made plays when they were really needed in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Purdue looks like a group that needs work and a lot of adjustment. Up front, the line and LBs weren't assignment sound. Read options and misdirections left Purdue tacklers literally whiffing on tackle attempts and once WMU was in space, they were in a TON of space. Safeties and outside linebackers seemed to sprint out of frame (on TV) leaving one guy to stop a RB or WR who had a full head of steam in many cases. One thing that saved Purdue a few times was good open field tackling...which we didn't see a whole lot of last year; so that's good. But serious damage had already been done.
Purdue's ends and rush LBs didn't put enough pressure on WMU's QB. At one point in the third quarter, it looked like the front might have been wearing down the Broncos OLine, but it didn't play out that way really. Ryan Russell, while he played well, still seems to take plays off and doesn't look like he'll pull an Anthony Spencer with an eye-popping, statistically-shocking Senior season. The play of the game defensively came from Frankie Williams who stepped in front of a WMU receiver in the center of the field made a great catch a little behind him and was off to the races. I think his return was about 45 yards and put Purdue in the position to score two plays later on an Etling keeper.
A year ago, Purdue couldn't punch it in from first and goal inside the five...TWICE...versus Indiana State. This year they were able to exert their will, at least a bit, on a weaker MAC team. Purdue's coaches didn't seem to get the ball in the hands of playmakers last season...today, they gave opportunities to those players and Mostert, Sinz, Hunt and Knauf all stepped when it was needed. Purdue looks a year older and quite a bit better than they did at any time last season, in my opinion...and the really good news is there's a ton of room for improvement in areas that actually can be improved upon; spacing on the defensive side, not panicking and making easy throws (and grabs) on the offensive side and having the punter hit the ball cleanly. If the Good Guys do that next week, I think we'll be talking about a Purdue team that doubled its win total from a year ago in just the second week of the young season...as CMU looked extremely beatable versus a tough Chattanooga squad. The Boilers will have a nooner on an odd network- EsPN News.