Monday, December 31, 2012
Season report card: Purdue
By Brian Bennett
Final grades are almost done for all the Big Ten teams, but we've got a couple left to finish up. We're judging each team on its offense, defense, special teams and overall performance in the 2012 regular season.
Now, we turn our attention toward the Purdue Boilermakers.
Many Purdue fans wanted Robert Marve to be the team's starting quarterback all along. And they might have been right. Marve completed 66 percent of his passes and had a 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Caleb TerBush had a 57 percent completion rate and a 12-to-8 ratio. Even after tearing his ACL at Notre Dame, Marve gave the offense more of a spark than TerBush. The Boilermakers averaged nearly 30 points and more than 400 yards of offense per game, numbers that were a bit inflated by three great games (a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan and 51-41 win against Marshall early, then a 56-35 victory against Indiana in the finale). But Purdue's offense flat-lined during the heart of the Big Ten schedule against Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State, and failed to capitalize on a hot start at Ohio State when a season-rattling upset was in the team's grasp. The Boilers were mostly mediocre at running the ball and throwing it.
We expected a much better performance out of a team blessed with a strong defensive line and a very good secondary. But injuries took a toll on the Boilers in the middle of the season, when they were flat out awful. The warning sign arrived in that Marshall game, and then Michigan and Wisconsin combined to score 82 points in consecutive weeks at Ross-Ade Stadium. The low point was probably at Minnesota, when the Gophers -- who had trouble scoring much of the season -- rolled up 44 points with a true freshman quarterback at the controls. Purdue bounced back at the end of the season when guys like Kawann Short started to get healthy. But the defense got subpar play from its linebackers and not enough big performances like cornerback Josh Johnson provided most weeks. The Boilers allowed 33.1 points per game in Big Ten play. And remember, Danny Hope changed defensive coordinators in the offseason with an eye on shoring up that side of the ball.
Special teams: C-minus
A year after leading the nation in kickoff returns, Raheem Mostert wasn't able to find the same magic as he was slowed by injuries. Akeem Hunt handled most of the kick return duties and did have a 100-yard touchdown return against Ohio State. But Purdue missed two field goals in that game against the Buckeyes when one make might have been enough for the win. Sam McCartney and Paul Griggs combined to make just nine field goals on 13 attempts. Cody Webster finished third in the league in punting, but punt returns (111th nationally) were almost invisible and the kickoff coverage unit was poor.
What an odd season for the Boilers, who started 3-1 and finished 3-0 but went 0-5 in between. They took the nation's only two undefeated teams, Notre Dame and Ohio State, down to the wire on the road, but looked helpless at home against Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State. I had a tough time deciding on this overall grade. You could easily give Purdue a D or worse for failing to live up to high preseason expectations after Hope repeatedly called this his best team. Going just 6-6 and failing to contend in a probation-riddled Leaders Division got Hope fired. At the same time, the team was hit hard by injuries and did rally to win its last three games to make it to a second straight bowl game for the first time since 2006-07. If I had told you before the season that Purdue would make it to a bowl, that would probably have sounded like a C-minus kind of year. It was just an ugly way to get there.
Previous report cards: