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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Midseason report: Purdue Boilermakers

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

PURDUE (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten)
Joe Tiller's legacy is rooted in the innovative spread offense he brought to the Big Ten in 1997. But as Tiller wraps up his coaching career at Purdue, his trademark offense has lost some steam. The Boilermakers rank 10th in the league in scoring (21.7 points-per-game) and last in rushing (109.3 yards-per-game) through the first six games. Senior quarterback Curtis Painter has struggled, throwing more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5) and being replaced in the fourth quarter of a loss to Penn State. Painter continues to put up big numbers, but the Boilers often struggle in the red zone (8 touchdowns on 15 attempts). A difficult schedule hasn't helped matters, but the defense has stepped up, keeping Oregon in check, limiting Penn State to 25 points below its season average and holding Ohio State without an offensive touchdown last Saturday.

Offensive MVP: The preseason loss of Jaycen Taylor put Kory Sheets in a featured role, and the senior running back has stepped up. Sheets ranks second in the league in all-purpose yards (156 ypg) and fourth in scoring (8 ppg), making contributions as a rusher, a receiver and a kickoff return man. He has moved the chains 34 times on runs or receptions, and he became Purdue's all-time leader in touchdowns scored with a game-winning 46-yard scamper against Central Michigan.

Defensive MVP: Purdue's linebacker depth has hurt the defense at times, but senior Anthony Heygood continues to step up. The team's top tackler in 2007 is well on his way to doing so again, racking up 56 stops in the first six games to tie for third in the league in tackles average (9.3 tackles-per-game). Heygood has tallied 11 or more tackles in three games to go along with an interception and a forced fumble. Other notables include defensive tackle Ryan Baker and cornerback Brandon King.

What's next: The schedule gets a bit easier, though Purdue needs a road win against Northwestern, Michigan State or Iowa to give Tiller any chance at a final bowl appearance. The defense has been reliable in the red zone, and if the offense starts making big plays and finding the end zone, a turnaround is possible. Tiller has stayed loyal to Painter for the most part, but continued struggles could prompt a change. Purdue's defense will get a big boost if and when linebacker Jason Werner returns from a back injury.