Big Ten: Gary Nord

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July, 18, 2013
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Best and worst of 2012: Purdue

January, 11, 2013
Our series examining the best and worst moments of 2012 for each Big Ten team rolls on with the Purdue Boilermakers ...

Best moment: Bucket bowling

Purdue's season veered off track at the start of Big Ten play, and coach Danny Hope's fate had been sealed long before the Bucket game against Indiana. But the Boilers didn't quit on their coach or on themselves, winning their final three games to secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. Purdue needed to beat Iowa, Illinois and then rival Indiana to finish 6-6. Players and coaches both stepped up, whether it was quarterback Robert Marve playing despite another ACL tear in his knee or wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins taking over the play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a serious back injury. It led up to the Bucket game, which turned into an offensive showcase featuring 91 points and 1,070 yards combined. Marve fired four touchdown passes, and senior running back Akeem Shavers had a huge performance (126 rush yards, 99 receiving yards, 3 total touchdowns). Although 6-6 wasn't what Purdue had in mind entering the fall, the team at least ensured it would go bowling.

Worst moment: Goodbye, Columbus

The Heart of Dallas Bowl wasn't Purdue's finest moment -- not even close -- but the Boilers' worst moment came much earlier in the season. After back-to-back blowout home losses (Michigan, Wisconsin) to open Big Ten play, Purdue went to Columbus as a heavy underdog, primed for another severe beating. Instead, Purdue controlled the game for more than three quarters, gashing Ohio State with big plays on offense and special teams and also scoring on defense with a safety early in the fourth quarter. After Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller left the game with a neck injury, Purdue looked ready to hand Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and breath new life into its own season. Trailing by eight points, Ohio State needed to drive 61 yards with no timeouts and just 47 seconds left in regulation -- behind a backup quarterback in Kenny Guiton. But Purdue's defense couldn't get the stop as Ohio State scored with three seconds left, converted the 2-point try and went on to win in overtime. A win could have saved Hope's job and given Purdue a chance to truly turn around its season. Instead, the Boilers left Columbus wondering what might have been.

Previous best/worst:

Penn State
Paying top dollar for assistant coaches has become an issue in the Big Ten lately. Bret Bielema cited his inability to pay and retain assistants at Wisconsin as a major reason why he left for Arkansas. Purdue made a bigger commitment to its overall staff salary when it hired Darrell Hazell to replace Danny Hope.

How do the Big Ten teams stack up when it comes to salaries for assistants? Luckily, USA Today has just compiled a database looking at what every FBS program pays its staffs. The study found that the average major college football assistant now makes $200,000 per year, a number that is on the rise. According to USA Today, pay for assistants rose 10 percent from last year and is up 29 percent from 2009, the latter of which is higher than the increase in salary for head coaches during that time period.

Here is what Big Ten teams spent on their staffs in 2012, not including the head coach (Note: Because Northwestern and Penn State are not subject to the same state open-records laws as other schools, their information was not available):
  • Ohio State: $3.29 million
  • Michigan: $2.93 million
  • Illinois: $2.3 million
  • Michigan State $2.2 million
  • Nebraska: $2.15 million
  • Iowa: $2.1 million
  • Minnesota: $2.1 million
  • Indiana: $2 million
  • Wisconsin $1.77 million
  • Purdue: $1.61 million

As you can see, Wisconsin was near the bottom of the pack in the Big Ten. Purdue has given Hazell a pool of $2.1 million for assistant coaches, which would put the Boilermakers right about the average for league schools. Ohio State and Michigan are the two richest schools and have not surprisingly made the biggest commitment to salaries. When you add in Urban Meyer's salary, the Buckeyes are paying nearly $7.6 million per year in football salaries. You get what you pay for, I guess, as Ohio State went 12-0.

While the Big Ten's median salary pool for assistants was just over $2 million in 2012, the median in the SEC was around $2.5 million. According to USA Today, the SEC paid its assistants an average of $315,000, the most in the nation. The Big 12 was second at just under $290,000.

LSU is spending more than $4 million on assistants, while Alabama is doling out more than $3.8 million on assistants. Auburn ($3.77 million), Tennessee ($2.98 million), Florida ($2.89 million), Georgia ($2.77 million) and Texas A&M ($2.68 million) also far outspent most Big Ten schools, while Arkansas ($2.56 million in 2012) is making a larger commitment to assistant pay under Bielema.

Finally, here's a look at the top-paid coordinators in the Big Ten among the 10 schools whose information was available via public records:
  • Luke Fickell, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State: $761,000
  • Greg Mattison, defensive coordinator, Michigan: $758,900
  • Al Borges, offensive coordinator, Michigan: $658,300
  • Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: $501,700
  • Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State: $456,000
  • Everett Withers, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State: $456,000
  • Tim Banks, defensive coordinator, Illinois: $400,000
  • Chris Beatty, co-offensive coordinator, Illinois: $400,000
  • Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator, Illinois: $400,000
  • Tim Beck, offensive coordinator, Nebraska: $372,300
  • Tracy Claeys, defensive coordinator, Minnesota: $340,000
  • Matt Limegrover, offensive coordinator, Minnesota: $335,000
  • Greg Davis, offensive coordinator, Iowa: $325,000
  • Dan Roushar, offensive coordinator, Michigan State: $307,000
  • Mike Ekeler, co-defensive coordinator, Indiana: $306,600
  • Doug Mallory, co-defensive coordinator, Indiana: $306,600
  • Phil Parker, defensive coordinator, Iowa: $301,500
  • John Papuchis, defensive coordinator, Nebraska: $300,000
  • Gary Nord, offensive coordinator, Purdue: $275,000
  • Chris Ash, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin: $267,050
  • Matt Canada, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin: $265,000
  • Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator, Indiana: $255,500
  • Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator, Purdue: $250,000

Fickell, Borges and Mattison are three of 18 assistants nationwide who earned at least $600,000 in 2012, according to the study. There were 14 assistants paid that much last season and nine in 2010. Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner is the highest paid position coach in the league, at a salary of $357,800.



Purdue deals with transition game

December, 12, 2012
Purdue interim coach Patrick Higgins has given his players some unusual assignments before they start their bowl practices.

Higgins has asked every member of the team to answer a few questions such as: What is the most important thing in your life? What things do you want to do before you die? What do you want on your tombstone? What's your favorite animal? Players had to answer in front of the whole team, as well as make some drawings.

"At first it seemed kind of kiddie," offensive lineman Trevor Foy told "But when everyone is going up there, all the players and even the coaches, it's really cool."

[+] EnlargeTrevor Foy
AP Photo/David DurochikTrevor Foy (78) and the Boilermakers will play for Patrick Higgins before new head coach Darrell Hazell takes over.
This may seem like an odd time of year for such get-to-know-you tactics. But it might be just what the Boilermakers need after a tumultuous few weeks.

Head coach Danny Hope was fired on Nov. 25, one day after Purdue finished a 6-6 regular season. Higgins was named the interim coach for the team's Heart of Dallas Bowl game matchup against Oklahoma State. Higgins had been the Boilers' wide receivers coach, but he took over play-calling duties for the final three games when offensive coordinator Gary Nord was sidelined by a back injury. The school tabbed Darrell Hazell as its next head coach last week, but because Hazell will coach Kent State in its bowl game, he has only briefly met with his future players.

With all of that transition, a little team bonding seems like a good idea.

"Everyone handle stress differently, so it's great to come together on common ground and get to know each other a little better," defensive end Ryan Russell told "We can't control what happened to the coaches, but this is about us and about the seniors. So it's great to put the focus back on the players a little bit when the media and everybody else has been taking it out of our hands."

Purdue has already shown the ability to rally together and block out the turmoil. The Boilers were 3-6 after losing to Penn State 34-9 at home on Nov. 3, their fifth straight loss. Rumors of Hope's firing were swirling, and except for a crushing overtime defeat at Ohio State, every loss had come by at least 16 points.

This hardly looked like a bowl team at that time. Yet it won its final three games, at Iowa, at Illinois and in the finale at home against rival Indiana, to clinch a postseason bid for the second straight year.

"It was all about us, the coaches and the players," Foy said. "You can't listen to the media and fans. We had to tune all that out and realize we're here for each other. That was basically the attitude we took, from the [Penn State] game on."

Russell said the players were hopeful that winning those final three games would save Hope's job. Those who had been recruited by Hope, like Russell and Foy, were hurt when it did not.

Now they'll gear up to play for Higgins, who hadn't interacted closely with many members of the team as receivers coach. But he earned respect by serving as offensive coordinator for those final three victories.

"That really made it easy for guys to accept him," Foy said. "Coach Higgins is real positive guy. He does a good job of keeping everybody together and focused."

In a few weeks, Hazell will take over the program. He introduced himself to the players before last week's introductory news conference but has been splitting his time between coaching Kent State and recruiting for Purdue. Russell said he researched what Hazell did at Kent State and watched that news conference and came away impressed.

"He's saying all the right things and you can definitely see the determination in his eyes," Russell said. "I'm ready to start a new era, and I'm going to help battle with him. With no head coach, you kind of feel like you failed. So to have someone step in and believe in you and say he wants to be captain of the ship, that's definitely a great feeling."

Having three head coaches and two offensive coordinators in a short amount of time has taken Purdue on an emotional ride. Maybe coming together and getting to know each other a little better can make that journey more enjoyable.

Big Ten's best assistants in 2012

December, 12, 2012
Head coaches are like quarterbacks. They get too much credit and too much blame.

Assistant coaches are like nose tackles. They don't get nearly enough credit despite playing vital roles.

Today, we'll change it up and give some recognition to Big Ten assistant coaches who did exemplary jobs with their position groups or, in some cases, units in 2012. Each of these coaches fostered improvement this season. Some took units in bad shape and made them better. Others took units in decent shape and made them very good. Some entered the season with skeptics and quieted them.

We came up with 13 assistants who deserve recognition. Yes, we realize we're leaving out some quality folks, but we had to cap it somewhere and wanted to spread the love around to the different teams.

Here's the rundown in alphabetical order:

Chris Ash, Wisconsin, defensive coordinator/secondary: All the attention on the offense's turbulent season took the spotlight away from the good things happening on the defensive side. Wisconsin finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. The Badgers held nine opponents to 21 points or fewer and gave an inconsistent offense chances to win every time out. Ash will be missed as he joins ex-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema at Arkansas.

[+] EnlargeTim Beck, Bo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati Harnik, FileTim Beck, right, coordinated Nebraska's Big Ten-leading offense for head coach Bo Pelini.
Tim Beck, Nebraska, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: The second-year play caller oversaw the Big Ten's top offense, which averaged 462.2 yards per game (24th nationally) and 35.1 points per game (28th nationally). Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez made significant strides under Beck's watch, and Nebraska survived the loss of star running back Rex Burkhead for most of the season thanks to contributions from Ameer Abdullah and others.

Tracy Claeys, Minnesota, defensive coordinator: An improved defense sparked Minnesota to a 4-0 start and eventually to bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2009 season. The Gophers pass rush showed life for the first time in years as senior end D.L. Wilhite and others put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Minnesota was especially good against the pass, ranking 11th nationally and 20th in pass defense efficiency. Although the offense remains a work in progress, Minnesota should be pleased with the direction on defense under Claeys.

Adam Cushing, Northwestern, offensive line: Cushing's recruiting ability always has stood out, but his coaching skills had been questioned as Northwestern struggled to convert promising line prospects into powerful blockers. The Wildcats went from a finesse offense to a power offense this season, blasting off of the line to the tune of 230.9 rush yards per game. Red zone offense went from a weakness to a strength as Northwestern tied for 17th nationally. Cushing's line paved the way for star running back Venric Mark.

Rich Fisher, Nebraska, wide receivers: Nebraska isn't known for its wide receiver play, but things are changing under Fisher's watch. Led by standout sophomore Kenny Bell, the Huskers' top three receivers combined for 1,657 yards and 11 touchdowns on 115 receptions. Just as important, the receiving corps helped Nebraska's bread-and-butter run game with effective blocking throughout the season. Fisher's hiring after the 2010 season raised some eyebrows, as he had taken a break from college coaching, returned to the high school ranks and also served as a golf instructor in Massachusetts. But he definitely looks like a great addition to Bo Pelini's staff.

Patrick Higgins, Purdue, wide receivers: Higgins played a significant role in Purdue's late-season surge, as he took over the offensive play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a severe back injury. Purdue won its final three games with Higgins and head coach Danny Hope handling the play calls. Higgins also did a nice job with Purdue's wide receiving corps, despite the fluctuating quarterback situation. Three veteran Boilers receivers eclipsed 40 catches and 300 receiving yards, and redshirt freshman Dolapo Macarthy showed promise.

Seth Littrell, Indiana, offensive coordinator/tight ends/fullbacks: Head coach Kevin Wilson brought in Littrell to boost Indiana's passing attack, and Littrell delivered despite losing starting quarterback Tre Roberson in Week 2. Indiana went from 80th nationally in pass offense to 19th, leading the Big Ten with 311.2 yards per game. With help from assistant offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns, Littrell managed the quarterback situation pretty well as both Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld had success. Littrell will go largely unnoticed because of Indiana's low profile and 4-8 record, but he was one of the Big Ten's best coaching additions for 2012.

Curt Mallory, Michigan, secondary: Michigan's defensive line dominates the spotlight because that's where coordinator Greg Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke put their primary focus, but Mallory has done a really nice job with a secondary that struggled mightily under the previous regime. Despite losing promising cornerback Blake Countess to a torn ACL in the season opener, Michigan still finished second nationally (behind Nebraska) in pass defense (155.2 ypg allowed). Safety Jordan Kovacs has blossomed under Mallory's watch, and while the depth in the secondary isn't where it will be eventually, Mallory has managed things well.

[+] EnlargeBart MIller
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsBart Miller went from grad assistant to coach of a Wisconsin O-line that pummeled its way to Pasadena.
Bart Miller, Wisconsin, offensive line: Miller began the season as a graduate assistant and moved into one of the team's top assistant roles in Week 3 after the surprising dismissal of veteran line coach Mike Markuson. Although Wisconsin's line didn't have its typical dominant performances every time out, Miller fostered obvious improvement and cohesion during the course of the season. The finished product showed up in the Big Ten championship game against Nebraska, as Wisconsin bullied the Huskers to the tune of 70 points, 539 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

Reese Morgan, Iowa, defensive line: Iowa didn't have much to cheer about in 2012, and some of the staff changes Kirk Ferentz made led to some growing pains. Morgan faced a significant challenge in moving from offensive line to defensive line, which returned only a handful of players who had logged field time in 2011. Given the youth and inexperience along the Hawkeyes' defensive front, Morgan did a nice job in Year 1. Joe Gaglione had a nice senior season (9 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and young players like Louis Trinca-Pasat showed promise. The line held its own in the first half of the season before struggling late.

Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State, defensive coordinator: Many of these assistants took questionable units and improved them. Narduzzi led an elite defense that entered the season with high expectations and met them. Make no mistake: Michigan State's defense is the only reason the team found itself in every game this season. The Spartans had a few standouts, namely linebacker Max Bullough, but their overall team defense and stinginess stood out. Narduzzi is one of the nation's premier coordinators and should land a head-coaching job in the near future.

John Strollo, Penn State, tight ends: Although O'Brien's offense is a tight end's dream, Strollo did a terrific job of developing young and unproven players this season. Redshirt freshman Kyle Carter emerged into one of the Nittany Lions' top passing threats, and junior Matt Lehman and true freshman Jesse James also stepped up at times. Of Penn State's top five receiving-yards leaders this season, three players are tight ends (Carter, Lehman and James).

Ed Warinner, Ohio State, offensive line/co-offensive coordinator: Warinner took an underachieving Buckeyes offensive line with serious depth questions and turned it into quite possibly the best line in the league. The Buckeyes' front five turned a corner in Big Ten play and created lanes for Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and the Big Ten's top scoring offense. Warinner was the Big Ten's best assistant hire of the last offseason and earns our vote as the league's top assistant in 2012.

Purdue AD wants offensive-minded coach

November, 25, 2012
Anyone interested in applying to become the next Purdue football head coach had better have one thing on his résumé: a proven record of knowing how to score points.

In his news conference following the firing of Danny Hope, Boilermakers athletic director Morgan Burke made it clear that he'll be targeting offensive-minded coaches for the opening. Purdue has become known over the years as a program that develops quarterbacks and adds up yardage.

"I can assure you the quarterback position, the cradle, will be at the heart of our thinking," Burke said. "We'll continue to be aggressive offensively, because I think that's part of our tradition and our experience here at Purdue."

In fact, Burke said that he expected the next coach to have an offensive system that is similar to the one the Boilers have employed in recent years.

"We're not going to move into a coach that has a dramatically different scheme because we've built this team to play a certain kind of football," he said. "We've seen other institutions who made a coaching change, then they changed their style of play. It took two or three years to adjust.

"We're not going to do that. We've got talent in this program, we know we have talent in this program. We want it to be nurtured."

Some other notes from Burke's news conference:

-- Burke refuted the claim that the Boilers' haven't made a big enough commitment to football. Hope's $950,000 salary was the lowest in the Big Ten and ranked behind some Conference USA and Mountain West coaches. But Burke said that salary was commensurate with Hope's level of experience and success.

"Look at what we've done in facilities in the last four years," he said. "New practice facilities, upgraded the indoor and outdoor facilities, offices, locker rooms. I think there's been a lot done.

"I think where people are somewhat confused is they're looking at the current compensation package and saying it was an unwillingness to invest more in football. And that's not true. We based the compensation package on other people who were similarly situated: moving into a Big Ten job for the first time. Bret Bielema, when he went up, that was a comparable compensation package. As the coach continues to have success, you would continue to move that forward.

"The problem is we didn't have that sustained level of success we wanted to have. I don't think there's any resource commitment question."

Burke said the school was "prepared to compete" in terms of salary for what it takes to win in the Big Ten and nationally.

-- The attendance problem definitely played a key role in Hope's dismissal, as empty seats became a big problem at Ross-Ade Stadium.

"We've lost a third of the fan base," Burke said. "We've gone from about 54,000 paid attendance in 2007-08 to 37,000 this past year in paid attendance. .. We can't do what we need to do resource-wise with losing a third of the fan base, OK?"

-- Burke said Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, Houston Texans GM Rick Smith and former Colts executive Bill Polian are assisting him with his search. Grigson and Smith are Purdue graduates. Burke said candidates don't have to be current head coaches, but he considers that a major plus.

-- Offensive coordinator Gary Nord will serve as a senior adviser to interim head coach Patrick Higgins during bowl preparations. Nord might have been the choice as interim coach, but a back injury has limited his ability to work with the team the past few weeks.

-- Burke praised Hope's commitment to the job and his achievements with players in the classroom. Ultimately, though, Hope didn't win enough games.

"We said we wanted to reduce the variability of our play so we were more consistent against all teams in the league, and we wanted to move up a rung on the ladder," Burke said. "We clearly did not do that."
Football coaches always talk about "next man in." They typically refer to players stepping up for an injured teammate.

But Purdue head coach Danny Hope needed one of his assistants to answer the bell last week. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord suffered a back injury Wednesday and needed to be hospitalized. The Boilers needed a primary offensive play-caller and turned to wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins.

The result: a 27-24 Purdue win at Iowa that snapped a five-game losing streak. The Boilers racked up 27 first downs and 490 yards, 109 more yards than they had recorded in any of their previous Big Ten contests.

Hope and other staff members helped with the play-calling, but Higgins took the lead. He's hardly a novice, having called plays as UTEP's offensive coordinator from 2000-03 when Nord served as the Miners' head coach.

"Coach Higgins is an experienced play-caller," Hope said. "... There wasn't a whole lot of change. Patrick obviously has some of his own play-calling style, but the game plan didn't change, and the staff has worked together before, so it was an easy transition and Patrick did a fine job."

Higgins will lead the offensive staff meetings this week with Nord still recovering from his injury and unable to be in the office. Hope expects Higgins to again call plays Saturday when Purdue visits Illinois. The overall structure of the offense didn't change at Iowa and won't despite Nord's absence.

"He's very good at it and outstanding with clock management and very bright," Hope said of Higgins. "We've got a good play-caller, and he's got a good handle on it, and we're going about our business in the normal fashion."

Nord, 55, has what Hope called "a severe back injury."

"Just like the players, he's doubtful for the game," Hope said. "That's his status."

Purdue OC Nord to miss Iowa game

November, 9, 2012
Purdue is looking to snap a five-game losing streak when it goes to Iowa this weekend, and now the Boilermakers will have to overcome the absence of their offensive coordinator.

The team announced Friday that playcaller Gary Nord will not make the trip to Iowa City. Nord has been hospitalized since Wednesday after injuring his back and will remain under doctor's care at a Lafayette hospital.

Head coach Danny Hope and receivers coach Patrick Higgins will split the offensive coordinator duties during Saturday's game, a school spokesman told

Purdue has averaged just 17.2 points during its five game-skid. In the last four of those games, the Boilermakers have scored a touchdown on their opening possession, only to stall for large stretches of game time.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's Caleb TerBush was walking to class just about a week before last season's opener when his cell phone brought some jarring news.

Offensive coordinator Gary Nord called to tell him Rob Henry had blown out his ACL. With Robert Marve still dealing with his own knee problems, the inexperienced TerBush was suddenly thrust into the starting quarterback role.

It was the second straight year that the Boilermakers had to adjust on the fly at quarterback because of unexpected injuries. But if a silver lining emerged from those tough situations, it could be seen at a recent spring practice when Henry, TerBush and Marve smiled and joked around during some light throwing drills. After two seasons of scrambling for a quarterback, Purdue now has three healthy veterans who have each started at least seven games.

"It's made a huge impact on what we've been able to get done this spring," head coach Danny Hope said. "The very first day of spring practice, we were able to do [quarterback] signals, which we haven't been able to do in the past. That's something you take for granted. We've started off a lot faster on offense and from an execution standpoint."

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
AP Photo/Darron CummingsWith its experienced QBs, including Robert Marve, Purdue says it has the ability to compete with the Big Ten's elite in 2012.
Newfound quarterback stability provides a key reason why optimism is soaring for Hope's fourth year in charge of the program, but it's not the only one.

Purdue beat Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Bowl last December after finishing 6-6 in the regular season. While those accomplishments can't match the aspirations of Drew Brees' heyday, reaching the postseason still marked an important hurdle to clear. The program hadn't been to a bowl game since 2007, and fan dissatisfaction with Hope was starting to rise. The bowl win brought a new attitude to offseason workouts.

"Everybody seems more mature and more focused on what we want now," running back Akeem Shavers said. "That was the first time for most of us going to a bowl game, so we know now what that feels like and what we have to do to do better and get into a better bowl."

If you're looking for a stealth team in the Big Ten, check out these Boilers. They've got 18 starters back from a team that upset Ohio State and played Penn State to the wire on the road. Ohio State is ineligible to win the Leaders Division because of NCAA sanctions, Penn State and Illinois are going through coaching changes and Wisconsin lost quarterback Russell Wilson and most of its offensive staff. Plus, the Badgers and Nittany Lions have to come to Ross-Ade Stadium.

The players know that they're being slapped with the "sleeper" label in some quarters this spring, and they're not shying away from it.

"We've got a chance," Henry said. "We've got the weapons now. I feel like this is a season of great opportunity for us with the players we have coming back and the experience we'll have on the field. We've just got to stay healthy."

There's finally less worry about health at quarterback. Hope, who also signed four quarterback prospects in this year's recruiting class, had such a logjam at the position that he moved former starter Sean Robinson to linebacker this spring. Now all he has to do is figure out how to use what he has.

Henry is a swift runner and strong leader who was developing into a better passer before his injury. While he's being held out of some drills this spring as a precaution, he says his knee is fully healed and he's ready to go. Marve, the former Miami transfer, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA this winter after two years of dealing with knee troubles. He said he almost forgot what it was like to move around as freely as he has this spring.

Then there's TerBush, who started all 13 games last year after sitting out 2010 with academic problems. He turned in a respectable season as a rookie starter, completing 61.7 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Hope had a plan to play both Henry and Marve some at the same time last summer before the injuries. He's not yet tipping his hand how things will shake out this year.

The three quarterbacks, each of whom has a reason to be grateful for a second chance, aren't sweating the competition too much.

"It's fun because we've all been around each other throughout the whole process," Henry said. "It's a toss up. If somebody has a hot hand and gets into a rhythm, he's going to keep playing. As the past few seasons have shown us, you never know what's going to happen to the quarterbacks."

At least now the Boilermakers won't be caught trying to develop a new starter right before the season again. The coaching staff could focus on other things this spring, like installing a more aggressive defensive scheme under new coordinator Tim Tibesar, replacing starters on the offensive line and finding solutions at linebacker. None of those problems are as big as not having a quarterback, which is one reason Purdue has its sights set higher than another trip to the Little Caesars Bowl.

"I'm excited about the progress we've made, and I feel like we have some momentum as a football team," Hope said. "We're ready for the next step."

Season report card: Purdue

December, 20, 2011
It's time to pass out season grades for the Purdue Boilers.


After major injuries ravaged the offensive depth chart in 2010, Purdue found greater consistency this season but didn't put up many "wow" numbers. The Boilers ranked in the middle of the Big Ten in total offense (seventh), scoring offense (seventh), rushing offense (sixth) and pass offense (sixth). They kept a quarterback on the field for an entire season in Caleb TerBush and also used Robert Marve under center quite a bit, including in the signature home win against Ohio State. Coordinator Gary Nord used a lot of personnel as seven players recorded 20 or more rushes and eight players recorded 11 or more receptions. The unit really lacked star power but got the job done for the most part. Put simply, Purdue had an average offense, which is a step up from 2010.


The defense certainly missed star end Ryan Kerrigan, who showed how good he is this season with the NFL's Washington Redskins. Kawann Short stood out at defensive tackle with 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, but Purdue didn't get enough from the edges and recorded only 21 sacks, down from a league-high 33 last season. The run defense also was a bit of a disappointment. Purdue had more experience in the secondary and some veterans at linebacker but didn't show great playmaking ability, recording just 14 takeaways all season, the second-lowest total in the league. The unit had some good moments in wins against Illinois and Ohio State and had some nice individual pieces in Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen.


Purdue was truly a mixed bag on special teams this season. The Boilers excelled in both punting and punt coverage. Freshman Raheem Mostert led the Big Ten in kick return average (31 ypr) and bionic-legged kicker Carson Wiggs booted 16 field goals, six from 40 yards or longer with a long of 53. But Wiggs also had a potential game-winning kick blocked at Rice, the Boilers struggled on kickoff coverage, and special teams miscues proved costly in a 23-18 loss at Penn State. Then again, a special teams play arguably saved Purdue's season as Bruce Gaston Jr. blocked an extra-point try by Ohio State that could have secured a Buckeyes victory. Overall, there was more good than bad here.


Purdue was an average football team this season, but average equals bowl berth, which the Boilers will gladly accept for the first time in four seasons. The offense didn't get derailed by Rob Henry's preseason injury, and the defense and special teams made some key plays at key times. It's fair to ask where Purdue football is headed under coach Danny Hope, and the team's performance against Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl will help determine the direction heading into a pivotal 2012 campaign.

Purdue offense must adjust again

December, 15, 2011
Gary Nord's Christmas wish list is pretty short.

It contains one item: A season without major injuries to Purdue's key offensive players.

"I'd love to have that," Nord, the Boilers' third-year offensive coordinator, told this week. "I'm beginning to think that may never happen. I'm beginning to get a bit paranoid."

Paranoid but not panicky.

Nord and the Boilers have received zero luck on the injury front the past two seasons. Nada. Zilch.

[+] EnlargePurdue's Akeem Shavers
Brian Spurlock/US PRESSWIREAkeem Shavers will see an increased role in Purdue's bowl game as the Boilermakers play without Ralph Bolden.
In 2010, Purdue played most or all of the season without its top quarterback, top running back and top wide receiver. Weeks before this season's opener against Middle Tennessee, projected starting quarterback Rob Henry tore his ACL during a noncontact play in practice. Quarterback Robert Marve, who has suffered two ACL tears since arriving at Purdue, wasn't ready for the opener because of lingering knee soreness. So Caleb TerBush, academically ineligible for the 2010 campaign, moved into the starting role.

While the injury bug didn't strike as hard during the season, two starting offensive linemen (Justin Kitchens and Peters Drey) went down. Then, in the regular-season finale, top running back Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL, his second at Purdue and his third since his senior year of high school.

Bolden's injury puts Nord and the Boilers in an all-too familiar position heading into the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan on Dec. 27.

The silver lining: Nord and his staff know how to make adjustments.

"He was probably our fastest guy, so we've lost tremendous speed," Nord said of Bolden. "He was also our best blocking back and he caught the ball out of the backfield very well. When you lose your leading rusher, it's never a good thing. The only bright side is if we had to lose anyone, we have more depth at the running back position than any position on our football team."

While Bolden leads Purdue in both carries (148) and rush yards (674), several other backs have contributed. Akeem Shavers is tied with Bolden for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (6), and seven players have recorded 17 or more carries.

Nord said Shavers will move into Bolden's role. Reggie Pegram and Jared Crank both should see their carries load increase in the bowl game.

Like Bolden, the 5-11, 203-pound Shavers boasts good speed, can catch the ball out of the backfield and has improved his blocking.

"I never really called the game any different when one was in versus the other one," Nord said. "A lot of times I didn’t know which one was in there because they'd roll in and out. If we didn't have Shavers, we would be a little more concerned."

Western Michigan struggles to defend the run (107th nationally), but has been stout in the red zone, tying for sixth nationally (70 percent scoring chances allowed). Bigger backs like Crank and Pegram could be key for Purdue in goal-line situations.

Nord plans to play both TerBush and Marve at quarterback, as he did for most of Big Ten play. While TerBush's ability to stay healthy has provided Purdue some much-needed continuity at quarterback, the offense, like the team, has been up and down.

"This is my third season here, and I've not had a guy started for us in spring that started for us in the fall," Nord said. "To give the offense a legit chance to be as productive as we would like to be, you need to have some continuity from the spring to the fall at quarterback spot.

"Hopefully, we can have that next spring."

Halftime: Michigan 22, Purdue 7

October, 29, 2011
It has been an odd game at the Big House so far, although Michigan has to like the result at halftime after some bumps along the way.

Despite allowing an easy touchdown drive to open the game and committing two turnovers, the Wolverines have a comfortable lead. Fueled by opportunistic defense and big plays on offense, Michigan scored 22 unanswered points to end the half.

Wolverines senior defensive tackle Mike Martin had a huge first 30 minutes. He recorded a safety to bail out teammate Devin Gardner, who threw an ugly interception, and had another sack to force a Purdue punt late in the half. The NFL prospect has been dominant. The Wolverines also were helped by a Courtney Avery interception in the red zone to stop a Purdue drive.

It was a bizarre half for the Michigan offense, which piled up 294 yards and 16 first downs but didn't always look smooth. Running back Fitz Toussaint (9 catches, 75 yards, TD) and receivers Jeremy Gallon (2 catches, 65 receiving yards) and Roy Roundtree (2 catches, 61 yards) have been impressive, but ...

Denard Robinson continues to make head-scratching decisions in the passing game. He threw an interception in Purdue territory, his 11th of the season, matching his total from all of last season. Coordinator Al Borges continues to show creativity with his play calls, but he pushed his luck with the deep pass by Gardner, which Purdue easily intercepted.

Purdue's offense looked great on the opening series but picked up 67 of its 119 first-half yards on the possession. Caleb TerBush completed 4 of 5 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown, but Purdue also has used Robert Marve under center. The Boilers' run game has been practically invisible, and coordinator Gary Nord must find a way to get Ralph Bolden and the other backs going in the second half.
It was hard to watch Purdue's offense in 2010.

Ravaged by injuries at key positions, particularly quarterback, the Boilers were reduced to a one-dimensional attack that ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring (19.7 ppg), passing (150.8 ypg) and total offense (311.6 ypg). The playbook offensive coordinator Gary Nord had to start the season turned into a leaflet by mid-October.

Fast-forward to Saturday's game against Illinois. Purdue mixed personnel and formations, got plenty of players involved and kept an aggressive Illini defense on its heels in the first half.

The 2011 Boilers' offense isn't the reincarnation of basketball on grass, but it's a fun, creative system to watch. Quarterback Caleb TerBush had a brilliant first half against Illinois, completing 12 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Eight different Boilers caught passes in the first half, and eight different players ran the ball.

"We've gravitated to this offense," coach Danny Hope said.

Purdue's bad luck on the injury front continued in August when quarterback Rob Henry, the projected starter, suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Robert Marve was bothered by a knee injury, and TerBush, academically ineligible last season, hadn't played in a game since 2009.

The Boilers emphasized the run early as TerBush adjusted to his role. They racked up 200 rush yards or more in three of the first five games. Although the pass game remains a work in progress, TerBush's performance against Illinois is a promising sign.

"The potential of our passing game is getting better," Hope said. "We'll become a more wide-open offense as time goes on, but right now, we're good at running the football. It was really out of necessity from a year ago. We have some good backs, and we've had some success with it."

Top backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers have combined for 147 carries, 723 rush yards and eight touchdowns. Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert both have two touchdown runs and seven players have 10 or more carries through the first seven games. Four players have recorded 100-yard rushing performances.

Against Illinois, Nord used wide receiver Justin Siller, a former quarterback, in the Wildcat formation and constantly moved players to different spots.

"No one can key on one guy," Hope said. "It's the way that our offensive staff and our offensive coordinator goes about their business in manufacturing different ways to get the ball into playmakers' hands. That's what it's all about."

Although TerBush remains Purdue's starter at quarterback and Marve didn't play against Illinois, Hope wants to keep both signal callers involved for the stretch run.

"Robert is a special athlete and potentially a very special quarterback," Hope said. "He's too good not to be in the games helping us win."

Final: Purdue 21, Illinois 14

October, 22, 2011

What looked like a pivotal game for both Purdue and Illinois could turn out to be just that.

If so, the Boilers will be a team to watch in the Leaders division during the second half of the season. The Fighting Illini, meanwhile, could be headed for very bad things after winning their first six games, their best start since 1951.

Purdue dominated Illinois for the first three quarters before holding on in the fourth to win 21-14. The 23rd-ranked Illini will depart the BCS standings and the national polls Sunday.

After scoring three quick touchdowns in the first half, Purdue turned to its defense to seal the win. Illinois didn't get in the red zone until 8:36 remained in the game and got on the scoreboard for the first time moments later. As was the case last week against Ohio State, Illinois found its offensive rhythm far too late in the game.

The Illini entered the game ranked seventh nationally in third-down conversion percentage (53.1), but Purdue prevented them from moving the chains with its pressuring defense (Illinois converted just 6 of 17 attempts). Led by defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had a monster game, the Boilers recorded five sacks and made life miserable for Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

Purdue also found its quarterback in junior Caleb TerBush, who fired two first-half touchdown passes and completed 16 of 25 passes. Robert Marve didn't see any action, and it seems like the Boilers will move forward with TerBush as their man under center. Although Purdue didn't do much offensively in the second half, coordinator Gary Nord had a creative game plan against a talented Illinois defense today.

After scoring 79 points in its first two Big Ten games, the Illini have managed just 21 in their past two. Scheelhaase hasn't been nearly as sharp as he was earlier in the season, and while A.J. Jenkins recorded eight catches, he didn't reach the end zone. Things only get tougher next week for Ron Zook's squad, which visits Happy Valley and faces arguably the Big Ten's best defense in Penn State.

Halftime: Purdue 21, Illinois 0

October, 22, 2011
Earlier this week, Brian Bennett discussed the significance of Illinois-Purdue as a potentially season-turning game for both teams.

If the first half is any indication, Purdue will be a team to watch in the second half of Big Ten play.

The Fighting Illini? Uh oh.

Purdue dominated the first half at Ross-Ade Stadium, surging to a 21-0 lead against No. 23 Illinois at the break. The Boilers are building on a nice effort at Penn State and putting it together in all three phases, while the Illini look shell-shocked coming off of their first loss.

Regardless of how this game ends, Purdue has found its quarterback in Caleb TerBush. The junior has been brilliant against his home-state school, completing 12 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Credit Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord for being creative with his personnel. The Boilers have run a bit of Wildcat with Justin Siller and gotten several backs involved, including Raheem Mostert, who has a 21-yard touchdown run.

Illinois looks very shaky in all three areas, including the kicking game, where it muffed a punt and continued to have adventures on punt returns. The muffed punt turned into a Purdue touchdown, although Illinois didn't help itself with a personal foul penalty after holding the Boilers on third down. Put bluntly, Illinois isn't surviving the mistakes it did earlier in the season, while a mistake-ridden Purdue squad has cleaned up its act.

Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is struggling for the second consecutive week, completing just 5 of 10 passes for 51 yards. Illinois recorded only three first downs with Scheelhaase in the game before going to Reilly O'Toole, who briefly provided a spark before an ill-advised deep throw was picked off by Ricardo Allen. Opposing teams are finding out that when A.J. Jenkins is taken out of the game, Illinois doesn't have much else on offense.

Barring a major turnaround, Illinois could be headed for its second consecutive loss, which would increase chatter about a second-half collapse.

Purdue, meanwhile, is 30 minutes away from making a statement to the rest of the Big Ten.

Don't sleep on the Boilers.