Big Ten: Keith Carlos

Purdue running back Al-Terek McBurse isn't expected to return to the team for the 2011 season, coach Danny Hope told The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier on Thursday.

A team spokesman confirmed that McBurse hasn't been participating in winter workouts the past few weeks but remains enrolled in school. McBurse entered the 2010 season as Purdue's top running back but missed two games with a toe injury and slipped behind Dan Dierking and others on the depth chart. He finished the year with 189 rush yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and added five receptions for 30 yards.

Purdue planned to move McBurse to wide receiver, but Hope doesn't think the move led to the departure. McBurse, who headlined Purdue's 2009 recruiting class, could be heading closer to his home in Florida.

"He doesn’t have any problems with his coaches, his teammates or his head coach," Hope told the Journal and Courier.

The Boilers hope Ralph Bolden can carry the load at running back as he comes off of ACL surgery. Purdue loses both Dierking and Keith Carlos, but McBurse's move to receiver suggests the staff isn't overly concerned about backfield depth.

Hope isn't closing the door on a McBurse return but tells the Journal and Courier, "He has to make a bunch of workouts up to get caught up. I don’t see it going in that direction."

Meanwhile, there's still no word from the NCAA on whether All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith will receive a sixth year of eligibility. Last week, NFL.com reported that Smith would get an answer from the NCAA on Monday, but Hope told the Journal and Courier that no decision has been finalized.

It would really be a shame if Smith can't get a sixth year at Purdue. He appeared in only two games last fall before tearing ligaments in his right knee.
Quick thoughts on the other two early Big Ten games.

Purdue-Michigan State: Uh oh, Spartans. Michigan State is officially on upset alert. Purdue has used big plays to take a 21-13 halftime lead, and star defensive end Ryan Kerrigan laid the wood to Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Boilers continue to get production from dynamic freshman cornerback Ricardo Allen, who has an interception return for a touchdown, and Keith Carlos provided a huge lift early with an 80-yard touchdown run. Rob Henry is gaining confidence at quarterback for Purdue, which continues to show impressive resiliency. It's gut-check time for Michigan State, which needs a stronger showing on defense after halftime.

Penn State-Indiana: After looking like it had quit early on at FedEx, Indiana has mounted an impressive comeback. The game turned in the second quarter when officials overturned a 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Penn State's Nate Stupar. Indiana's Ben Chappell quickly answered with a touchdown pass and the Hoosiers are right back in this one. It would be absolutely huge for Indiana to win after being embarrassed last week at Camp Randall Stadium. Matt McGloin started strong for Penn State at quarterback, but he cooled off late in the half.
The injury bug has taken no mercy with Purdue's offense this season.

How bad have the Boilers been bitten?

"I've been here a year and a half," said offensive coordinator Gary Nord, hired at Purdue on Dec. 1, 2008. "For this week's game, we don't have a quarterback that was here when I got here. We don't have a receiver that's going to play who was here when I got here. And we don't have a tailback who was here when I got here."

A quick check of Purdue's depth chart for Saturday's game at Northwestern reveals that Nord is mistaken.

Senior running back Dan Dierking, listed as the starter, is expected to play Saturday night. He had just finished his sophomore season at Purdue when Nord came to West Lafayette.

But other than Dierking, Nord is spot on. The offense Nord will send on the field in Evanston will be filled with players not part of the program less than two years ago.

  • Quarterback Rob Henry, who makes his first career start, is a redshirt freshman. He'll be backed up by true freshman Sean Robinson, who has yet to take a snap in a game.
  • Backup running back Al-Terek McBurse is a true sophomore, while third-stringer Keith Carlos is a junior college transfer.
  • The starting wide receivers consist of a junior college transfer (Cortez Smith), a true sophomore (Antavian Edison) and a redshirt freshman (Gary Bush). Purdue's No. 4 receiver is true freshman O.J. Ross.
Robert Marve
AP Photo/Journal & Courier/John TerhuneQuarterback Robert Marve is out for the season after tearing his ACL in September.
It's the type of lineup Nord expected to use in 2012, not midway through the 2010 season.

"Everybody," he said, "is inexperienced."

Purdue has little choice after knee injuries have claimed its starting quarterback (Robert Marve, out for season with torn ACL), its No. 1 wide receiver (Keith Smith, out for season with ACL/MCL tears) and its top running back (Ralph Bolden, out indefinitely with ACL tear). More bad news arrived earlier this week as coach Danny Hope said No. 2 wideout Justin Siller will miss three to six weeks with a sprained foot.

At least Purdue caught a break with the schedule, as the bye week came at an ideal time to shuffle things before opening Big Ten play.

The Boilers went back to the basics during the open week, working on alignment, stance and "all those things you take for granted that kids get better at with experience," Nord said. This week, they transitioned to game-planning.

Henry relieved Marve in Purdue's loss to Toledo and played the final three and a half quarters. The redshirt freshman has all the qualities Purdue wants in its starting quarterback -- except experience.

"His strength is his athletic ability and his intelligence," Nord said. "He understands everything. His demeanor also is very good, and he's a very confident kid. He just hasn't been a quarterback very long."

The 6-2, 198-pound Henry is Purdue's second-fastest player behind Carlos. He owns the best vertical leap and shuttle run time on the team.

"He'll be one of the best athletes on the field no matter who we play every Saturday," Nord said.

Henry is such a good athlete that the coaches considered moving him to free safety this spring. The staff felt so good about Marve and backup quarterback Caleb TerBush, who took all of the snaps with the first-team offense in spring ball, and didn't want Henry's talent to be wasted on the sideline.

Nord said Henry also has worked at both wide receiver and running back in practice. Fortunately, Purdue's staff didn't make the move, a decision that looks better now that Marve is out and TerBush is academically ineligible.

"We don’t have to call a new offense because of Rob Henry," Hope said. "Whatever we have in the playbook that we’ve been utilizing or have in our arsenal so far this season, it’s still alive. Obviously, some quarterbacks like some throws better than others and we'll hand-pick some that he likes the best, but I don’t think we're limited at all from a playbook standpoint."

The bye week also allowed Purdue to get healthier at the running back spot.

Carlos logged seven carries against Toledo and should have an increased role Saturday. The Boilers also hope to get McBurse back in the fold, though Nord said Wednesday that the sophomore hasn't done much in practice. Edison and Ross, who moved to running back in emergency roles earlier this season, are back at wide receiver.

Hope has made speed his top priority in recruiting, and because of the injuries, youth will be served Saturday night and he'll get a glimpse at Purdue's future on offense.

"We still have some firepower," Hope said. "We’re still a relatively fast offense with Rob Henry as one of our fastest players. Keith Carlos, one of our faster players, [is] available now. O.J. Ross, one of our faster players, [is] available now. We still have some redeeming qualities.

"Thank goodness the open week came when it did, because it gave us some time to get ourselves squared away."
As you might have seen earlier today, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will once again attempt to watch his team from the press box this week at archrival Michigan.

Dantonio, released from the hospital Monday after being treated for a blood clot in his leg, is back in the office and started his news conference today by saying, "Can't keep me down Michigan week." The 54-year-old had planned to coach from the press box last week against Wisconsin but was readmitted to the hospital Thursday after doctors found the clot.

"As long as I don't have a setback, that’s where I'll be," Dantonio said of the Michigan Stadium press box.

Dantonio feels "outstanding" and is back at the football complex after spending Sunday and Monday watching film. He watched the Wisconsin game from the hospital, where he communicated with his assistants at Spartan Stadium.

"I'll take it easy, I won’t overdo things, I’ll listen to what people are telling me, I’ll listen to my body," Dantonio said. "But at the same time, I feel very good."

It's encouraging to hear Dantonio is doing well again, and while I'm not a doctor, allowing him to spend three-plus hours on his feet Saturday following a blood clot probably isn't a wise move. Hopefully, he'll spend the game in Michigan's spacious and luxurious new press box.

Other Big Ten health nuggets:
  • Ohio State coach Jim Tressel confirmed that safety-linebacker Tyler Moeller is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle that will require surgery later this week. Moeller is a big loss after leading Ohio State in both tackles for loss (4.5) and forced fumbles (2). I'll be stunned if he doesn't receive a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, so we should see him back in 2011. Freshman Christian Bryant will step in for Moeller, although Tressel said Jermale Hines also can play the "star" position in Ohio State's nickel package. Nate Oliver also is getting healthy and should be able to help.
  • Buckeyes starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor should be fine for Saturday's game against Indiana. Pryor, who missed two series with a strained quad against Illinois, might be limited in practice early this week but will "get as close to 100 percent as one can be" for the Hoosiers.
  • Speaking of Indiana, starting cornerback Richard Council will miss "an extended period of time" with a knee injury, coach Bill Lynch said. Council's injury isn't season ending at this point, but Indiana will turn to others, namely Adrian Burks, as well as Greg Heben and juco transfer Andre Kates, to fill the void.
  • Not a health note, but a personnel nugget regarding Brandon Wegher. There had been some buzz about the running back returning to Iowa, but it's not happening. "If he comes back, we'll let you know," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "As far as I know, he's gone for at least this season and maybe forever."
  • Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips has completed his speedy recovery from a torn ACL in spring practice and has been cleared to play this week. Phillips moves into the No. 3 spot on the depth chart and likely would be used only in an emergency. Tight end Brian Wozniak also has been cleared after battling a shoulder injury.
  • The hits keep coming for Purdue, as coach Danny Hope said receiver Justin Siller will miss three to six weeks with a sprained foot. The good news is the Boilers are getting healthier at running back as players like Al-Terek McBurse and Keith Carlos improved during the bye week. Purdue can move Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross back to receiver.
  • Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges and receiver Curtis Drake are improving from their injuries but likely won't be back for a little longer. Tight end Andrew Szczerba (back) started to do some light jogging but won't be back as Penn State turns to true freshman Kevin Haplea as its starter against Illinois. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle) is expected to play Saturday.
  • Finally, some good news about Minnesota receiver Connor Cosgrove, who last month was diagnosed with leukemia. He's doing well and was in the locker room before last week's game against Northwestern. "The leukemia counts in his body are way down," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "His body is reacting positively to the chemotherapy. The outlook for Connor is really positive." Great to hear.
Purdue rushed for 203 yards in Saturday's win against Ball State, marking the first time the Boilers have recorded back-to-back 200-yard rushing games since the first two contests in 2005.

But that's not the amazing part.

Only 16 of those rushing yards came from a guy (Dan Dierking) who actually plays running back, although he's listed as a fullback on the team roster. The others came from two quarterbacks (Rob Henry and Robert Marve), a fullback (Jared Crank) and three receivers -- Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross and Justin Siller -- one of whom, Siller, used to play both quarterback and running back.

Such is life for the Big Ten's most banged-up program.

Purdue entered the season without its leading rusher from 2009, Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL this spring and underwent surgery in May. Backup Al-Terek McBurse had a toe injury that kept him out against Ball State. Dierking has been battling sore ribs and, according to coach Danny Hope, didn't take a single practice rep last week. Keith Carlos, a receiver converted to running back, is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot.

Hope said after the game that Edison, Ross and Siller ran the ball "strictly out of necessity." And Purdue still moved the ball on the ground, as Henry led the way with 65 rushing yards on 10 carries, followed by Edison (8 carries, 55 yards).

Dierking is getting healthier, but McBurse and Carlos likely will be held out of practice again this week. There's an outside chance they could play Saturday against Toledo, but Purdue likely needs to get creative again.

"There's still no telling who we're going to have available at the running back spot," Hope said Tuesday. "To reach [200 yards] with a new offensive line and a bunch of guys, most of them weren't running backs on our roster, is real credit to our offensive coaches. It was a real testament to our recruiting efforts paying off."

Purdue did get some good news on the injury front as Marve will be fine after sustaining a bruised knee in the first half against Ball State. He returned to the field after halftime but left again as the swelling and soreness increased.

"He'll be a little bit limited early in practice this week," Hope said, "but we feel like he's going to be OK for the game."
The depth chart means a lot everywhere, but especially at Purdue.

Head coach Danny Hope has been known to post a different depth chart at the entrance to Purdue's practice field every day of spring ball or preseason camp. Boilermakers players constantly know where they stand with the coaches, and that they can't let up, even for one practice.

Given the ever-changing nature of Purdue's depth chart, the pre-camp version revealed Tuesday (page 16) should be studied accordingly. Still, it provides some clues about what the coaches are thinking entering preseason practice, which kicks off next month.

We already knew that Robert Marve will enter camp as Purdue's No. 1 quarterback, but here are a few more notes:
  • Ralph Bolden is still listed at Purdue's starting running back despite undergoing ACL surgery in May. From the moment Bolden went down, Hope has remained very optimistic about the junior's status for the season despite the severity of the injury. Al-Terek McBurse is listed as the backup but likely will start the opener Sept. 4 against Notre Dame. Former wide receiver Keith Carlos is the third-string running back.
  • Former quarterback Justin Siller, who rejoined the team this summer after a year-long dismissal from the university, is listed as a starting wide receiver alongside Keith Smith and Cortez Smith.
  • The offensive line figures to feature some competition this summer, and here's how the starting five looks entering camp: left tackle Dennis Kelly, left guard Justin Pierce, center Peters Drey, right guard Ken Plue and right tackle Nick Mondek, who switched to offensive from defensive tackle this spring.
  • The secondary is another group with some question marks. Charlton Williams and Josh Johnson are listed as the starting cornerbacks, while Albert Evans and Logan Link are tabbed as the starting safeties. Evans looks like the guy at strong safety, but the other three spots are fluid.
  • Redshirt freshman Kevin Pamphile is listed as a starting defensive tackle next to Kawann Short. It'll be interesting to see if Pamphile maintains the top spot throughout camp, as there should be some good competition.
  • Carson Wiggs could once again be a busy man this fall. He's listed as Purdue's starting kicker and a co-starter at punter with freshman Cody Webster. Wiggs or freshman Jonathan Linkenheimer will handle kickoffs.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 13, 2010
4/13/10
12:00
PM ET
There's a special spring edition of the Big Ten coaches' teleconference today. Follow me on Twitter from noon-1:40 p.m. ET as I post comments from each head coach.

The news Purdue fans had been anticipating but hoped wouldn't come arrived Wednesday, as the team announced that starting running back Ralph Bolden has suffered a torn ACL in his right knee.

Bolden sustained the injury in practice March 31, and head coach Danny Hope told reporters Friday that it was serious and took place on a noncontact play. The junior will undergo surgery in the coming weeks (no date has been set).

Purdue isn't officially ruling Bolden out for the 2010 season, but he would need to make an incredible recovery to be ready to play this fall. Keep in mind that Bolden tore the same ACL in high school and was limited during his freshman season at Purdue.

The good news is he does have a redshirt year available, and I'd expect him to use it. Bolden ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing average last fall (77.9 ypg) and briefly led the nation in rushing. From talking with him last month, he had big plans for 2010, so it's unfortunate to see him go down.

“While obviously we are disappointed, we understand that injuries are part of athletics and not something we can control,” Hope said in a statement. “We feel for Ralph as a teammate and member of the Purdue football family more so than we do as a talented running back, and we will support him throughout his recovery. Ralph is a proven battler, and we know he will come back and be a key part of our offense in the future.”



The spotlight now turns to sophomore Al-Terek McBurse, a heralded 2009 recruit from Winter Springs, Fla. McBurse enrolled last January at Purdue but missed spring practice because of an NCAA clearinghouse issue. He had only four carries last fall at running back but led the team in kickoff returns with 468 yards and a touchdown.

Purdue doesn't have much proven depth at running back and recently moved Keith Carlos over from wide receiver. The Boilers could use former quarterback Justin Siller at running back if he rejoins the team this summer.

I'm supposed to talk with McBurse after today's practice, so check the blog Thursday for more from the Boilers' new projected starter.
Purdue's injury-plagued spring practice has claimed a big piece of the offense.

Junior running back Ralph Bolden, the Big Ten's third leading rusher last season (77.9 ypg), suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee Wednesday in practice. Head coach Danny Hope didn't know the extent of Bolden's injury Friday but described it as serious and said the running back would be out for the rest of spring practice and possibly longer.

According to The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, the Boilers coaches are preparing for the possibility Bolden won't play during the 2010 season. Bolden suffered a torn ACL in the same knee during his senior year of high school.
"If he's healthy and ready to go, we would love to have him," Hope said. "But we're not going to put our eggs all in one basket. We have to get some other guys ready to go."

Bolden would be a big loss for Purdue, which moves sophomore Al-Terek McBurse into the starting role this spring and also had wide receiver Keith Carlos switch to running back. Bolden's breakaway speed helped him briefly lead the nation in rushing last fall, and he had worked hard to improve his strength and vision during the offseason.

Injuries are really piling up for Purdue, which is without 20 players and 10 starters, including defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, linebacker Jason Werner and kicker Carson Wiggs. It's so bad that the Boilers postponed practices Saturday and Monday and will make them up after the spring game on April 19 and April 21.

Spring superlatives: Purdue

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
10:30
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The spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big Ten team, marches on with Purdue.

After winning four of its final six games, Purdue has high hopes for 2010. The Boilermakers return a lot of skill players on offense, and Miami transfer Robert Marve looks like the front-runner to take over at quarterback. The defense needs to fill all four starting spots in the secondary, but end Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Jason Werner lead the front seven.

Strongest position: Wide receiver/tight end

  • Key returnees: Keith Smith (91 receptions, 1,100 receiving yards, 6 TDs); Kyle Adams (29 receptions, 249 receiving yards); Keith Carlos (21 receptions, 242 receiving yards, 1 TD); running back Ralph Bolden (20 receptions, 261 receiving yards, 2 TDs); Cortez Smith (17 receptions, 177 receiving yards, 2 TDs); Jeff Lindsay (16 receptions 162 receiving yards).
  • Key losses: Aaron Valentin (54 receptions, 621 receiving yards, 7 TDs).
  • The skinny: A year ago, the Boilers had huge questions here as Smith was the lone returnee with any significant experience. Purdue now boasts one of the Big Ten's deepest group of pass-catchers, led by Smith, who topped the league in receiving yards last fall and earned first-team all-conference honors from the media. Purdue needs a new No. 2 wideout, but hopes are high for Cortez Smith and Carlos. The coaches are also high on young wideouts Antavian Edison and Gary Bush. The tight end position should be very solid with both Adams and Lindsay in the fold.
Weakest position: Defensive back
  • Key returnees: Albert Evans (30 tackles, 2 pass breakups)
  • Key losses: Torri Williams (84 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 passes defended); Dwight Mclean (62 tackles, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 4 passes defended); David Pender (40 tackles, 1 INT, 14 passes defended, 1 blocked kick, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Brandon King (30 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes defended).
  • The skinny: Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, including tackles leader Williams and second-team All-Big Ten selections in Pender and King. Evans is the lone returnee with significant experience, and he'll miss spring practice with an injury. Players like junior college transfer Mike Eargle, Charlton Williams, Gavin Roberts and Chris Quinn need to step up this spring. "We have a lot of depth issues in the secondary," head coach Danny Hope said.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Several photos line the wall outside Danny Hope's office at the Mollenkopf Center, commemorating Purdue's string of bowl appearances under former head coach Joe Tiller.

Hope's first season at the helm of the Boilermakers' program won't make it to the wall. There's no bowl championship trophy, no pictures of players and coaches wearing T-shirts and shades in the dead of winter. Hope's players don't tote any bowl swag, because they didn't get any.

A 5-7 season doesn't produce any tangible rewards. But it left Hope feeling very optimistic about the future.

Sandra Dukes/Icon SMIPurdue coach Danny Hope hopes the Boilermakers can capitalize on their strong end to the 2009 season.



After a 1-5 start filled with turnovers and near misses, Purdue rallied to go .500 in Big Ten play. The Boilers stunned then-No. 7 Ohio State, snapping a 19-game slide against ranked opponents. They also notched their first win at Michigan Stadium since 1966.

So, what exactly did Purdue accomplish in 2009?

"We made some noise," Hope said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we haven't arrived yet, but we made some noise on the field the second half of the season. We weren't that far off, and everybody could see that. We kept swinging away, and we kept getting better as a team.

"When it was all over, we had some special moments in 2009."

The next steps are obvious for Purdue. Find ways to win close games, avoid the 10-minute disaster stretches that cropped up throughout last season, improve ball security, run defense and special teams, and, most importantly, get back to the postseason.

Simply making a lower-tier bowl isn't enough for first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Keith Smith.

"We want to go to a January bowl game," he said. "That's our goal."

Purdue might have the personnel to get there. Despite losing 20 seniors, including quarterback Joey Elliott, safety Torri Williams and defensive tackle Mike Neal, the Boilers should be a deeper team in 2010.

Wide receiver was a major question mark for Purdue entering last season, but Smith emerged as the team's latest top option with a league-leading 1,100 receiving yards on 91 catches. He'll lead a group of wideouts and tight ends that also features Kyle Adams, Keith Carlos, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith and others.

Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to finish third in the Big Ten in rushing (77.9 ypg) and second in scoring (5.5 ppg), and the speedy junior expects big things this fall, especially if Purdue can reload along an offensive line that loses three starters. Al-Terek McBurse is a promising No. 2 option, and fullback Dan Dierking also returns.

"From a skill standpoint, we could have as much skill as Purdue has had on offense in many, many years," Hope said. "We're very promising at running back, we have all our tight ends back, we have Keith Smith back.

"There's some firepower there. We have to develop it."

Many eyes will be on the quarterback competition this spring, specifically Miami transfer Robert Marve. Marve, who will compete with Caleb TerBush for the top job, gets a fresh start after a tumultuous two years at Miami that got ugly at the end.

Purdue coaches and players say Marve has matured a lot in the last 10 months, and Marve's ability as a former blue-chip recruit has never been in doubt.

"In [offseason workouts], he's taking control," Bolden said. "He pretty much knows our offense. I don't know how, but he just jumped in and knew it, telling people to run this, changing routes and everything. He pretty much knows what he's doing, so I'm just following his lead."

Big Ten sacks leader Ryan Kerrigan leads a defense that must get tougher against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons. The Boilers are helped by greater depth up front and the return of standout linebacker Jason Werner, who received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA last month.

Hope and his assistants will spend much of the spring evaluating the secondary, which must replace all four starters.

"Obviously, the bar has been raised," Hope said. "The record that we had last year, even though we had some signature wins, was not good enough. We didn't make postseason play.

"The standard is set, and the expectation level is always high at Purdue."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Gary Nord has never seen anything like this before.

Not only has Purdue struggled to hang onto the ball this season, but the Boilers' giveaways always come back to haunt them. The correlation between 20 Boilermakers turnovers and five losses by an average of just 6.6 points is obviously very strong. But turnovers for points have really put the nail in the coffin.

"We've had more turnovers for touchdowns than I've had in my entire career, 28 years I've coached," said Nord, the Boilers' first-year offensive coordinator. "We don't just throw an interception; we throw an interception for a touchdown. We don't just fumble the ball; we fumble the ball and they pick it up and score a touchdown.

"It's been an unbelievable string of events that's happened to us."

It has led to a 1-5 start to the Danny Hope era.

Things don't get much easier Saturday as No. 7 Ohio State visits Ross-Ade Stadium (Big Ten Network, noon ET). As Nord points out, the Buckeyes defense scored more points than the offense in last week's 31-13 win against Wisconsin.

Perhaps what's most frustrating for Nord and the offense is the unit actually has done a lot of good things this season. Just check out the Big Ten statistics:
  • Quarterback Joey Elliott is No. 1 in passing yards and pass average (1,575 yds, 262.5 ypg)
  • Running back Ralph Bolden is No. 2 in rushing (99.8 ypg) and No. 3 in all-purpose yards (129.7 ypg)
  • Wide receiver Keith Smith is No. 2 in both receptions average (7 rpg) and receiving yards (97.5 ypg)
  • Wide receiver/punt returner Aaron Valentin is No. 1 in both all-purpose yards (145.2 ypg) and punt return average (13.7 ypg, more than four yards better than anyone else in the league)
  • Purdue ranks second in the league in pass offense (265 ypg) and fourth in total offense (410.2 ypg)

But all those positive numbers seem to be wiped away by one negative one -- 20.

"The five games that we lost, if you take a couple plays out of each one of them, everybody thinks we're having the greatest season in the world," Nord said. "They've executed the offense very well for the first year being in it. At times, we'll execute the play and then we take care of the ball, run and get a first down, we get tackled and we fumble the ball. That's happened a couple of times."

Purdue's starting offense features a senior at quarterback (Elliott), two juniors and a senior at wide receiver (Smith, Keith Carlos and Valentin), a junior at tight end (Kyle Adams) and a sophomore at running back (Bolden). But the appearance of experience is just a mirage.

None of those skill players were regular starters last season, and only Smith played a major role as a reserve.

"We did a little study on where the turnovers have come from and about 80 percent are kids that are first-time [starters]," Nord said. "You know you're going to go through some growing pains, but unfortunately, they've come at some critical times. And we're not at a point in this stage to be able to overcome them."

Despite the struggles, bothHope and Nord have seen the team play through adversity and maintain its mental focus, an area stressed before the season. And while protecting the ball is continually emphasized in practice, the coaches are careful not to overload their players.

Everybody knows the problem.

"If you're thinking and trying to figure things out while it's taking place, you're not going to be able to play fast and have success," Nord said. "You've got to continue to preach and harp on the basic fundamentals of controlling the football and securing the football, where they carry it, what arm they put it in, things like that.

"Once the game comes about, then you've got to let it go."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Looks like you've got a case of the Mondays.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The students are back on campus here at Purdue, and they have questions for Boilermakers junior wide receiver Keith Smith.

"Everyone's coming up, saying, 'How's [quarterback] Joey [Elliott] looking? How's the defense looking? How's the offense?" Smith said. "Everyone's always asking because they don't know anyone right now. They've gotten so used to seeing Curtis Painter and Greg Orton and those guys.

"Just for it to be a change-up, people are going to doubt it and they're not going to know what's going on."

No team in the Big Ten seems harder to decipher than Purdue, which went through a wave of changes in personnel and on the coaching staff during the offseason. Longtime head coach Joe Tiller departed along with both coordinators, and new coach Danny Hope hired three new assistants for running backs, the offensive line and special teams.

The Boilers lose Painter, their record-setting quarterback, along with their top two receivers (Orton and Desmond Tardy), their starting running back (Kory Sheets) and several veteran defenders, including linebacker Anthony Heygood.

Hope's first recruiting class also had a mysterious quality about it, with 14 mostly unheralded players from the state of Florida.

"On paper, it's easy for people to make their assessments, when you look at people coming back, who's left," linebacker Jason Werner said. "But you can't judge talent if you haven't seen it yet."

And Werner is convinced Purdue boasts enough talent to compete in the Big Ten.

The freshmen are expected to contribute immediately and several have stood out in camp, including wide receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush and linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs. Purdue gets Werner and running back Jaycen Taylor back from injuries that kept them out all of last season, and junior college players like wideouts Keith Carlos join the mix.

"We know what we're capable of and what we can do," Smith said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions that will be answered real soon."

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