Big Ten: Max Charlot

Purdue's 2012 season has been, if nothing else, a wild ride.

It started on a steady incline in nonconference play, with a small dip during a respectable loss at Notre Dame Stadium. The Boilers then went into a free-fall, dropping their first five Big Ten contests, four in blowout fashion (three at home). But the ride wasn't over. Purdue wasn't finished.

The Boilers needed to win their final three games to become bowl eligible, and, after some predictable bumps, they got there. Even Saturday's 56-35 triumph against Indiana in the Bucket game had some crazy twists and turns, but in the end, Purdue prevailed.

The game featured three lead changes and a 14-point, third-quarter Purdue lead squandered in a matter of minutes. But in the end the Boilers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) received enough from senior running back Akeem Shavers and a host of playmakers on defense to retain the Old Oaken Bucket for the second straight season.

Shavers was brilliant from the start and recorded 126 rush yards, 99 receiving yards and three touchdowns (1 rush, 2 receiving). Quarterback Robert Marve completed 20 of 29 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns on senior day, while Crosby Wright, O.J. Ross, Antavian Edison and Gary Bush all contributed big plays for the Purdue offense.

Both teams had momentum-turning interceptions. A Marve pass late in the first half pinballed to Indiana's Greg Heban, who had a long return to set up the go-ahead score. Early in the third quarter with the game tied 21-21, Purdue's Frankie Williams went all Willie Mays and corralled an interception near the Boilers goal line. Purdue scored two plays later. But the biggest pick came with Purdue up 42-35, as senior safety Max Charlot squeezed a deflected pass from Coffman. Marve connected with Shavers five plays later and the Boilers never looked back.

Indiana (4-8, 2-6) received a huge first-half performance from running back Stephen Houston (123 rush yards, 3 TDs), but Coffman's three picks proved costly. Then again, Indiana's defense was so bad that it didn't matter. Purdue racked up 558 yards and routinely carried Hoosiers defenders down the field.

Kevin Wilson's team improved in Year 2 and should have a chance to go bowling next year with eight home games. But the defense still isn't at a Big Ten level. Not even close. Talent remains the biggest issue, but Wilson might need to look at his coaching staff as well after the way this season ended.

Speaking of coaching changes, will Purdue make one in the coming days? Danny Hope still wants more time to implement his master plan, but most Boiler fans want him out and attendance Saturday remained disappointing. Then again, Purdue beat the teams it was supposed to this season and nearly stunned Ohio State in Columbus.

Athletic director Morgan Burke, it's your move.

Purdue spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (third place, Leaders Division) Returning starters: Offense: 9; Defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
DT Kawann Short, CB Ricardo Allen, QB Caleb TerBush, QB Robert Marve, QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, DE Ryan Russell, WR Antavian Edison, DT Bruce Gaston, OT Trevor Foy

Key losses
LB Joe Holland, S Albert Evans, LT Dennis Kelly, OG Nick Mondek, WR Justin Siller, K Carson Wiggs

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ralph Bolden* (674 yards)
Passing: Caleb TerBush (1,905 yards)
Receiving: Antavian Edison* (584 yards) Tackles: Joe Holland (94) Sacks: Kawann Short* (6.5) Interceptions: Ricardo Allen* (3)

Spring answers

1. Healthy QBs: After two years of dealing with injuries and inexperienced signalcallers, Danny Hope finally had enviable depth at the position this spring. With Robert Marve healthy, last season's starter Caleb TerBush a year wiser, and Rob Henry on the mend from a torn ACL, Purdue has three former starters at quarterback. Hope said the depth made for much improved offensive execution this spring, which should carry over into the fall. Now he just has to figure out whom to play and when, as it's likely more than one will see the field in the same game.

2. Defensive front and back set: The Boilermakers have a chance to be very good up front defensively, and it all starts with defensive tackle Kawann Short. He passed up the NFL draft, and could work his way into first-round status with a big senior season. Bruce Gaston returns along side him in the middle, and sophomore defensive end Ryan Russell looks like a future star after coming on strong at the end of last season. The secondary is also in great shape, with returning cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson possibly forming the best tandem in the league, according to Hope. Nickel back Normondo Harris had a big spring game, and Max Charlot returns at safety. Purdue should have the ability to generate a pass-rush and defend the ball in the air.

3. More confidence: There's little doubt that there's more confidence in the air around West Lafayette. That comes from the team making -- and winning -- its first bowl game under Hope last season, and returning 18 offensive and defensive starters. This is Hope's deepest team, and it should be his best. Some are picking Purdue as a potential Big Ten sleeper, and the players believe that talk is justified.

Fall questions

1. Linebacker Who? While the defense looks stout up front and in the secondary, questions remain at linebacker. Joe Holland, the team's leading tackler a year ago, graduated. Dwayne Beckford missed the bowl game after a DUI arrest, and his status for the fall remains in flux. Will Lucas is the only returning starter guaranteed to suit up in September. There's talk of using some 3-4 looks under new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who implemented his system in practices closed to the media this spring. Does Purdue have enough linebackers to make it work?

2. Offensive line chemistry: The Boilers' offensive line didn't get a lot of hype last season, but it produced two NFL draft picks in Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek. Trevor Foy is moving from right to left tackle, and Kevin Pamphile and Rick Schmeig worked at multiple positions this spring. Purdue will mix in some new faces and some veterans in new places this fall, and how well that unit comes together will have a large say in how the offense flows.

3. X-factors on offense: Some things we simply don't yet know include the following: Can Ralph Bolden successfully return from knee surgery? If not, is Akeem Shavers a capable every-down back? What will happen to leading receiver Antavian Edison after his arrest on weapons charges this week? Will fellow wideout O.J. Ross make it back from academic suspension? Can kick returning dynamo Raheem Mostert make an impact at receiver? Purdue has a lot more options on offense than in the recent past, but there also remains a lot of question marks.
Purdue is getting a little bit of a buzz as a sleeper team for 2012 after breaking through with a bowl game (and win) in 2011. The Boilermakers opened spring practice last week and went for a couple of days straight before taking off for spring break. I had a chance to catch up with Purdue head coach Danny Hope to talk about how things are going in his program and the areas of concentration this spring.

Did you sense any different attitude this offseason after getting to that bowl game last year?

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Andrew Weber/US PresswireCoach Danny Hope said the momentum from boilermakers' bowl win last season has carried over into the spring.
Danny Hope: I think we ended the season on a high note and with some momentum, and I think it carried over into the offseason. I think we're really hitting on all cylinders with our new director of sports performance, whom we hired last year about this time. It's the first time since I've been the head coach at Purdue that we're going into spring with a quarterback that's healthy that's played any football. Caleb TerBush wasn't penciled in as the No. 1 [quarterback], but he became No. 1 about a week before the opener. He had to get his feet wet and learn throughout the course of the season, but by the end of the season he was playing pretty good. That momentum carried right over into the bowl preparation and the win carried right into the weight training offseason and that carried into spring practices. And having experienced quarterbacks is important. It's the first time since I've been here we've been able to do something as simple as getting signals in early in spring. It's a little different tempo out there right now as a result. We've got some good players back and we've got some confidence as a football team.

You have quite a few experienced quarterbacks now, in fact. How are you splitting up the reps for them this spring?

DH: Well, Sean Robinson is playing on defense right now. It's hard to get four quarterbacks ready in spring ball, and he wasn't going to get as many reps as he needed to. So we're going to try him some at the linebacker position. That leaves TerBush and Robert Marve, who's finally healthy. I think Robert did some good things last year, but I think he's in position to take some big steps in his development because this is the first time since he's been here that he's been able to get a lot of reps without concern about an injury or an eligibility situation. Then Rob Henry is back. He's a little bit limited right now because he's coming off knee surgery, but I'm really pleased with where his recovery is, and most of the time when he's out there right now you can't tell much of a difference. But you have to limit his reps a little just because you don't want to overdo it and create a swelling issue. So the numbers are kind of taking care of themselves in some ways. We went into the spring with TerBush as No. 1 and all those other guys are competing.

Your leading rusher, Ralph Bolden, tore his ACL again, but you have two pretty good running backs in Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. How do you feel about the depth at running back this spring?

DH: We had a real strong running attack last year. We were fifth in the Big Ten in rushing. The past couple of years, we've been able to establish a strong running game. I like the progress that we've made and having good running backs is a big part of that, and any more, having a couple of running backs you can play is a big part of it. We had a lot of different guys rush for us last year, probably 10 different guys who were utilized as ball carriers. We really like Akeem Shavers. He's a fast, physical back who finishes runs. Akeem Hunt is an excellent sprinter who's a member of our track team and was a state champion track performer in Georgia. So he's a class sprinter in a lot of ways for a football player.

We've also got a kid we redshirted last year in Doug Gentry, and he's a skilled player. We have Gavin Roberts, who has good size but was injured last year. He's a big back we can utilize in the backfield. Then we've got a couple fullbacks in Derek Jackson, who weighs about 240 pounds, and Kurt Freytag. So we've got some guys still in the stable even though Ralph is out. And we've utilized Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert some as ball carriers out of their slot position, and both those guys are really skilled players. So we've got some athletes who can tote the mail, and we spread the wealth out around here.

Were you upset about the new kickoff rules because you have such a weapon at kick returner in Raheem Mostert?

DH: Well, we all play by the same rules. You'll have to make decisions about bringing some out, so the return man is going to have to be a good decision-maker. From a kickoff standpoint it might change some things. You can kick them all deep and try to force the touchback if you want to, but you're going to be giving the opponent the ball at the 25. Or you can kick the ball high and deep and try to pin them down and do a great job covering. So there's going to be some game planning and schemes involved. I think it will all even out. ... I don't think it's going to shut down all kick returns, but I think there will be about 25 percent less, is my guess.

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Purdue on Monday bolstered its offensive line and announced its award winners for the spring session.

The Boilers signed tackle Matt Huene, who spent the past year at the U.S. Air Force Academy's prep school. He played for the Falcons' prep team, which plays top junior colleges, but decided to use his eligibility elsewhere and re-opened his recruitment. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Huene was a standout lineman at Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Ill., who battled back from a torn quadriceps in 2008 to play in 2009.
"We're excited to have Matt join us," Purdue coach Danny Hope said in a prepared statement. "We didn’t have a true offensive tackle talent sign with us back in February and he really fits the prototype at that position. He is also an excellent student. I’ve stated that I like to hold back a scholarship or two in the event an unsigned prospect comes along, and that is certainly the case with Matt."

Huene, who has four years of eligibility left, could enter the mix along the Boilers' line this season. Purdue returns both of its starting tackles (Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek) but, like many teams, could use more depth up front.

Purdue also revealed its awards for spring practice.

Most improved (offense): QB Rob Henry, OT Justin Kitchens

Defensive MVP: LB Will Lucas, DT Kawann Short

Most improved (special teams): S Max Charlot

Newcomer: RB Akeem Shavers (offense), DE Ryan Russell (defense)

Pit Bull Award (player who exemplifies and sustains tenacity and intense play): RB Reggie Pegram (offense), S Albert Evans (defense)

Hammer Award (top hitter): S Logan Link (won for second straight spring)

Henry's inclusion is notable as he hopes to retain the starting job. Kitchens switched from the defene before the spring and appears to have made a smooth transition. This list also reveals the defensive playmakers Purdue will have in 2011. Players such as Lucas and Russell could play significant roles this fall.

Purdue spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 4-4 (T-6th)

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 1

Top returners

RB Ralph Bolden, WR Keith Smith, TE Kyle Adams, DE Ryan Kerrigan, LB Jason Werner, DE Kawann Short, LB Joe Holland

Key losses

QB Joey Elliott, C Jared Zwilling, WR Aaron Valentin, DT Mike Neal, CB Brandon King, CB David Pender, FS Torri Williams

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Ralph Bolden* (935 yards)

Passing: Joey Elliott (3,026 yards)

Receiving: Keith Smith* (1,100 yards)

Tackles: Torri Williams (84)

Sacks: Ryan Kerrigan* (13)

Interceptions: Brandon King (3)

Spring answers

1. Marve ready to lead: The concerns about quarterback Robert Marve's maturity have disappeared, as the Miami transfer conducted himself well this spring and showed flashes of his significant talent. Marve shared the team's Newcomer Award and performed well for most of the team's scrimmages. He has a big arm and will have the weapons to use it this fall.

2. Help for Kerrigan up front: Purdue knows what it has in Ryan Kerrigan, but the Boilers need to develop other pass-rushing threats around him. Kawann Short answered the bell this spring and recorded two sacks and a pass breakup in the Black & Gold Game. Defensive ends Robert Maci (2 sacks) and Adam Brockman (INT, sack) also stepped up. Along with Gerald Gooden, Purdue should have some depth up front when Kerrigan draws double-teams.

3. TerBush hanging tough: Marve remains the front-runner for the top quarterback spot, but as offensive coordinator Gary Nord predicted, Caleb TerBush isn't going away. TerBush pushed Marve throughout the spring and outperformed him in the spring game, completing 13 of 18 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Purdue needs a solid No. 2 option at quarterback, and TerBush is stepping up.

Fall questions

1. Running back: Injuries were a major problem for Purdue this spring, and the biggest hit came at running back as Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, the same one he injured in high school. Head coach Danny Hope is optimistic that Bolden can return sometime this season, but Purdue realistically needs sophomore Al-Terek McBurse to claim a featured role. McBurse dealt with an arm injury this spring. Purdue needs to keep its backs on the field in preseason camp.

2. Rebuilding the secondary: Purdue must replace all four starters in the secondary, and its lone returnee with experience, safety Albert Evans, sat out spring ball following ankle surgery. The Boilers signed junior college safety Max Charlot late in the spring, which reinforced the need for help at that spot. No cornerbacks truly emerged in the spring, and there will be plenty of competition there in camp.

3. Team's overall health: It's better to have injuries in April than October, but Purdue fans have to be a little concerned with all the health issues this spring. The Boilers need players like Kerrigan, McBurse and wide receiver Keith Smith to come back strong, and they can't afford many more injuries to crop up in preseason camp. Purdue had 20 players and 10 starters miss part or all of spring drills.
It looks like the Big Ten will stick to its original timetable for the expansion study, 12-18 months. But commissioner Jim Delany addresses reporters today at BCS meetings, so it'll be interesting to see what he has to say.