Purdue offense must adjust again

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 ESPN.com 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.

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."