NCF Nation: Crosby Wright

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.
It took a big-time demotion to truly prepare Caleb TerBush for the big-time role he now occupies at Purdue.

About a week before the 2010 season kicked off, Purdue declared TerBush academically ineligible. After pushing Robert Marve for the starting quarterback job the previous spring, TerBush had to sit and watch the entire season. Injuries wiped out Marve and backup Rob Henry. Purdue eventually had to turn to a true freshman (Sean Robinson) and a wide receiver (Justin Siller) at the quarterback spot, while TerBush, by far the team's best option by then, could do nothing to help.

[+] EnlargeCaleb TerBush
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireCaleb TerBush missed the 2010 season because of academics. "Going through that experience has definitely humbled me," he said.
"It was definitely a tough period," TerBush recalled.

But in the end, a valuable one. Rather than sulk at his situation, TerBush took charge of the scout team. As a third-year player who had seen the field in 2009 (albeit briefly) and who had stood out during spring practice, TerBush had more experience than most of the players in his unit.

The same holds true these days, as TerBush is the team's No. 1 quarterback and a fifth-year senior captain. Although Purdue returns nine offensive starters from 2011, TerBush is one of the old men in the meeting room. That's where his scout-team experience comes in handy.

"I was able to work on skills with younger players and communicate with them," he recently told ESPN.com. "That's helped me now. I get along with a bunch of younger kids. It's easier for me to talk to them now. I’ve been where a bunch of them have been before."

While TerBush started every game in 2011, helping Purdue to its first bowl game and bowl victory since 2007, his position as a leader seems more solidified now. Head coach Danny Hope made it clear after spring ball that TerBush is his No. 1 quarterback, even though Marve is back for his final year and Henry, the team's projected starter until a week before the 2011 season, is back from an ACL injury.

A year as the starter helps TerBush command respect, but a year on the scout team remains the pivotal stretch of his career.

"Going through that experience has definitely humbled me," he said. "There was a period before that where I was taking things for granted, and it caught me in the butt. I was happy to get a second chance. It made me respect the game more, and make myself work that much harder to make myself better and not take it for granted again."

He views the starter's tag in a similar light.

"For coach to keep naming me the starter, it's an honor, and I'm not going to take it for granted," he said. "But it's just part of it. You've got to come in every day, ready to work."

TerBush put up decent numbers in 2011, completing 61.7 percent of his passes 1,905 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He'll have most of his weapons back for 2011, including receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush, Wright and running backs Akeem Shavers, Ralph Bolden and Akeem Hunt.

Hope has been open about calling the 2012 Boilers his best team in West Lafayette. TerBush sees things a bit differently.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "When you say you're the best, you kind of put limits on what you can do. I'd say we're a better team than last year, but we control our own fate. We have to put in the same amount of work as last year, and even more, if we want to achieve our goals."

TerBush learned the lesson on the scout team in 2010. Despite the setback, he controlled his fate, and his work helped him reach the top of Hope's depth chart.
When you think Big Ten football, what usually comes to mind is big, corn-fed Midwestern players and bruising offenses. The kind of place that would be perfect for a tight end.

But the 2011 season was a little lackluster for that position in the league, at least as far as the passing game goes. Sure, Northwestern's Drake Dunsmore and Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen were Mackey Award semifinalists, but those two and Michigan State's Brian Linthicum were the only two tight ends in the conference to record more than 25 catches. Some guys we expected to have big years, like Nebraska's Kyler Reed, Minnesota's Eric Lair and Indiana's Ted Bolser, were nearly invisible on the stat sheet. And there was certainly no one who rose the level of recent Big Ten stars like Dallas Clark, Matt Spaeth, Travis Beckum, Lance Kendricks or Dustin Keller.

[+] EnlargeJacob Pedersen
AP Photo/Matt SaylesJacob Pedersen led the Big Ten's tight ends with eight touchdown catches last season.
Dunsmore, who won the league's inaugural Kwalick-Clark tight end of the year award, and Linthicum have both graduated. Yet 2012 is shaping up as a potentially big season for tight ends across the league.

Some of it has to do with changing offenses and playcallers who love utilizing the tight end. Urban Meyer made a star out of Aaron Hernandez at Florida and could do the same with Jake Stoneburner, who started off blazing hot last year before the Ohio State offense forgot about him. With the Buckeyes searching for playmakers, expect Stoneburner to be utilized heavily in 2012.

"Seeing Hernandez make all those plays makes someone like me pretty happy," Stoneburner told Adam Rittenberg last month. "It's something I've been waiting for since I graduated high school, being able to go out there knowing you're going to get the opportunity to get the ball more than once or twice a game. "

Bill O'Brien coached Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, which featured the tight end as much as anybody in football. Now O'Brien is at Penn State, where tight ends have mostly been an afterthought. That will change quickly.

"That’s a very important part of what we’re going to do offensively,” O’Brien told reporters in March. “Obviously, the last two years in New England taught me a lot about the use of a tight end, multiple tight ends.”

At Iowa, new offensive coordinator Greg Davis is raving about sophomore C.J. Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-7, 265-pounder who began to emerge late last season as a weapon. With an uncertain running game and an excellent passer in quarterback James Vandenberg, Fiedorowicz could follow in the footsteps of Clark and Tony Moeacki as breakout Hawkeyes tight ends. Coincidentally, Iowa's new offensive line coach is Brian Ferentz, who coached the tight ends with the Patriots last year.

“You’ll see the tight ends playing outside sometimes,” Davis told the Des Moines Register during spring practice. “Used to seeing them in motion, but there will be motion in wide receiver sets in some situations because they’re tough match-ups.”

Wisconsin returns one of the best tight ends in the country in Pedersen, who had led Big Ten tight ends with eight touchdown catches a year ago. Bret Bielema is also excited about the depth at the position, with veterans Brian Wozniak and Sam Arneson, redshirt freshmen Austin Traylor and Austin Maly and Pittsburgh transfer Brock DeCicco. Given the inexperience at receiver outside of Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers could look to throw to their tight ends even more this season.

Indiana's Bolser had only 14 catches last year, but he was one of the stars of the spring for the Hoosiers. An improved passing game should help him become more of a factor. Purdue likes the depth it has at tight end, led by Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright.

“A year ago it was one of the leanest positions on our football team," Boilers coach Danny Hope told reporters in the spring, "and now I think going into the season that the tight end position is going to be one of our strengths.”

Reed's numbers dropped last year, but he still led Nebraska with an average of 17.1 yards per catch. He and fellow senior Ben Cotton form a nice tandem of targets for Taylor Martinez. Michigan State must replace Linthicum but is optimistic about 6-foot-5, 280-pound Dion Sims, who practiced this spring with a cast on his hand. Sims could provide a safety valve for new quarterback Andrew Maxwell early on as the Spartans break in some green receivers.

Minnesota's Moses Alipate will at least be a curiosity as a former quarterback who grew to 290 pounds. Michigan needs Brandon Moore or someone else to step in for Kevin Koger, while Illinois' Jon Davis could have a different role in the team's new spread offense after a promising freshman campaign. Whoever replaces Dunsmore for Northwestern should get a lot of touches.

Tight ends could play an important part of many Big Ten teams' attacks this fall. Just as it should be.

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