Fee Fi Foe Film: Purdue

Submitted by Ace on October 26th, 2011 at 12:36 PM

The bye week is (mercifully) over, and it's time to break down Purdue so I can set my internal "fear level" gauge to the appropriate level of paranoia. Of course, two weeks ago I was feeling mighty confident about Michigan's ability to match up with MSU, and then, you know, trash tornado, but I'm putting myself out there again in the hopes that this week's breakdown doesn't make me want to tear out what little hair I have left come Saturday. This week, I watched the important, non-blowout parts of the Boilermakers's loss to Notre Dame and victory over Illinois. On to the breakdown...


What happens when Purdue doesn't roll out their quarterback.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread, with the occasional dash of relatively-ineffective I-form (why, no, that doesn't sound familiar at all).

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Pretty much 100% basketball on grass—Purdue runs a ton of zone read, inside zone, and outside zone, and the rest of their running game is based on handing off to speedy wideout Antavian Edison from various spots on the field.

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]):  Caleb TerBush has established himself as the starter and went the whole way against Illinois. He's nimble enough that you have to account for him, but not exactly an athletic marvel—I'll give him a 6.

Dangerman: I guess RB Ralph Bolden (#23), though Justin Siller still haunts my dreams despite being a pretty mediocre second wideout and occasional wildcat QB.

OVERVIEW: Notre Dame got out ahead of Purdue early—thanks to a terrible interception by TerBush—and forced the Boilers to pass a lot more than I think they'd prefer, and it showed—TerBush and the now-benched Robert Marve combined for 5.1 YPA on 38 throws. When Purdue was able to get a lead against Illinois, their offensive philosophy altered dramatically, as they were able to run the ball 42 times (despite only averaging 3.0 YPC) while throwing just 25 passes, mostly on rollouts and play-action. The key for Michigan here is simple: Don't allow a mediocre rushing attack to get an early lead, and force TerBush to try to throw the ball downfield to keep Purdue in the game—he's relatively accurate on short passes, but appears uncomfortable with any throw beyond ten yards that isn't going to a wide-open receiver.

The Irish were able to shut Purdue down completely, holding them to just 276 yards on 4.2 yards per play and not allowing a touchdown until the outcome was long decided. The Illini—despite allowing touchdown drives of 91 and 88 yards—held the Boilermakers to 304 yards on 4.5 ypp (Purdue's third, and ultimately winning, touchdown came after the Illini punter muffed a snap at his own 14). This is not an explosive offense, but instead one that hopes to somehow obtain a lead and then grind out the game on the ground, whether or not the rushing attack is actually effective (this is the spread version of "three yards and a cloud of dust").

For the rest of this week's FFFF, hit the jump.

PLAY BREAKDOWN: So, we've covered that Purdue does a ton of zone running out of the shotgun, and I don't think I need to show you what that looks like, especially when it's only going for a few yards each time against decent defenses. Instead, I'll focus on the passing game. Purdue's offensive line had consistent difficulty against both ND and Illinois protecting the passer, often allowing immediate pressure, and the Boilers have chosen to combat this by rolling out the quarterback on nearly every passing play. Here's a successful example, the first completion against ND after TerBush threw his awful interception:

Note that the offensive line blocks this as if it's a running play—instead of the tackles dropping back to form a pocket, they're moving forward after the snap. I'm not sure if TerBush has a run/pass option here—even if he did, he isn't particularly dangerous scrambling out of the pocket—and I didn't see Purdue do any designed QB runs off the rollout, so I think this is just their way of throwing off the defense and keeping their QB upright.

On the play above, TerBush hits his receiver on a slant for the first down, and this appears to be the route he's most comfortable throwing—he throws almost exclusively underneath, with a lot of slants and inside hitches, and rarely chucks the ball beyond ten yards. Below, you can see a different route combination that Purdue utilized when Marve was in the game against Notre Dame:

Again, you get the QB rollout, but this time the two outside receivers run short, inside hitches while the slot receiver loops around them on a wheel route, and Marve delivers a really nice throw. Marve, if we happen to see him on Saturday, definitely has the higher ceiling than TerBush—he had probably the three best throws I saw of any Purdue QB over the two games I watched—but his inconsistency and inaccuracy is his downfall. TerBush won't light it up, but (despite the one terrible throw against ND) he won't make too many mistakes and can hit all the short throws.


  • Expect several different players to get carries for Purdue, though Bolden is the clear-cut number one back. His backup, awesomly-named junior Akeem Shavers, actually has a slightly better YPC (5.00 to 4.85) and three more touchdowns on 17 fewer carries, but he did nothing to stand out in either of the two games I watched. The Boilers will line up receiver Antavion Edison as the halfback in the I-formation, where he brings a speed element that the other backs lack, and also could get a jet sweep or two—he doesn't have great vision when running the ball, but he's quite fast, so Michigan must be better prepared to defend the jet sweep than they were against (ugh) Eastern Michigan and State.
  • Edison is also the main target on pass plays, and TerBush sometimes locks on to him—that's what happened on the ND INT. He actually has fewer catches than Justin Siller, who is more of a possession guy (or, at least, less of a deep threat), but he seems to be targeted more often. Siller is a big target and a threat in the red zone, but he's not a dynamic athlete like Edison and dropped a couple easy passes. I'd expect to see J.T. Floyd matched up with the bigger, more physical Siller while Blake Countess deals with the speed of Edison.
  • One thing to watch out for is the very quick pace at which Purdue plays. They're no Oregon in terms of actually moving the football, but they get right up to the line after each play and get the snap off with alacrity—Michigan may have a tough time rotating in D-linemen, and I expect we'll see the nickel package get far more snaps than the base defense.


Base Set? 4-3. Purdue usually will go to a nickel when faced with three- or four-receiver formations, but they also sometimes stay in their base set as the situation dictates (notably, on first down against a run-heavy team like Illinois).

Man or zone coverage? Almost exclusively man, which worked not-so-well against Michael Floyd but they stuck with it anyway.

Pressure: GERG or Greg? In other words, rush three or bring a bunch of blitzes? Purdue doesn't generate a lot of pass rush with their front four, so they'll bring a fair amount of blitzes, often bringing a man from the secondary (more on that later). So, Greg.

Dangerman: NT Kawaan Short (#93)

OVERVIEW: Purdue is really intent on playing man coverage on pretty much every play, and this killed them against Notre Dame as Michael Floyd ran rampant through their secondary. The real issue is with their run defense, however, which couldn't stop Notre Dame's zone running attack (more on that later, as well) and also gave up nearly 6 ypc against Illinois when sacks and muffed snaps to the punter are removed from the equation. The Illini were shut down not as much by Purdue's defense as they were by their own doing—after falling behind early, Illinois completely abandoned the run game despite having ample time left in the game (remember, this is a team that bases their whole offense off the triple option with occasional huge passes to A.J. Jenkins) and Nathan Scheelhaase looked ineffective and uncomfortable.

They do have a couple quality players—nose tackle Kawaan Short is a nimble guy for being a run-stuffing space-eater, and he made a few very nice plays on interior runs against both Notre Dame and Illinois. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is just a sophomore, but he's already Purdue's most effective corner and does a solid job in man coverage. Outside linebacker Joe Holland is the team's leading tackler and displays good instincts against the run. Other than those three, no players really stood out to me—this is a relatively mediocre unit, despite the misleading score in the Illinois game.

PLAY BREAKDOWN: Hello, zone running plays. Michigan hasn't been able to get consistent production from their running backs all year, but Purdue starts a redshirt freshman at strongside DE and a 235-pound fifth-year senior on the weakside, and it shows in their run defense. The below is all from the same drive, and actually wasn't the worst effort Purdue put up against the run versus ND (on one three-play drive, Jonas Gray took a quick toss for 12 yards, an outside zone for another 12 yards, and then an inside zone for a 55-yard TD, with both DEs getting manhandled on the last couple plays):

Since Purdue plays man at pretty much all times, spreading the field with four receivers really opens things up in the middle of the field. It'll be interesting to see if they switch things up when faced with Denard Robinson at quarterback, but even if they keep in two linebackers against four-wide the numbers still favor Michigan when Denard's running ability is added to the equation. The Boilermaker safeties also showed a disturbing (for them) tendancy to take terrible angles when running backs reached the secondary, so we could see some big runs on Saturday from both Denard (a given) and the running backs (not so much).

To make up for their lack of a pass rush, and also to defend the rollout (take note, Al Borges), Purdue often brings a defensive back off the edge to get a little pressure and also help with their run defense. The problem, as you'll see below, is that their safeties have the habit of tipping the blitz early. On the first play in the video, Tommy Rees makes a check at the line when he sees the safety barreling towards the LOS, and the blitz is easily picked up while Rees hits a receiver for a solid gain. On the second play, the safety again tips the blitz, this time by running down to cover the receiver who will soon be vacated by the blitzing nickelback—Rees checks to a run away from the blitz, but a great play by Holland stuffs the play in the backfield:

With Michigan's major difficulties in timing their snap count against Michigan State, we'll see if Purdue attempts to get aggressive with their blitzes—there will be space to exploit if Denard has the ability to scan the field pre-play and make a check if necessary. Also, hopefully Purdue's consistent edge blitzing discourages Borges from calling a bunch of bootleg passes—I think we've seen enough of those.


  • I really think Michigan will have success running the football in a big way. The linebackers, other than Holland, display pretty poor instincts and are often too passive in getting to the football—many runs hit the second level and met no resistance until a safety came up to make the play. Combine this with the DEs tendency to lose the edge—which happened often against Notre Dame—and I have a hard time seeing Michigan not moving the ball on the ground in big chunks.
  • While Purdue's man coverage got them burned against Michael Floyd, the cornerbacks actually are pretty solid when not facing future NFL stars. Since Michigan doesn't have any of those at receiver, Denard is going to have to be careful with his reads and not force anything that isn't there (duh, I know). The good thing is that he shouldn't have too hard a time reading the coverage—probably 90% of the time, Purdue is going to be in man coverage with either one or two safeties (often just the one, especially against four-wide) helping over the top.



October 26th, 2011 at 1:19 PM ^

I am really hoping for a much cleaner win than we had against them last year.  They seem like they will put up a non-Minnesotian fight but it would still be nice to drop 50 on them.  Danny Hope deserves it.


October 26th, 2011 at 1:36 PM ^

Would love to see Fitz and Smith get 100+ each in this game, let Denard pick up 50 yards or so.

Looking at the film, it seems that Fitz will be the better back against this Defense with the room they provide, he should be able to use his moves and speed.

I really like Allen at CB for Purdue. I watched that Illinois game and he was very solid and I remember him being solid last year. I agree that we need the running game to show up because Denard will need to be accurate against these corners, especially Allen.


October 26th, 2011 at 2:04 PM ^

Yeah, I wasn't particularly paying attention to that, but I did find it hilarious that on the play where the announcers are lauding Floyd for his blocking abilities, the replay shows him giving a completely half-assed effort and allowing his man to make an open-field tackle.

Sextus Empiricus

October 26th, 2011 at 2:12 PM ^

Purdue needs two wins to get to a bowl.  They are trying to figure out how good they are.  Their winnable games are Michigan and Iowa (maybe Ohio?) other than Indiana.  They are going to be pumped after last weeks win.



October 26th, 2011 at 2:36 PM ^

Every conference has two bottom feeders that are "easy conference wins". The trend is to schedule "easy warm-up" games before conference play starts, which means the average team is guaranteed 4-5 wins each season. That results in the fact that they only need one upset win to make a bowl.

I think it speaks more to the fact that 6 wins is way too low in order to make a bowl rather than the state of the B1G. I do agree there are way too many bowls. 7 or 8 wins seems right to me, which would lower the number of bowl games. It also forces more than just that one "upset" or "lucky" win (however you want to view a game like Illinois last week for Purdue) in order to make a bowl.

Purdue should have beaten Rice. Then they're at 5-2. Purdue will beat Indiana (the other bottom feeder aside from Minnesota), which would give them 6 wins if they beat Rice. They won't win any of their next 4 games, which means they finish at 6-6, which in my opinion isn't worthy of a bowl game.

The B1G is down yes, but an average team like Purdue wouldn't make a bowl this year if it was at 7 or 8 games, because the B1G is good enough to prevent them from winning more than 4 out of the 8 B1G games.

Sextus Empiricus

October 26th, 2011 at 3:42 PM ^

Definitely there are way too many bowls with red balance sheets to boot.  In terms of football though even a pizza bowl allows for extra practice and notoriety in recruiting.  I would like to see the statistical benefit of a previous bowl run on a team's record normalized for returning QB and starters.  I don't think I've seen that done.

Regardless...bowl eligibility is a hurdle that I'm glad not to think about.  The pipe fitters are thinking about it.  They are likely to play harder and coach more desperately for it.  They certainly don't have to wonder if they are capable of winning.  This is an important right the ship game.


October 26th, 2011 at 2:41 PM ^

I completely disagree that Michigan is a "winnable" game for Purdue. Call me a slappy, but I just don't see that at all. How do you see Michigan as a winnable game for Purdue? Match up wise, Michigan is far better than Purdue, especially coming off of a bye.

To me, their winnable games are Iowa and Indiana, only because Iowa is at home for Purdue.

Sextus Empiricus

October 26th, 2011 at 3:20 PM ^

You are slappy.  Anyone can lose a game.  Look at Illinois.  Purdue can play well.  Michigan can play poorly.   Points win games not matchups.  It's a spirited game and the drum has spirit this week.  

Both teams need to decide what kind of teams they are.  Purdue is not my pick - but I think Short is draftable.  Bolden looked great in 2009 when they played Oregon.  He had talent before his injury clearly.   Siller is a killer.  You only need to drop your assignment - lose your focus briefly and things can get out of hand.  

I'm glad the coaches are taking this seriously.   How could the players not after the recent record with Purdue?  

Indiana Blue

October 26th, 2011 at 2:15 PM ^

Purdue has NEVER had more talent than Michigan in the last 2 decades, but we are just 1 -2 in the last 3 games.  They are coming in after an upset of Illinois, yeah they were overrated, but an upset nonetheless so they have confidence.

They are going to be the first team we've seen that runs the true "bubble screen" ... and while I know that GM can make adjustments to stop this, my biggest fear is that Purdue is still in this game at halftime thinking they can play with us.  

Since their defensive line strength is in the middle, I hope we pound them thru the tackles and this should open up Denard for some great opportunities with the rush and the pass.  This is a great game for us to finally PROVE that this year is totally different than the last 3, as we are clearly more athletic and able to score and defend (which Iam not sure Purdue can do either one of those).

Let's Go Blue!


October 26th, 2011 at 2:39 PM ^

Here's why I'm not that concerned about the Illinois win and its potential ramifications. Illinois's first four offensive drives:

1. False start on 3rd and 5 forces Scheelhaase to pass, incomplete, three and out. Score: 0-0
2. Fumbled snap on first down; Scheelhaase takes a sack on second down, give up and punt. Still 0-0.
3. Purdue has scored. Illinois gets a first down passing the ball, but stalls and punts. 7-0 Purdue.
4. Purdue scores again. Illinois takes a big sack on first down (Scheelhaase holds the ball forever in the pocket), then the punter drops the snap, setting up a short TD drive for Purdue.

Now the game is 21-0 Purdue early in the second quarter. Despite having ample time left in the game, and a team that moves the ball best on the ground, Illinois spends the rest of the game trying to throw the ball and mostly abandoning their normal gameplan. This does not go well, and credit to Purdue for playing solid pass defense, but they never really stopped Illinois's ground game and were able to sit back and wait on the pass after building a big lead. Despite this, Illinois was able to move the ball relatively well, but an interception set them back, then came the Ron Zook Festival of Idiotic Punts.

Let's just say I think Illinois beat themselves as much as Purdue beat them. In-game coaching is not a strength for the Illini, to say the least.


October 26th, 2011 at 2:40 PM ^


  Reading this, I couldn't help but see Purdue as a Far less talented version of....US.  From the QB who's dangerous on the ground but slightly inaccurate with throws (though TerBush has far less dilithium), RBs by committee, the linebackers with bad instincts, etc 


October 26th, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

Is it just me, or does that look oddly like what Denard does from time to time, the draw action to the slant from a slot receiver? If so, I hope the defense has seen it in practice.


October 26th, 2011 at 4:27 PM ^

A lot of people have said in other threads that our future opponents will benefit from seeing how MSU stopped Denard.  Does Purdue have the personnel to send 2 blitzers through the A gap, as MSU did so effectively?  Is Purdue likely to see how to time our snaps the way MSU did?  It is our later opponents learning from what at least one team was able to use against us to great effect that worries me the most, but I don't have any idea whether Purdue has people with the skill sets to do what MSU did.  Any ideas?


October 26th, 2011 at 5:12 PM ^

Considering Purdue isn't afraid of to send their linebackers and they play almost exclusively man coverage anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if they took a page out of Sparty's book with their defensive strategy. The good news is that their defense isn't close to as good as State's, but Michigan is still going to have to figure out how to manage their snap count without tipping it off to the opposition. I still trust that this coaching staff—especially given an entire week off to stew in the MSU loss and what caused it—will make adjustments.

It also helps a lot to be at home—a large part of why the team couldn't (or wouldn't) adjust the snap timing against State was because of crowd noise. That won't be an issue this week.