OSIPOFF: Purdue offense must make strides against NIU
By Michael Osipoff 713-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org September 25, 2013 8:54PM
Purdue v Wisconsin
Jarrett Grace is helping to man Notre Dame’s middle linebacker spot after Manti Te’o’s departure. Read about Grace at posttrib.suntimes.com/sports.
Updated: October 28, 2013 7:22AM
After reviewing the Notre Dame game, coach Darrell Hazell described Purdue as being a foot away from making several plays.
Against Wisconsin? Um, not so much.
“I honestly felt we took a little bit of a step back this past Saturday,” Hazell said, reiterating what he had said in the immediate aftermath of the game against the Badgers. “It’s a process, and we’re going to continue to work hard through the process. That’s the only way you get out of where we are right now. We have good players, but we still have to get a lot better on all the little things that we need to do to become a good football team.”
This Saturday’s game against Northern Illinois could help shape the direction of the rest of the Boilermakers’ season. After they play the Huskies, they have an open week, allowing for a period of more extended evaluation. The following week, they return to Big Ten play for the duration, meeting Nebraska for the first time since the Cornhuskers joined the conference.
Bye weeks typically are a time to reflect on what has happened and to refocus on where things are headed. And this game — one in which the Boilermakers are underdogs against a quality team that participated in the Orange Bowl last season and has a star quarterback, but one that on paper is among their more “winnable” remaining games — could have additional meaning.
“I think this is a huge game, another huge game,” Hazell said. “You say that every week, but this is another huge game for us. Our team has to make progress, we have to take steps forward. We can’t afford to take steps back. … This game we need to come out, we need to play well. We need to hold on to the football, and we need to find a way to have some success. It’s very important for the rest of the season.”
Particularly offensively. Purdue has issues defensively, too. But the Boilermakers — who haven’t been particularly physical, nor have they shown much big-play ability — continue to search for answers about how to move the ball, how to put points on the board.
They rank No. 121 in the nation in total offense at 246.0 yards per game, ahead of only Florida International (150.8) and Miami (Ohio) (149.3). They are No. 116 in rushing at 70.5 (averaging a meager 2.6 yards per carry), and No. 102 in passing at 175.5. Their 15.3 points per game puts them 114th.
“I predicted we could score on anybody in this country,” left tackle Kevin Pamphile said when asked about his preseason expectations for the offense. “And I still believe that today, right now. I feel like we still have a chance to make this the best offense in the conference, in the nation.”
If Purdue can’t produce against Northern Illinois — No. 115 in total defense at 493.7 yards per game, including 319.0 passing (No. 120), and allowing 33.7 points to check in at No. 100 nationally — then when? The Huskies are coming off a 43-39 escape against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois in which they surrendered 577 yards, including 450 passing (though they did rack up 602 yards of their own).
“The offensive line is going to step it up, and be more physical and more vocal, and take charge of this team, because we’re the heart of this offense,” Pamphile said.
Earlier, Hazell had pointed to that unit as needing to improve.
“A lot of it starts up front,” he said. “It’s hard to pass the ball when you can’t protect. It’s hard to run the ball when you don’t have guys on the right (opponent’s) guys. We have to get those things fixed up.
“The other day (at Wisconsin) — and you’re going to see a lot of this — you’re going to see a lot of man‑to‑man coverage because we didn’t do a great job of beating one‑on‑one matchups. So we have to anticipate that in weeks to come, and we have to do a good job of getting open late so the quarterback can get us the football.”
And what about Rob Henry, whose most recent passing performance was 18-of-36 for 135 yards and an interception against the Badgers?
“I don’t feel Rob took a step back last week,” Hazell said. “He’s gotten better, but it’s hard to be in that position. There was a play I stopped for the staff on Sunday, and said, ‘Would you guys like to be a quarterback in that situation?’ You have guys screaming up the field at you pretty quickly, the receivers were all covered — he didn’t have an uncovered guy. I said, ‘I don’t know what quarterback would like that situation right there.’ He needs a little bit of help, obviously. We all need to be better — not just Rob, but the whole football team right now.”