NCAA Football Preview - Purdue Boilermakers

8:27 AM, Aug 23, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: After failing to earn a bowl invite in his first two seasons as head coach at Purdue, the third time was the charm for Danny Hope and the 2011 Boilermakers.

The team finished 7-6, showing a lot of heart following tough losses. Early- season losses at Rice (24-22) and home against Notre Dame (38-10) dropped the Boilermakers to 2-2, but the very next week they responded by routing Minnesota, 45-17. A tough loss at Penn State (23-18) in mid-October was followed up with a gritty home win over then 6-1 Illinois (21-14). The next two weeks saw Purdue fall handily at Michigan and Wisconsin by a combined 98-31, which dropped the team below .500 on the season. However, an overtime win against Ohio State on Nov. 12 (26-23) got things back on track, and the Boilermakers wrapped up their regular season by beating Indiana on the road to become bowl eligible. That final victory earned them a trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl to face Western Michigan. The Boilermakers rallied to win that game, 37-32, claiming the school's first bowl victory since 2007, and setting the stage for what the team hopes is an even more successful 2012 campaign.


OFFENSE: Despite a wealth of depth at the quarterback position, Hope said at his Big Ten media day press conference that last year's starter, Caleb TerBush, will enter the fall as the No. 1 guy.

"(TerBush) started every game, didn't throw an interception in the last four and a half games, threw for 62 percent of completions," Hope said. "Really improved throughout the course of the season and did a fine job."

While TerBush's passing numbers weren't off the charts -- 1,905 yards and 13 touchdowns -- it is his sound decision-making and ability to orchestrate the offense that sets him apart from the rest of the field.

Purdue ran the ball fairly well last season (33rd nationally and fifth in the Big Ten), but there are some questions at tailback. Leading rusher Ralph Bolden (674 yds, 6 TDs) tore his ACL in the regular-season finale and likely won't be able to contribute until later in the year, if at all. That leaves senior Akeem Shavers (5-11, 203) as the probable lead back. Shavers ran for a modest 519 yards and six scores in 2011, but nearly 30 percent of his season's rushing total came in a 149-yard outburst in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. With Bolden out of the picture, Shavers got a career-high 22 carries and made them count. The coaching staff is hopeful that is a sign of things to come in 2012.

Plenty of experience returns to the wide receiver position, headlined by senior Antavian Edison who caught 44 passes for 584 yards and three TDs a year ago. Three starters return to the offensive line.

DEFENSE: Hope fired defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel and parted ways with most of last year's coaching staff on that side of the ball. Tim Tibesar is the new coordinator after spending the last three seasons coaching defense in the CFL. The hope is that Tibesar's experience in the wide-open CFL will have the Boilermakers better prepared for the rapidly growing number of spread offenses in the Big Ten.

Ultra-talented tackle Kawaan Short (6-3, 310) anchors a deep defensive line, although Tibesar will need to figure out how to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks -- Purdue ranked 77th in the nation in sacks last year.

The Boilermakers are in good shape at the linebacker position, where they return two of their top three tacklers from a year ago in senior Dwayne Beckford (91 tackles, three sacks) and junior Will Lucas (82 tackles, one sack).

While the team must find two new starting safeties, it does return both cornerbacks in junior Ricardo Allen and senior Josh Johnson. Those two form one of the conference's top tandems, as Allen is coming off a three-interception, 79 tackle season, while Johnson posted 64 tackles and paced the team in passes defended.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Purdue led the nation last year in kick returns thanks to freshman sensation Raheem Mostert, who averaged a robust 33.5 yards per return, including one touchdown. However, the new kickoff rules may negate some of Mostert's big-play potential.

Punter Cody Webster will try to improve upon last year's impressive numbers, as he averaged nearly 43 yards per punt to rank second in the conference. Losing kicker Carson Wiggs to graduation is a big blow to the special teams. His job will likely be taken over by freshman Paul Griggs.

OUTLOOK: Hope expressed confidence that if the Boilermakers can become a more disciplined team, he feels the pieces are in place to make some noise in the Big Ten.

"I believe we have the talent," Hope said. "I believe we have the experience. We're a very fast football team: a lot of fast guys on our team on both sides of the ball. We have a very big strong defensive front, experienced secondary, great experience and potential at the quarterback position. So all of the pieces are there. We have to put it all together and make it happen on the team. That's on the coaches and that's on the players."

The schedule shapes up nicely for the Boilermakers with seven home games. However, October is a rather daunting month with Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State on the docket in consecutive weeks. Keeping in mind that Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for postseason play, the Leaders Division looks to be fairly wide open.

Purdue must take care of business in its non-conference slate in order to set itself up nicely for the back stretch. More than likely the Boilermakers are looking at another bowl game and, if things shake out right in the Leaders Division, they could even earn a spot in the Big Ten title game.

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