Mon Dec 24 04:34pm EST
Brian Neubert of Gold & Black Illustrated was kind enough to trade questions with me in advance of the Heart of Dallas bowl match-up featuring Oklahoma State and Purdue. I've been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks waiting for the coaching carousel to slow and the news cycle to shift back to football. In the interim, Chelf was named the starter - effectively answering one of my questions. Despite this, I think you will find Brian's answers an insightful look into the Purdue program.
[SD] Close losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State would seem to indicate the Boilermakers can play with anyone in the country - and might be overdue a closely contested victory. Can you give Oklahoma State fans a quick breakdown of the Purdue season? What was the difference between a three point loss at Notre Dame and blowout losses against Minnesota, Penn State, and Michigan?
[BN] Yeah, that’s part of the reason Danny Hope got fired – inconsistency. This season has been kind of a microcosm of Hope’s time at Purdue: Just all over the map. Purdue got blown out by Michigan, Wisconsin, and, of all teams, Minnesota. The first two were extremely disappointing losses after the Boilermakers came into the Big Ten with pretty high hopes. The way the Minnesota game unfolded was just inexplicable. But the frustration that came from those games was just amplified by the fact that there were only two major-conference unbeatens in college football this year and both of them beat Purdue by the skin of their teeth, on their home fields, no less. Notre Dame needed a last-second field. And Purdue flat-out had the Buckeye beat. So you can look at it two ways: Yeah, Purdue was capable of playing with anybody. But it was also capable of getting beaten by anybody.
[SD] How have the fans reacted to the hiring of Darrell Hazell? Who will be coaching the bowl game and what effect, if any, will the transition play in preparation?
[BN] It’s been very positive. I think at first there might have been a bit of apprehension in the sense he’d only been at Kent State for two years, but the more fans started learning about him, I think the more they were impressed. And he really endeared himself to people with the way he handled his introductory press conference at Purdue, along with prior press conference at Kent State. I’m sure there will be some mixed opinion on him choosing to coach Kent State in their bowl game, considering how much work he has ahead of him at Purdue in the short term, but I think if you look at it closely, it’s something that can really, really make people respect him. It really shows how committed he is to his players. Leaving teams is hard, but he seems to have handled it with a lot of grace and class, and the reaction from the Kent State end has been unbelievably positive considering the usual hard feelings that come with coaching moves. I just think when you add it up, you’ve seen a new coach really give his new team’s fans a lot to like.
[SD] Oklahoma State is an offensive-driven team that thrives under a run-oriented variant of the Mumme/Leach “Air Raid” spread. Defensively, the Cowboys utilize a base 4-3 and employ a “bend but don't break” philosophy by attempting to prevent big plays through a soft zone and an emphasis (supposed) on turnovers. How does Purdue compare / contrast to Oklahoma State's philosophy on either side of the ball?
[BN] It’s going to be hard to know what to expect from Purdue in this game. Obviously it’s going through a coach transition and the Boilermakers actually only have eight coaches right now. But if Purdue sticks to what it did offensively late in the season, you’ll see an offense that’s pretty multiple and will use a lot of formations and shift tempos. Late in the season, quarterback Robert Marve really played well. If he continues to, he gives Purdue the ability to sling it around and make plays outside the system, so to speak. But it was the running game that really clicked late in the year. Seniors Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers were running really well down the stretch and afford the offense the sort of balance it needed to be really productive.
On defense, when Purdue’s been good this season, it’s been able to get pressure on the quarterback. It’ll blitz. It had particular success late in the season bringing DBs off the edge. But the most important thing is for the defensive line to play well. That’s the defense’s strength. When it plays like it, the defense usually plays well. When it doesn’t, Purdue usually gets rolled.
[SD] Who is the expected starter at QB for Purdue in the bowl game and what are his strengths / weaknesses?
[BN] Robert Marve is a sixth-year senior who’s undergone two ACL surgeries and is now actually playing on an injured ACL again. But he was terrific for Purdue during its three-game winning streak. He’s got a tremendous arm and a lot of savvy. Even though he’s playing on an injured knee, he’s pretty mobile and has a knack for improvising. The knock of him has always been that he’s tended to just wing it sometimes and take a lot of chances. That’s gotten him in trouble with turnovers and in earning his coaches’ trust. But the past three games, he’s been great. He threw just one interception in the last three games and it was a tipped ball. On an injured knee, he then sprinted 60-some yards to run the guy down from behind and make the tackle. If you’re going to make a list of reasons Purdue might have a chance to win this game, Marve’s play lately would top the list.
[SD] How would you categorize the Purdue special teams? Specifically, given the bowl is to be played outdoors, how does the kicking game rate?
[BN] They’ve had their ups and downs, but more ups than downs. Purdue has an excellent kickoff return team and two real threats in Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert back there. Both are guys who can turn the field over in the return game easily. Purdue has covered kicks very well all years. And its punting has been excellent. But Purdue has had a few punts blocked this season and it has broken in a couple new kickers who’ve been some rough spots.
[SD] Do you have any idea which Oklahoma State QB Purdue is preparing to face? On the season, has the Purdue defense fared better against pocket passers or dual threat quarterbacks?
[BN] I have no idea, but I’d imagine Purdue will prepare to see all of them. It’s been mixed in terms of Purdue’s results against certain types of QB. Marshall’s Rakeem Cato threw for a billion yards against them, but also pick-sixed twice. Denard Robinson ran wild on them but Oklahoma State can’t possibly replicate his dynamic running ability. Really, some straight drop-back guys have given Purdue fits, but when Wisconsin’s Joel Stave and Minnesota’s Philip Nelson tore the Boilermakers up, they had dominant – or at least very productive – running games setting the table for them for them to do it. So, really, every case has been different.
[SD] What are the keys to beating Oklahoma State? Conversely, what are the immediate areas of concern for Purdue in this game?
[BN] I can’t claim to know all that much about Oklahoma State quite yet, but all year Purdue has had to stop the run and tackle well up front on defense. When it hasn’t done those thing it’s gotten blown out. The defensive line has to be good for Purdue to be good defensively. There’s no two ways around it. I know this is pretty elementary stuff, but on offense, Purdue has to achieve balance by being able to run the football. Its offensive success in the final three games – albeit against three losing teams – had everything to do with the running game, as well as Marve’s play. And turnovers. Purdue isn’t good enough to be able to overcome to many mistakes.