Syracuse to provide crucial test for Purdue before daunting Big Ten slate

Card, Purdue take on Shrader, Syracuse in Week 3

In a rematch of one of the most exciting games of the 2022 season, Syracuse takes on Purdue in Week 3 on NBC in a matchup that features two exciting QBs in Hudson Card and Garrett Shrader.

Purdue football has found itself on many watchlists for the hardest schedule of the season, highlighted by nine straight Big Ten matchups.

But before they dive into the Big Ten battleground, the Boilermakers are in the midst of a three game non-conference slate. They kicked off their campaign with two non-conference showdowns: a season-opening loss against Fresno State and a bounce-back road win against Virginia Tech. Now, as they prepare for their final non-conference clash of the year, the Boilermakers are set to illuminate Ross-Ade Stadium under the prime-time lights, hosting the Syracuse Orange in front of a sold-out crowd and available to audiences nationwide on NBC and Peacock.

For their part, the Orange are off to an explosive start, notching back-to-back blowout victories over the past two weekends.

Purdue, on the other hand, enters this final non-conference matchup with a 1-1 record, reflecting two contrasting performances in the last two weeks: dropping their season opener as a favorite but rebounding on the road as the underdog.

What to watch for when Purdue host Syracuse Week 3

The upcoming clash with Syracuse holds the key to determining Bowling Green's Trajectory and will heavily influence its momentum heading into the challenging terrain of Big Ten play.

“I think Syracuse is an important game,” sophomore captain Nic Scourton said. “I try not to think it’s make or break, because it’s non-conference. But I feel like, just for team morale and how guys feel about the team, Syracuse would be a great game to win. We need to start 2-1, instead of 1-2.”

Last year, in a wild game at JMA Wireless Dome, Purdue took the lead with 51 seconds to go, but the Orange ultimately knocked off the Boilermakers after benefiting from 50 yards of Purdue penalties on the final drive to score a game-winning touchdown, making it 32-29 with only seven seconds left on the clock.

“It was a heartbreaker; I vividly remember it,” inside linebacker OC Brothers said on Tuesday, shaking his head. “It left a sick taste in my mouth. I’m really glad they’re coming here this year because there’s a lot left.”

“We definitely…,” he paused, “We owe them.”

After securing a 24-17 victory in their first road test at Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers will return home this weekend with the aim of reclaiming their turf and, as Scourton aptly put it, “protecting Ross-Ade.”

“I’ve heard from the guys in the locker room just how crazy Ross-Ade gets and how special night games are here in West Lafayette,” said first-year head coach Ryan Walters. “To have an opponent like Syracuse and to play at night at home coming off of a win, I’m sure the energy is going to be electric, and our guys will be ready to play.”

Purdue’s 2023 season start marked by new strengths, new challenges

The Boilermakers’ season opener at home was kicked off with a stirring national anthem sung by Walters' mother – who sported a BTFU (“Boiler The Fudge Up”) shirt for the occasion – and a historic moment that saw the team's first entrance onto the field through Tiller Tunnel. The newly-christened tunnel is named after the late Joe Tiller, who coached the Boilermakers from 1997 to 2008. It features an iron-plated design resembling a railway tunnel and proudly displaying a black “P” embellished with shimmering gold accents above its archway.

Unfortunately, the glamor quickly faded as the rest of the game unfolded.

Walters and his staff face the challenge of managing a roster with a mix of returning starters from the team that won the Big Ten West, newcomers pulled from the transfer portal, inexperienced players making their first collegiate starts, and a group that is overall lacking in the cohesion and chemistry that comes with extensive playing time together.

Offensively, expectations are high for Hudson Card – the transfer quarterback from Texas who quickly won over his teammates during the offseason and earned the captain moniker in August. Card's Texas roots shine through, accentuated by a subtle twang in his soft-spoken voice,

Walters has heaped praise on Card, dubbing him "a great quarterback – one of the best I've ever been around."

20(ish) questions with Purdue QB Card

Purdue quarterback Hudson Card answers rapid-fire questions from Matt Cassel and talks about his relationship with the Boilermakers coaching staff.

Inspired by his own time as a quarterback at Texas Tech, under the unconventional brilliance of Mike Leach, fellow Texan and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has introduced his version of the Air Raid offense. Naturally, there were expected learning curves in the first week of play.

In their debut game, despite facing no unique pressure tactics from Fresno State, the offensive rhythm was marred by challenges in Card's connection with center Austin Johnson and frequent pocket collapses, forcing him to scramble and make early reads.

Harrell emphasized the significance of getting that first game under their belt.

“The more experience you get, the better you get – in any system but particularly in ours,” Harrell said. “Especially the more experience you can get together. We’ll have improvements from week one to week two getting those first game jitters and mistakes out of the way, settle in, and do some special things.”

The dropped home opener was also an opportunity for Walters to assess the implementation of his unique defensive scheme, which he calls “Air Strike,” and cement his reputation as one of the nation's premier defensive strategists after his success at Illinois, where he led a unit that ranked in the top 10 across 17 different categories.

In the opening week, the Air Strike defense yielded 39 points, primarily due to misjudgments and missed tackles in the secondary. , "Defensively, it felt like it was either feast or famine,” Walters said of Week 1. “We either forced a three-and-out or they were scoring points."

However, the defense showed significant improvement in week two. They kept Virginia Tech predominantly scoreless throughout the game, with only a brief lapse in the second quarter, and achieved a road record for the fewest rushing yards allowed, limiting the Hokies to just 11 yards on the ground. In a defensive scheme that places a heavy emphasis on the pass rush, Scourton and Kydran Jenkins excelled in maintaining their rush lanes on the edges.

The lack of synchronicity appears to be resolving week by week on both sides of the ball, as the offense took a massive leap in week two as well. Despite a lengthy five hour and twenty-seven minute rain delay in Blacksburg, the offense found its rhythm, tallying 24 points and a total of 427 yards while Harrell unleashed some inventive play-calling that kept the Hokies' pressing defense on its toes.

“Once we got to the second half, it was just will, I’d say” running back Devin Mockobee said. “We all knew we needed a win; we weren’t gonna take another loss. We hunkered down, we made sure we stayed disciplined and we just had the stronger will to win.”

Syracuse presents major early test for Purdue

The Boilermakers may have the willpower, but moving down the field against the Orange is no small feat. Syracuse has operated with the 3-3-5 defense for the past three years, and their veterans have mastered it. In their first two games, they allowed a mere 7 points while also recording three interceptions and scoring two touchdowns.

“Defensively, [Syracuse defensive coordinator Rocky] Long is highly respected in the defensive ranks of coaches in his profession,” Walters said. “That 3-3-5 defense stack brings pressure 50% of the time; there’s always movement up front. From a schematic standpoint, they do a really good job offensively and defensively, and we’ll have to be on our p’s and q’s on Saturday.”

The Orange have run up record numbers for points and total offensive yards in their first two games, amassing 677 yards in a 65-0 victory over Colgate and 496 yards in their 48-7 win over Western Michigan last weekend. The Air Strike defense will have their work cut out for them.

Betting every matchup of the Big Ten Week 3 slate

Brad Thomas and Vaughn Dalzell break down their best bets for the entire Week 3 slate of the Big Ten season.

“This quarterback this week, he loves to run. And if we don’t contain him, he’s gonna kill us like he did last year,” Scourton said of senior Syracuse QB Garrett Shrader.

As the Boilermakers approach the weekend with a 1-1 record, Syracuse emerges as a pivotal test to gauge whether the ongoing trend of improvement will endure as the team adapts to new schemes – a turning point made even more important as the final chance to address and resolve any lingering growing pains before venturing on to the gauntlet of Big Ten competition.

The outcome of this matchup will undoubtedly shape the season's trajectory and set the stage for what lies ahead for the Purdue Boilermakers.

How to watch the Syracuse Orange vs. Purdue Boilermakers

  • When: Saturday, September 16

  • Where: Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana

  • Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

  • Watch: NBC, Peacock

About the Author
Mary Rose Hokanson is a junior at Purdue University, studying mass media communication and law & society. Mary Rose grew up watching sports with her three brothers and  always loved the passion and intensity of the contests. 

Mary Rose is a member of Public Relations Student Society of America, Association for Women in Communications, and Student English Association. She also writes for Purdue’s student paper, The Exponent. With enthusiasm for the humans behind her stories, she has featured student-athlete profiles ranging from football to diving. She hopes to utilize her communication skills towards a career in broadcasting or law.