November 15, 2012
Richards coming up big
In the final four minutes of Purdue's win over Iowa Saturday, safety Taylor Richards came up with the two biggest defensive plays of the game.
And they might have been the two biggest of the season, with his batted ball in the end zone helping to keep the Hawkeyes from taking the lead late and his fourth-down tackle in the final seconds giving the Boilers a chance to win.
"Those are some plays we've seen throughout the year, where we may have been there but didn't make the play," secondary coach Greg Burns said. "To be put in those situations, critical at that, and then see him actually be successful on a play he previously wasn't, that's huge.
"It definitely gives him confidence. We know what he's capable of and has it in him, he just has to display it so his confidence continues to build."
Richards, a sophomore, thinks he's grown into his role, and his play vs. Iowa, when he had four tackles, two breakups and the two game-changing plays, is a good indication.
"I feel like I stepped up," he said. "It feels good, so hopefully I can carry that through the next two games and into the offseason."
Richards has been a starter at safety since Day 1 this season, but that hasn't been without the bumps expected of an inexperienced player. Early on, he was hurt by inconsistencies, with the ability to make the correct read - and play - on one snap, but then be out of alignment on the next. He thought he played well against Michigan and Ohio State, in particular.
"But the games after that, I know they weren't my best," he said of Minnesota and Penn State. "So going into the (Iowa) game, I really wanted to step it up. They came at me a lot of times, so I thought 'Hey, I've got to win my matchups,' and I did. So it really was a big confidence-booster."
It certainly would have to be. His two plays against the Hawkeyes were huge. On the first, a second-and-goal from Iowa's 6-yard line, he laid out to knock a James Vandenberg pass away from Kevonte Martin-Manley at the last possible moment. Iowa ended up tying the game at 24, rather than taking the lead.
Then, a possession later, as the Hawks were attempting to drive for a winning score, he brought down tight end Zach Derby on a fourth down after a one-yard gain, two yards short of a first down. It gave Purdue the ball back, and 16 seconds later it had won, 27-24, on a long field goal.
"I think he's an outstanding football player and gives you a great effort," Coach Danny Hope said. "Not surprised to see him rally up and make some tackles, stopping the ball carrier on a dime in key situations.
"He's fearless when he's healthy. So I'm not surprised to see him playing that way."
Richards is a bit undersized, however, although he's tried his best to play bigger. At 5-foot-10, 192-pounds, Richards hasn't shied away from contact. It hasn't always gone well, however; against Penn State, a receiver barreled over him at the goal line, scoring one of the Nittany Lions' many touchdowns in their win at Purdue a couple weeks ago.
But when Purdue needed him at Iowa, Richards made a text-book tackle of Derby, nearly 50-pounds his senior. More than just his physicality, though, Richards thinks it was his experience, having now played 10 games as a starter, that helped him recognize what was going to happen and react positively.
"They were running that play the entire game," Richards said of the Hawkeyes. "Ricardo (Allen) and I, we talked about it on the sidelines, so I knew it was coming back. As soon as that (tight end) came in motion, I knew it. So I just jumped it, closed my eyes and hit him with all my might. It just felt natural."
Some extra weight, though, would be of help. During the offseason, Richards says he'd like to able to get up to 200 pounds, which might assist him in bringing down those bigger opponents.
"I have to play bigger than what I really am," he said. "Because I'm smaller having to play against bigger tight ends, bigger receivers, bigger running backs every week. But as long as I make contact with somebody, I have to give it my all, because it's not like I'm going to knock someone's helmet off."
Communication is coming more naturally now, too. As a safety, Richards is in charge of calling out plays, based on some of what he sees in front of him. He likes the leadership role, although it's taken him some time to feel comfortable.
"The safeties have to be quarterbacks as well, from the standpoint of communicating checks, recognizing formations and changing calls," Burns said. "He's getting way more comfortable and it's just because he's understanding it all better."
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