December 12, 2012
Establishing an identity
There seemed to be a shift in approach.
Maybe it was because Purdue knew it had to win its final three games to reach postseason.
Maybe it was because Patrick Higgins had assumed play-calling duty for injured coordinator Gary Nord.
The Boilermakers found an offensive identity in the season's final three regular-season games.
As a "fight and gut-out team" that was going to rely on its run game, quarterback Robert Marve said.
A running team that was going to play for every single yard, evidenced by the passion and power displayed by senior backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers[db].
A running team that was going to grind and push up front, as evidenced by an improved effort by the offensive line, sparked a healthy [db]Peters Drey and emerging Robert Kugler.
A running team that wasn't going to quick, regardless of the circumstances, as evidenced by a 59-yard running first half against Illinois before a 148-yard second half.
"We sat in the locker room before each game and we were like, 'Hey, they're going to put the ball in our hands. The game really is in our hands, so we have to do our best and win the game,' " Shavers said. "We told each other we were going to leave it on the field each and every game. That's what we did.
"That helped a lot (knowing you were relied on)."
In the final three games, the Boilermakers rushed for 603 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Higgins changed Nord's philosophy of spreading the carries among several players and instead focused on giving it to the team's best.
Shavers and Bolden carried the load against Illinois and Iowa, combining for 358 yards on 59 carries. That's a 6.1 average.
Then when Bolden wasn't able to play in the finale against Indiana, Higgins handed the show to Shavers. He delivered. On a career-high 27 carries, Shavers had 126 yards.
Five times in his Purdue career, Shavers has had at least 15 carries in a game, including the final three of 2012. He has 511 yards rushing in those five games.
"Like with any back, you need to get in the flow of things," Higgins said. "He was being a little disjointed about being in and being out, so that's one of the things about maybe creating an identity, saying we're going to limit the people who touch the ball and we're going to put them in the right spots and let them go and use their natural athletic ability.
"Akeem's taken that, and he's done a really great job. He's done nothing to say, I can't handle the load. He's like, 'Give me the ball.' So we will."
Being dedicated to the run has helped the passing game, too.
Before Danny Hope was fired, he talked about wanting him team to be two-dimensional. It's achieved that.
In addition to getting big yards on the ground in the final three games, Marve led Purdue's passing attack to 191, 279 and 373 yards in those games.
"I think our identity is the running game - it's pound the rock, you soften them up a little bit and then we'll hit you with the pass," Marve said.
The approach has been welcomed by the fellas up front, too.
"When you pass the ball a lot - some teams do it and have a lot of success - but I always feel like whenever you pass the ball all the time, it's harder to pass block, but when you're more balanced, it's harder for them to know what's coming," Drey said. "So it gives you a chance to hit them instead of them coming to hit you all the time."
Certainly, Purdue's increased production in the running game wasn't only because of philosophy and effort. The Illini, Hawkeyes and Hoosiers were three of the worst defenses against the run in the Big Ten and in the bottom half in the country.
Oklahoma State, Purdue's bowl opponent, is one of the best in the FBS.
The Cowboys are allowing 140.56 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 36 in the country.
But the Boilermakers vow to come at Oklahoma State hard and often on the ground and then mix in the pass.
That's who they are now.
"We were much more efficient in those last three games," Higgins said. "The look of things looked crisper and organized. There was just a better feel for it. Maybe that's because I'm subjective. That's what the feel was and I think that's the general consensus. So we're going to continue on that course."
Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.
GoldandBlack.com Mobile for your iPhone | GoldandBlack.com Mobile for your Android
Check out GoldandBlack.com on | |
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial