September 29, 2013
Report Card: Purdue-Northern Illinois
The following is our Report Card for Purdue's game Saturday vs. Northern Illinois, a 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois.
Purdue-Northern Illinois Post-Game Report Card
Purdue had 371 yards passing, its best yardage output of the season by well more than 100 yards.
That's good news.
The bad? The Boilermakers also threw four interceptions, one leading directly to points for the Huskies when it was returned for a touchdown. They completed less than 50 percent of their passes against one of the country's worst defenses, hitting on only 24-of-55 attempts (43.6 percent).
And Purdue's yardage - it also had 153 on the ground - failed to lead to a windfall of points.
It was a tale of two halves, with Rob Henry directing the first and Danny Etling doing so in the second. We don't usually hand out individual grades in the report card, but coming up with a combined average might be difficult.
So let's take a look at this half-by-half.
In the first, Henry was scattered, hitting on only five of his 16 attempts and 130 yards and two interceptions. He TD came on a screen pass, with a heap of credit to Akeem Hunt, who danced his way up the sideline for 44 yards.
Other than that, and the bomb to DeAngelo Yancey (which was a little underthrown) to start his last drive, the senior was off. Get this: Other than those two throws, Henry was 3-of-14 for 34 yards. Yikes.
The interception that got him bench was ill advised and ugly; after rolling right, Henry threw back across his body to the back middle of the end zone. B.J. Knauf was there, and might have been able to box out his defender if he was a bit taller, but he's not, and Dechan Durante made the pick.
Lack of awareness killed Henry on that play, and others.
For instance, earlier, he had Brandon Cottom roll open on a play that Purdue had worked on all week during practice, when the full back and the running back both rolled into the same area. It's designed to make a defender chose between the two.
Henry has a choice: throw to Cottom slightly up the field or to the running back below, depending on the positioning of the defense. Well, Henry appeared to chose wrong, throwing incomplete to the back, who was covered, rather than over the top to Cottom, who likely could have raced 50 yards toward the end zone, either scoring or being stopped inside the 10.
It's all too common an occurrence.
Henry again was forced into too many throwaways when he couldn't find an open receiver - and many times none were open - stymying his drives.
Now, Etling: How best to describe what he did after entering on the last drive of the first half? He was on time. A three-step drop looked like this: 1, 2, 3, target, fire, complete. There was rhythm from snap to drop to delivery, with a confidence that he could hit a tight window.
That said, he wasn't perfect.
The interception that was returned for a touchdown wasn't a smart decision. He lofted the ball to the sideline, at an angle that lends itself to potential interceptions.
And at times, Etling spent too much time dancing around the pocket, probably trying to make a play with his team down a jillion. But the three sacks allowed by the line in the second half were partially due to him.
Etling, however, did show some escapability, and had good pocket presence at times, too, standing tall and moving around to buy a bit of time. He showed he could make all the throws asked of him, and often did so decisively.
The toss to Cameron Posey as the receiver streaked across the end zone toward the left out-of-bounds line was on point and in perfect position. His dart to Justin Sinz, who had a defender off his left shoulder, was toward the right, allowing the tight end to box out to make the catch.
His best throw, however, might have been the one just previous. On a first-and-10 from the NIU 18, Etling threw toward the left pylon before Yancey had come out of his break, and when the receiver did turn, the ball was in the basket. It was just excellent.
The positives so outweighed the negatives - most of which can be lessened with experience - that there seems little doubt who the starter will be vs. Nebraska.
The line needs to pass protect better, as has been the case for five games now. And Purdue had about a handful of drops, and a couple more throws that were off the mark, but likely could have been corralled, and will need to be if the Boilermakers want to regularly compete with better competition.
The following is an average between the halves; you can probably take a pretty good guess at what each would be.
Yet again, Purdue had to abandon the rush again in the second half.
Only 26 of their 153 came after the break, as the Boilermakers tried to throw their way back into the game. If Purdue wants to establish a solid rushing game throughout, it needs to stay competitive. That's pretty obvious.
Purdue averaged 5.1 per rush, its best output of the season.
But the Boilers' leading rusher was Knauf, who had carries of 29 and 12 yards. Hunt had only 37 yards on 11 attempts.
The line just doesn't get the push necessary to successfully run between the tackles, and until it does, Purdue will be forced to get a majority of its ground yards on sweeps or QB scrambles.
Purdue's top three offensive performers were freshmen: Etling, Yancey and Knauf.
Posey had a great day, too, with three catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Yancey was very good, showing why he's a starter - or at least plays starter-snaps - as a true rookie. He's big-bodied and sure-handed (mostly); he had seven receptions for 117 yards. He came alive particularly with Etling at QB, making five of his catches.
Purdue had five penalties on offense, four of them of the pre-snap variety. For the fifth game of the season, that seems pretty close to unacceptable.
The offense generated 524 yards, almost double its previous best this season, although it came against a defense that's had trouble stopping anyone. And the Boilermakers scored only 24 points, despite the yardage.
The offense had five turnovers.
Purdue allowed 177 yards on 36 carries, giving up an average of 4.9 yards per attempt.
Although the option hurt at times, it was up the middle in particular where the Boilermakers showed they had next-to-zero chance of stopping the Huskies. And that seems like such a surprise, too.
Purdue has to feel like it has at least some strength in the middle of its D, but Bruce Gaston, Ryan Watson, the other DTs, and Joe Gilliam did little to slow NIU.
Camer Stingily, a converted linebacker, had 72 yards, often running between the tackles and bulldozing whoever came in his way. Purdue's not bringing down runners on first contact.
Last week, the Boilers gave up 377 or whatever it was, so this week is a 200-yard improvement, I guess.
But that's a weak argument.
Jordan Lynch was efficient, throwing for 207 with three touchdowns on 18-of-25. That's even with him inexplicably missing on a couple guys who were wide open.
He wasn't intimidated by anyone in Purdue's secondary, going after Ricardo Allen a couple times, and beating him on a 15-yard pump-and-go TD to Da'Ron Brown. (By the way, sometimes corners get beat, even really good ones, so some people need to back off Allen when he gives up a play here or there. It's total madness, seriously).
Lynch's backup threw one pass, and it was an 18-yard touchdown.
Purdue got very little pressure on Lynch, sacking him only once; Lynch had pretty much as much time as he wanted to do whatever he wanted.
All right, well the defense did allow only 41 of the 55 points NIU scored in Ross-Ade Stadium.
And the Huskies had, um, only 402 yards, partially because Lynch and Co., barely possessed the ball in the third quarter, scoring on a kickoff return for TD and a pick-six instead.
But when Northern did have it, Purdue showed little resistance, and it didn't generate a turnover.
Purdue gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half, a score that sucked the little remaining life out of Ross-Ade.
Pretty much ended the game too.
NIU just dominated in the return game, holding Raheem Mostert and Hunt in check; the duo averaged 20 yards on their six combined returns. Meanwhile, the Huskies averaged better than 30 yards, including the 99-yarder for the TD. Thomas Meadows needs more hang time and distance on his kickoffs.
Otherwise, the kicking game was fine, with Paul Griggs hitting a 47-yard field goal and Cody Webster punting fine.
What more is there to say?
Purdue didn't do much right, and had it not been for Etling's performance, there wouldn't be much positive to even talk about. But one player can't save the day, and isn't going to solve all the issues.
The Boilermakers are stagnant right now, with little show of improvement.
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