October 20, 2013
Report Card: Purdue-Michigan State
The following is our Report Card for Purdue's game Saturday at Michigan State, a 14-0 loss.
Purdue-Michigan State Post-Game Report Card
A half-second here, an extra block there, a better throw, Purdue was close to getting its passing game clicking against the Spartans Saturday.
But against the nation's top-ranked defense, and in Danny Etling's second career start, the Boilermakers weren't quite there. Etling finished 14-of-25 for 160 yards, an interception, a sack-fumble for a touchdown, and he was sacked five times.
Stats aside, Purdue was close, certainly not of piling up 500 yards of offense and 55 points, but of getting a couple scores to perhaps pull off an upset.
On the second play of the quarter, Etling hit Akeem Hunt on a perfectly called screen - Purdue caught MSU in a blitz - with the Boilermaker running back getting up field quickly, racing 43 yards into Spartan territory. But one more block - he had only one more defender to beat - might have sprang him for a game-tying touchdown.
It was similar to the throwback a couple drives later, when Etling toss to tight end Justin Sinz on the left sideline. One more block might turn the 17-yard gain into a 57-yard TD. Later in the same drive, Etling overthrew Cameron Posey on a seam route, after the receiver had gotten by the deep safety.
(Purdue was targeting MSU's safeties, feeling like that was an area it could try to exploit in the passing game).
But Etling was feeling pressure on delivery, and missed Posey five yards long.
But, ya know, not good enough.
Etling's interception wasn't awful. On a first-and-10, a play after Purdue converted a fourth-and-a-foot on a sneak, the Boilermakers tried to catch MSU off guard by going deep. It was a good idea. Etling threw to the spot he thought only DeAngelo Yancey could catch the ball, but Yancey was - for whatever reason - well short of that spot at the back of the end zone.
Instead, DB Isaiah Lewis made a heck of a play, snagging the ball just before falling out of the back of the end zone.
The killer came not on passes that slightly missed the mark, but in Etling too often being pressured; he was sacked five times, matching the mark of the previous week, including the sack-fumble that resulted in a touchdown.
On the third-and-six early in the second quarter, Etling wanted to hit Posey on quick slant to his right after a three-step drop. But a conversation the duo had earlier might have thrown off the play's timing. Posey, growing concerned by his cornerback's ability to jump the route, conveyed that to Etling. And Etling had that on his mind for the play, causing a bit of a delay in his delivery.
Meanwhile, linebacker Max Bullough was stunting around the left side of the line from his position in the middle of the defense. Left tackle Kevin Pamphile pinched in, blocking to his right - and maybe he's supposed to - but the move, and seemingly without blocking help, allowed a clear lane for Bullough.
His hit knocked the ball loose, and it took a perfect hop to Denicos Allen, allowing him to race 45 yards for a touchdown.
Some have questioned Etling's accuracy in his first two-and-a-half games, but I'm not exactly seeing those issues. Certainly, some throws have been off, and he's thrown high at times, perhaps due to some nerves more than anything. But the true freshman is capable of putting the ball on the money, showing so on a short pass to Sinz, when he threw away from the defender draped on the tight end's backside.
He appears to have good anticipation, delivering to receivers before they come out of breaks and often hitting them in stride to allow for yards after catch.
Posey had a great game, with five receptions, three for first down, for 50 yards; Yancey, dealing with increased attention, had only one catch but for 32 yards, when he had to slow up to wait on a deep pass. Yancey also had a drop, perhaps a carry-over from practice when he had several during the preceding week.
Etling's not a finished product by any means, but appears to have the potential to facilitate Purdue's offense and maybe more.
But yet again, Purdue's passing offense gave up points and it didn't generate enough positive plays to put the Boilermakers in position to win.
Purdue seemed more dedicated to its rushing game than at any point this season.
Brandon Cottom's insertion into the starting lineup gave the Boilermakers a needed dose of physicality. And he provided a good counter to Akeem Hunt, who seemed to have an extra bounce knowing that he was mainly going to be playing to his strengths, running to perimeter while looking for big plays.
Etling lost 34 yards on sacks and scrambles, taking away from Purdue's overall rushing effort. So, taking those out of the picture for now, the Boilermakers gained 88 yards on 24 carries, all but three of those going to Cottom and Hunt.
That'd be a great day, particularly considering the Spartans' defense was giving up only 58 ground yards per game.
Purdue's offensive line took the challenge of facing MSU's stout front 9 - the Spartans do often play their safeties about seven yards off the line of scrimmage - seriously, getting good push up front. And the decision to widen Purdue's splits, the spacing between the linemen, gave rushers more area to squeeze between.
Cottom's injury took some pop out of the Boilers in the second half, as they struggled to replicate his power between the tackles.
So, the sack/scramble yards count, bringing Purdue's rushing total down to a more pedestrian 66 yards on 34 carries, only 1.9 yards per carry. But really, Purdue's rushing game was better than what those final numbers indicate.
Purdue generated only 226 yards of offense, pretty much the exact number that Michigan State had been allowing this season.
The Boilermakers twice turned the ball over, once leading to points and the other taking away a scoring opportunity.
However, the offense appeared to be something - if that makes sense - for maybe the first time this season. Purdue wants to be a physical running team, using that to set up play-action passing, and they did that, just not as efficiently or in the numbers they need to.
At times, Michigan State had no other choice than to try to run the ball, because Connor Cook and the passing offense was so inept.
The Spartans rushed 41 times for 182 yards, a rate of 4.4 yards per attempt.
But it wasn't as if MSU gashed Purdue at every turn; only three carries went for 10 or more yards, maxing out at an 18-yarder by Jeremy Langford. And unlike weeks prior, the Boilermakers spent more time in the backfield, getting seven tackles for loss including two from Bruce Gaston.
MSU, however, salted away the last seven minutes of the game, keeping Purdue from getting the ball back and trying a comeback; and its last drive consisted of 10 rushes for 61 yards without a passing attempt. The killer was Cook's 10-yard keeper on the option that turned over a third down. It came after Purdue burned its last timeout at 3:24 and allowed MSU to run out the clock.
Langford proved to be a difficulty, rushing for 131 on 24 carries, an average of 5.5 per attempt.
This grade might be higher, but you've just got to buck up and get that ball back in the final minutes, when you know MSU is running, running and running again.
Purdue's defense kept Cook and Co. from doing much of anything through the air.
The sophomore QB struggled to hit receivers who were open, let alone those who were let open by the Boilermakers. He completed 13 of 25 but for only 107 yards. Had some of his incompletions not been so far off target, he might have thrown a pick or two. But, unfortunately for the Boilers, those tosses were often woefully bad.
But Purdue had good coverage, too, and deserve credit for MSU not being able to get going. The Boilers had a couple breakdowns, each on Michigan State's second touchdown drive.
Leroy Clark seemed to get turned around on a 25-yard pass to Macgarrett Kings. Two plays later, Cook hit Josiah Price for 26 yards, getting the Spartans down to Purdue's 7. It took a trick play to score, when Tony Lippett threw in a five-yarder on second down.
But the Boilermakers needed to get some turnovers in the passing game, especially when Cook being so erratic, and they couldn't do so. Part of that might have been a lack of pass rush; the Boilermakers didn't record a sack and didn't have a QB hurry, either.
Purdue allowed only 294 yards of offense, just 4.4 yards per play, and only seven points.
That's a nice effort by a defense that appears to be improving, especially in this new scheme that allows the Boilermakers to play more physical. Now, they need sacks, pressures and turnovers. It'd be the next step.
The Boilers held on eight of the Spartans' 13 third-down attempts, a significant improvement.
Special teams is always such a mess to grade.
Yes, Paul Griggs missed two field goals, but the first - from 51 yards into a stiff wind - just wasn't makeable. It's hard to pin that on him, right?
Now, the second, he had to have mishit, probably a little fat that led it to come up well short. Purdue needs 41-yarders to be near automatic.
So that was negative, but other parts of Purdue's teams were great. Cody Webster, for example, had a bounce-back effort, with an average of 44.8 yards on his six punts, pinning four inside the 20-yard line without a touchback.
He won in his personal battle with MSU punter Mike Sadler. And the two were critical to the back-and-forth effort, a game that was as much about field position as anything else for much of the 60 minutes.
Frankie Williams' 40-yard punt return, Purdue's longest since 2009, set up a scoring opportunity, but Griggs' missed the long 51-yarder before the half.
In a lot of ways, Purdue played well enough to win.
It was improved from weeks previous, when failures in many facets kept it from competing, let alone having a chance to being victorious.
But the Boilermakers were shutout and that drags the overall average down.
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