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September 15, 2012
There apparently wasn't a discussion on the sidelines between Purdue's running backs on who would make the next big play.
No friendly bets were made.
No grand statements of greatness or bragging.
No conscious one-upmanship taking place.
But, on the field, it certainly seemed like a competition.
Akeem Shavers ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, only to be outdone by Akeem Hunt's 50-yard catch (but mostly run) in the second quarter.
Then Brandon Cottom provided an immediate response, breaking tackles before outracing Eastern Michigan defenders for an 87-yard TD only about three minutes later. Hunt added a 56-yard rushing TD in the second half for good measure, giving Purdue four touchdowns of at least 40 yards for the first time since Sept. 5, 2004.
Purdue, simply, ran over and outran the Eagles all day, busting out 392 yards rushing in a 54-16 victory on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 40,217 fans at Ross-Ade Stadium.
"For defenses, it makes it hard for them to plan something for us because we do have speed, we do have size and we have power," said Cottom, whose 47.5-yard per-carry helped boost the Boilermakers' team average to 9.3.
"Having that in your running back corps, it really helps."
Pounding the ball seemed to be the logical game plan, considering Eastern Michigan (0-3) entered the game as one of the nation's worst teams defending it.
The Eagles allowed an average of 272.5 yards in the first two games, and the Boilermakers (2-1) wanted to be able to build some confidence with their offensive line and playmakers in the backfield.
It took a while, but it happened.
Purdue passed its first six snaps, and its first two series went three-and-out.
Coach Danny Hope said those play calls were in response to the Eagles coming out with the bulk of their defensive players inside the box to try to stop the run.
Eventually, though, the Boilermakers attacked Eastern Michigan's weakness.
And the approach produced points.
On the third series, Shavers helped Purdue move down the field with a couple of runs and then capped the drive with a 40-yard burst through a huge gap in the middle and then split defenders near the 20-yard line for the touchdown.
When Eastern Michigan pulled within 13-9, the Boilermakers were backed up on their own 1-yard line and went back to the run. Shavers had four carries on the drive, and quarterbacks Rob Henry and Caleb TerBush had runs to move to midfield. Then Hunt took a pitch from TerBush and simply outran everyone down the left sideline for a touchdown. The play was ruled a "pass," but it really was all Hunt's running ability.
But 40- and 50-yarders weren't enough on this day.
On the next series, Cottom was the lone back and got a carry up the middle. He bounced off several defensive players before bursting through and racing 87 yards for a TD. It was the longest rushing touchdown by a Purdue player since Mike Pruitt's 94-yard TD run against Iowa in 1974, and the fourth-longest run in school history.
"I just felt (a defensive player) kind of slide down my body, so I tried to get a knee drive going, and I caught my balance. It was wide open," Cottom said. "I just knew, 'Just run. Don't get caught.' I saw the end zone, so I was trying to score.
"It was great."
And, just like that, Purdue held a 27-9 lead with 2:01 left in the half. It'd tack on another touchdown - on TerBush's short run - before the third quarter.
The onslaught on the ground continued into the second half.
Only about five minutes into the third quarter, Hunt was the single back, took a hand-off and darted right. Again, he beat defenders to the edge and raced down the field. Gary Bush had a key downfield block to keep Hunt untouched, and he capped a 56-yard run.
"I felt like if I get in the open field, then I'm a free man," Hunt said. "I saw daylight every time I got the ball (Saturday), really."
Hunt had only four carries - he added a 42-yard run that he may have broken for another TD if not for being pulled down on a horse-collar tackle, drawing a flag - for 106 yards.
"He's going to have bragging rights for awhile, but I can't blame him," Raheem Mostert said with a smile. "If I did the same thing, I'd be pretty stoked, too. He knows his stuff. He knows what he's doing out there. ? He feels pretty good back there."
Cottom had 95 yards - he insists he wasn't bummed not hitting 100. But he is pleased with his effort, especially considering he's only eight months removed from ACL surgery.
Shavers had 56 on a team-high 10 carries. Mostert added an impressive 15-yard run in the fourth quarter in which he both juked and ran through defenders.
So, for at least one game, Purdue showed some depth at running back - an area that provided some concern to coaches before the season without Ralph Bolden.
"I think we can play well because how they alternate us and how they use us," Hunt said. "Brandon, he can be a fullback and a running back. He can break tackles, he's a physical runner. Raheem, he's a very physical runner and he's got speed. Me, I've got speed, and Shavers, he's speed and size, so we've got great talent in the backfield."
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