November 19, 2012

Coordinators Corner

Every week, Purdue's coordinators talk about the game the day before, in this case a 20-17 win at Illinois.

Wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins fills in for coordinator Gary Nord, who attended the Illinois game despite a severely injured back injury. The Sunday thoughts of Higgins, who called the offense vs. the Fighting Illini, and defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar below.

Wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins

Gold and Black: How did you feel like things went Saturday?
: "OK. At times we struggled and once we got through the first quarter, we did well. They are very athletic up front; they moved around a lot. And once the kids could find the speed and we figured out ways to attack it, from the second to the fourth quarter, we did pretty well."

Gold and Black: Was it a matter early on of trying to find the Illini's weakness and sort things out?
: "Yeah, with a team that is as athletic as Illinois and they do a lot of things up front, you've got to kind of - the first couple series - you try to figure out what will work and ways to attack them. So once we got that under control, the game went much smoother."

Gold and Black: After the game, Ralph Bolden said the game plan was to test their outside early to loosen them up before hitting them in the middle. Was that hat you were trying to do?
: "The whole idea was to go in and establish a good balance, to get our run game going however we had to do that. That's what we wanted to do. We told the O-line we needed to establish a dominance on the inside in order to have a good game. And that would help the play-action and quick game to get the ball out of Robert (Marve's) hands. That seemed to progress as the game went on."

Gold and Black: The defense collected three takeaways, but you didn't score. In fact, the offense hasn't scored off a turnover since the Michigan game. Frustrating?
: "It's really frustrating. The first one we had really good field position and weren't able to get a first down and the one (fumble recovery) that Kawann (Short) had at the end of the half, you want to take advantage of that. And when you don't, it's a wasted opportunity. That's the frustrating part of that, and we had made an emphasis of it, that we had to take advantage of every opportunity. So that will be a point of emphasis going forward this week."

Gold and Black: In the first half, you were only 1-of-7 on third downs, which killed chances for touchdowns. You like getting points, but seven would be better than three.
: "That was a point of disappointment also, that we didn't get the first downs when we needed to to advance in the redzone and get the touchdowns. Because like you said, we want to get touchdowns, that's important.
"It was a combination of things. We had the missed snap on the one down there (in the redzone), and the other one (earlier), (the Illini) were in a man-to-man defense and (the receivers) didn't run the proper route combination outside to get the guy open that we wanted to get open. It was a combination of a couple, one of a physical error and one was a mental error. Hopefully we can clean that up."

Gold and Black: But in the second half a couple big plays opened things up. On the first, you had six offensive linemen on the field, with an extra tackle on the right side, and out of that you saw the throw-back to Akeem Hunt. What did you see?
: "In the first half, we had the extra offensive lineman in there and we ran power and we ran some other plays off of it. It was something we said during the week that we'll come back and we want them to think we're going to run and then we'll hit them with a little throw-back. It worked out how we thought it would work out, so it was nice to see that the things we practiced actually come to fruition during the game."

Gold and Black: And nice to see something that you had set up earlier in the game pay off later?
: "Yeah, and that's sometimes what people don't understand, they say 'Well, why are we running that play?' Well, that's a great example of why you run that certain play, and you may run it again to set up that play. That's something that is good for the kids to know too, to say 'This is what we're going to do, and it happened,' and now their confidence in what we're trying to do grows."

Gold and Black: You had very good downfield blocking, including Peters Drey on that Hunt TD reception. You got good blocking Bolden's long run too. Describe it.
: "We were running toward the tight ends - we were tight end heavy - so we wanted to run something to the weak side, and we thought that would be our best opportunity to get outside quick. We were just looking to get a first down, because they had scored, after (Hunt's) touchdown, so we needed to get a first down, stay on the field and flip it, but we were fortunate enough that the play worked, we got down there and two plays later we put it in."

Gold and Black: You ran the four-minute offense well in the fourth quarter, draining the clock. Being able to pound out yardage on the ground to keep the clock moving, was that a result of being able to wear Illinois down?
: "I think so, because we told the offensive linemen that we were going to put the game on their shoulders. We said we weren't going to give up on the run game, because after the first quarter some might have said 'The heck with it.' I mean, we had only eight yards on nine plays in the first quarter and then we ended up with close to 400 yards of total offense and that's a tribute to the guys for staying with it. It was really nice that we could run the clock out for the last 3:29 and it proved to the kids that, yes we can do that and be successful."

Gold and Black: You had a few drops.
: "Yeah, you never want drops and those are a physical thing. They were easy throws and easy catches, and we need to get those corrected, because one cost us a first down and one cost us a short second-down situation and we didn't convert on the third down. So those are things that against Indiana, we're really going to need to take care of."

Gold and Black: How did it work to have Nord in the booth?
: "Well, Gary and I always work well together. He was sort of an extra set of eyes up there. When he was well enough, or felt good enough, he could help us in that area. He's still banged up enough that to do it for a whole three hours, it was too tough for him."

Gold and Black: But nice to have the extra set of eyes to make observations?
: "No question. It's always good to have an extra set of eyes and another opinion and the knowledge he has; he's been doing it for a long time. So any time you get an extra opinion - 'maybe we should go to this or that' - that always helps."

Defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar

Gold and Black: What did you like about the defense on Saturday?
: "I thought our guys played hard. We were able to get some good pressure on the quarterback, got some sacks and hits on him. We generated some takeaways, which is big. We're still improving, have to get better at rush defense and being able to corral an athletic quarterback like (Nathan) Scheelhaase, but our guys played hard. We created some takeaways and caused some chaos in the backfield.

"I thought we played really well in pass defense, didn't give up any big plays and kept the ball in front of us and we were able to do really well on third down."

Gold and Black: The defense hadn't had any takeaways in three games, until the three vs. Illinois. How much of a focus was that and how nice is it to see the D come up with those plays?
: "It's one of those things, it's something you work on every single day in practice and you've got to take advantage of the opportunities you get, whether it be an opponent mistake if he's carrying the ball loose or he's exposed in the pocket or we're able to jump in front of the ball.

"We got three takeaways and that was a focus that we were trying to do, like it is every week, but at the same time, we feel like we missed some opportunities. We feel like we dropped three passes that we had. We had our hands on the ball and could have had an interception. And they put the ball on the ground six times and we only came up with three of them. It continues to be something we've got to continue to work on, but I'm glad that we got the three that we did get."

Gold and Black: I thought Illinois' best offense came when everything fell apart and Scheelhaase just took off running. How do you better defend that?
: "We played good in coverage and when it wasn't there and he was able to escape, we've just got to get a little bit better of disengaging from blockers and coming off and making tackles. That was the thing when we watched the film this morning, and watched with the players, probably some of our ability for block destruction and being able to disengage from blockers and come off and make tackles isn't where it needs to be. That's just a fundamental we'll work on this week and try to get a little better this week."

Gold and Black: Linebacker Joe Gilliam, I thought, probably played his best …
: "Maybe his best, probably his best game since I've been here at least. He had some really nice open-field tackles and tackled aggressively and tackled through ball-carries and was flying around. That was real good to see."

Gold and Black: Did you bring more pressure as the game went on? It seemed like you did.
: "We were bringing pressure right from the beginning actually. It doesn't always seem like it when they run the ball, because you don't notice if the guy is blitzing or if he's just going to fill his gap. They started passing the ball once we had a lead and certainly in the fourth quarter they had to pass more when it was a two-score game. We tried to be aggressive the whole game."

Gold and Black: You mentioned the secondary's coverage. How much improvement have the defense made in that area since struggling so much vs. Minnesota?
: "The Minnesota game, they did a great job and took advantage of our aggressiveness. We jumped a lot of short routes and they turned them into double-moves. We really coached our guys hard this week to expect those kind of plays, and expect the double pass; it was good when Illinois tried to run the double-pass, even though the running back bobbled the pass, we were on top of the receiver down the field and ready for it. Those guys played much better in coverage and kept things in front of us. We were in position even to get some pass deflections and that's encouraging to see."

Gold and Black: Illinois had a 95-yard drive late that pulled it within three. What happened on the drive?
: "That drive was largely a product of Scheelhaase pulling the ball down when things didn't work and scrambling and getting a first down. We missed a couple tackles on short passes to receivers, then got a face-masking penalty on top of it. Then we had a chance for an interception and didn't make it. So then all the sudden you give them another chance. If you make that interception, then they don't score that touchdown and the game's never probably as close as it is.

"So it's one of those things, a combination of making some tackles, corralling an athletic quarterback and making the takeaway when you have the opportunity. And then that 95-yard drive doesn't happen."

Gold and Black: E.J. Johnson was back after his injury, but might have showed some rust. It looked like he could have had that interception.
: "That's the one. It's probably one of those that nine times out of 10, you'd like to think we're going to make that catch. But he kind of went up there and mis-timed his jump and he was actually coming down when the ball arrived at him rather than going up when the ball arrived at his body. Therefore, he just had to swat it down. He made a great read on it, made a great break on it and covered a lot of ground and got over there. But he was certainly in position where we'd like to see him pick that one off and then hopefully return it up the sideline a ways for us."

Gold and Black: Indiana will bring in a challenging offense to defend, with its ability to spread you out.
: "It's similar to Illinois, they are going to be a no-huddle offense. Illinois doesn't huddle and they line up on the line right away and change the pace on you. So that was good to get that practice in this week. Indiana is probably going to go a little bit faster tempo, and probably do a little bit more check-with-the-sidelines plays than Illinois does. Certainly, the number of plays that Indiana is going to get is going to be somewhat similar to what we saw earlier in the year with Marshall, that hyper-speed and trying to go fast. So our guys have to be ready to get lined up quickly, get set and get ready to go. And then be ready to check our defenses when they check to the sideline. Then, when we do substitute, it's got to be like a hockey change; we've got to run guys on and off when we're close to our sideline and try to get some fresh bodies in there so we can keep going after the quarterback."

Gold and Black: Your defense struggled to get lined up vs. Penn State a few weeks ago, but was only late maybe once vs. Illinois.
: "Yeah. The hardest thing is what Penn State does. They're a huddle team most of the time, and then all the sudden they speed it up on you. Whereas with Indiana and Illinois, you know they're not going to huddle, you know they are going to get lined up and those types of things. And like against Marshall, we really didn't have much trouble getting lined up. It's the change of pace that sometimes catches you off guard, when they are normally huddling then come out and get a play and don't huddle."

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