November 17, 2013

Report Card: Purdue-Penn State

The following is our Report Card for Purdue's game Saturday at Penn State, a 45-21 loss.

Purdue-Penn State Post-Game Report Card
Passing Offense:
Purdue's path to victory included forcing Penn State to continue its turnover woes; the Nittany Lions were a negative-7 entering the game, continually fumbling away scoring opportunities to allow opponents to hang tight.

However, it was Purdue that was overly generous, particularly in its passing game. Danny Etling threw and interception and fumbled three times, twice turning it over to Penn State. The three giveaways helped to stifle some of the positives turned in by the passing game.

For the second straight game, Etling was above 50-percent passing, hitting 21-of-33 for 223 yards with a touchdown when he found Justin Sinz on a quick swing pass.

But Etling threw an interception on a ball thrown inaccurately behind the intended receiver.

But pressure, and how Etling is dealing with it, is the passing game's biggest problem. Etling was sacked six times, and pressured numerous others. Some of that is on the line - they're not holding up consistently enough, obviously - but some on Etling, too.

Purdue seemed to have a blocking assignment mistake on an early sack, leaving Justin Kitchens to try to block two on his side. Impossible. Now, who fault? Tough to tell for sure, but Etling has something to say about setting the protection. You can't expect Kitchens to block two guys, right?

And sometimes, Etling is holding on to the ball too much - you know, receivers getting separation earlier would be beneficial - allowing the opponent to get him. And when they do, he's got to make sure he does a better job of keeping the football; it is the program, after all.

He got rocked around, fumbled trice and lost two. For an offense that is in need of possessions, they are a killer.

But Etling has made progression in other ways, don't mistake that. He's completing a higher percentage, and putting his receivers in position to make plays. The Boilermakers looked deeper Saturday, and Etling hit DeAngelo Yancey on a 45-yarder. Cameron Posey had a catch-and-run for 38.

If the Boilers could just shore up the protection, from everyone involved …

Grade: D+

Rushing Offense:
Purdue's rushing game is abysmal.

Even the 41 yards netted on 20 carries is deceiving, because 14 came on Kurt Freytag[db]'s 14-yard carry on a faked punt, a special teams play. So, knock the totals on offense down to 19 carries for 27 yards. Even if you throw out all the sack yardage - Etling taken down six times for minus-38 - and it's still not all that pretty.

Arguably, Etling was Purdue's best ball-carrier, scrambling three times for 30 yards, including a long of 11. His touchdown came on an excellent play call by John Shoop, a change-of-pace QB keeper off right tackle.

Etling's not quick, but he seems to have a deceptive something-or-another; if he learns when to go and when to stay, it could be a weapon.

[db]Akeem Hunt had a 17 yarder, only one off his long of the season, but his other five carries went for five yards.

There was really nothing else to speak of.

Grade: F

Offense Overall:
Purdue scored 14 points on offense, equaling its total from the week before, but on only 264 yards.

The Boilers were only 4-of-11 on third down, they gave up six sacks and turned the ball over three times.

So much talk about Etling and the passing game, yet the rushing game regularly doesn't nothing. And that's preventing Purdue from making meaningful improvements.

Grade: D-

Rushing Defense:
Purdue can't stop zone-blocking teams, whether that's Wisconsin, who's really, really, really good at it, or Penn State, who does it well.

The Nittany Lions racked up 289 yards on the ground, picking up five yards per carry. Zach Zwinak looked like Ron Dayne - or Mike Alstott, if you'd like - rushing for 149 yards on 26 carries with three touchdowns. Had he not fumbled, and been temporarily benched, Bill Belton would have had 100, too. Instead, he settled for 81 yards.
Purdue, which has a front seven littered with seniors and multiyear starters, can not stop the rush. It gets blown off the edges and its linebackers don't consistently pursue well enough to make up the difference.

PSU did it all by being consistent, never rushing for more than 16 yards and getting tackled for a loss only once.

Grade: F

Passing Defense:
Penn State didn't need to pass.

But when the Lions did, rookie Christian Hackenberg was efficient, completing 16-of-23 for 212 yards and a touchdown. He threw an interception directly to Landon Feichter, a bad throw by a true freshman. But Purdue forced him into far too few.

Purdue didn't record a sack, and Hackenberg was rarely hassled. Look, that's what you have to do, right? He's a rookie, get after him like Penn State did Etling, forcing him into errors.

But the Boilermakers could do nothing of the sort.

Grade: D

Defense Overall:
Purdue couldn't get off the field.

Penn State converted 10-of-12 third-down attempts, seeming to do so no matter the situation, especially in the first three quarters. It's a big reason why the Nittany Lions owned the clock, with 36-plus minutes of possession and had more than 500 yards of offense.

PSU, which had scored 10 the week before vs. Minnesota and only 24 to Illinois in overtime the week before that, scored 45 against the Boilermakers.

Grade: F

Special Teams:
Raheem Mostert gave the Boilermakers a boost when they needed it most, taking back a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half.

Speaking of the end of the first half: Why did Purdue not take timeouts to try to get one more possession before the break? Granted, Penn State picked up a third down that made it moot, but you've got to try, especially down a couple touchdowns.

Mostert's play was great, with good blocking up front, and great vision to see the openings.

Hunt had a good return too, going for 37 yards and briefly looking as though it could go for more.

Cody Webster did his thing, averaging 45 yards on three punts. And in the punt game, Freytag picked up a first down on a nicely designed and executed fake.

Grade: A

It's really hard to decipher Purdue's level of improvement. The offense seemed to move a bit better, especially in the passing game, yet it turned the ball over three times.

The defense seems stagnant.

Purdue was doubled-up again in yardage, a trend.

Grade: D

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