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September 21, 2012

Third down, turnovers going both ways for Purdue

When you look at Purdue's offense through the season's first three games, two things that stick out are both its ability to stay on the field and its inability to stay on the field.

First, the ability to stay.

On so-called "money" downs, Purdue has been highly effective.

The Boilermakers are converting a Big Ten-leading 59.6 percent of their third-down snaps and have moved the chains on all four of the fourth downs they've attempted.

"We've been able to execute our bread-and-butter plays, especially on third down," said running back Akeem Shavers, who's made a few first-down receptions on third down this season in addition to being Purdue's lead back. "We all know that with the plays we have that if we execute the way they're supposed to be run, it's going to be a first down."

A quick glance at Purdue's case-by-case third-down results doesn't show anything too revealing, except that the Boilermakers have been solid - and clutch - on third- or fourth-and-long.

Purdue's converted 11 third downs of seven or more yards.

When it faced fourth-and-10 at the Notre Dame 15 with the game on the line, Caleb TerBush hit Antavian Edison for the touchdown that tied the game.

Edison's first touchdown that day came on third-and-goal.

"He's just a guy who knows how to get open, and that's definitely comforting at the quarterback position," QB Caleb TerBush said.

Three of Purdue's touchdowns against Eastern Michigan last weekend came on third down, including TerBush's 18-yard pass to Edison, who's scored all four of his touchdowns this season on money downs.

Against Eastern Michigan, Purdue's third-down success was directly attributable to its success on earlier downs. Its final seven conversions covered five or fewer yards.

But while Purdue has managed to keep its drives going, it's also shown an unwelcome penchant for killing them suddenly.

Its nine turnovers lead the Big Ten.

"I hate hearing that," said Shavers, part of a running back corps that's not fumbled through three games. "It's just something we have to work on and continue to get better at. We're doing ball security drills in practice every day and I guess maybe we have to pick the focus in that."

One of those turnovers, TerBush's desperate Hail Mary at the end of the Notre Dame game, can certainly be forgiven due to circumstance, but the others are an issue Purdue will want to remedy.

"Just stop throwing it to the other team," said TerBush, one of three Purdue quarterbacks guilty of multiple turnovers already this season. "That's the obvious answer. But you just have to make wiser choices. If something's not there, throw the ball away and live to fight another down. … We just have to learn from our mistakes and move on."

Luckily for Purdue, its defense has balanced things out.

The Boilermakers are tied with Penn State for the conference lead in takeaways, with eight.

"During camp, there was an emphasis on takeaways," linebacker Will Lucas said. "We were practicing scooping and scoring, practicing second-man-in stripping, practicing catching the ball more."

They've been impactful plays, too.

Landon Feichter returned an interception for a score against Eastern Kentucky and Josh Johnson takeaways have directly led to Boilermaker points in each of the past two games.

But the defense would like to match the offense in terms of third-down success. Right now, opponents have converted 39.1 percent of such snaps, tied for eighth in the Big Ten. Notre Dame was 11-of-19.

"We've met our goals in two of the games on third down. Our goal's to win 68 percent of the time," Lucas said. "So two of the games we've played, we've done well on third down, but we still have to get better. The game we didn't do as well on third down, we had some assignments missed, but we've gotten all that worked out."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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