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April 17, 2005

Defense Dominates Scrimmage No. 2

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Coach Joe Tiller described Sunday afternoon's scrimmage as having been controlled by his veteran defense.

The scrimmage, held in Ross-Ade Stadium, was closed to both the media and public. But according to Tiller, the defense generated at least seven turnovers. Released statistics later revealed nine.

"Of which, all but two were (forced) by the defense, and we scored (five) touchdowns on defense," Tiller said. "So I would say it was a scrimmage controlled by the defense."

QB Brandon Kirsch thinks the offense(s) can curb its looseness with the football before spring practice ends next weekend. Purdue's end-of-spring spring game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.

"They're definitely correctable mistakes," Kirsch said. "One might have been a ball that was thrown behind a receiver and tipped off his fingers that a linebacker caught or something like that. But they're definitely correctable."

According to Purdue sports information personnel in attendance, Kirsch completed 14-of-29 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, one interception, and 36 rushing yards. Backup Curtis Painter was 9-of-17, with five picks.

Defensive backs Paul Long and Paul Dubler and linebacker Kyle Williams each returned interceptions for touchdowns, coaches said afterwards. Linebackers Cliff Avril and Stanford Keglar scored off fumbles.

Safeties Kyle Smith and Lance Melvin also had interceptions, while defensive end Rob Ninkovich and tackle Jermaine Guynn were also credited with fumble recoveries.

"If you're on defense you liked it; if you're on offense, you didn't (like it) so much," Tiller continued. "I liked the fact we did some good things in the red zone offensively, but that was about it.

"But I did make the comment to the team that we do return 11 starters on defense and if we're not fairly salty on defense, then we're in for a long, long year."

Tiller said the quarterbacks were on target for the most part, but the other end of the bargain wasn't always held up.

"I wish we would have held on to the ball to sustain some things offensively," the coach said. "We had too many dropped balls today. We actually threw the ball much more today then we did last week. We made some (big) catches but dropped some first-down balls. We need to pick that up."

The scrimmage featured only the first- and second-team units, as the coaches begin trimming things down to those players they are fairly certain can help in 2005.

There were some offensive stars.

Senior receiver Kevin Noel scored a pair of touchdowns, one long one of a pump fake and deep pass from the quarterback, and the other off a crossing route over the middle.

"He played probably as well as he's ever played," Tiller said, before quickly - and jokingly - retreating back into "no comment" mode on Noel, for fear of jinxing the oft-injured fifth-year senior.

Redshirt freshman running back Kory Sheets was sprinkled in here and there with both the first and second teams.

"He had a long, flip-the-field run (down to the 10)," Tiller said, "and we had a holding call (negate) it. I'm not glad we had (the penalty), but I'm glad we had it under these conditions, so we can learn from it. He had about a 60-yard run, but we had to bring it back."

A real, live Big Ten officiating crew oversaw the scrimmage.

Sheets was pleased with his afternoon, for which he was credited with 72 yards on 10 carries, not counting, of course, the 50-some yards that were wiped from the records.

"I had a few more breakaway (runs)," Sheets said. "I liked seeing that. So I thought I had a pretty good scrimmage today. … Even though (the 60-yarder) got called back, I still look at it like I showed the coaches what I can do, even if it didn't count."

It's becoming increasingly clear that there is a place for the speedy, explosive youngster somewhere in Purdue's crowded running rotation in '05.

"I'm anticipating a big season for me," Sheets said, "in terms of me playing and having a chance to run."

Tiller also singled out fullback Anthony Heygood as having a nice afternoon with the second-team offense. Heygood was credited with 66 yards on eight carries.

Receiving, Bryant led all receivers in catches with five, but Noel's 59 yards on four catches took the yardage crown for the day. Tight end Dustin Keller also caught four balls.

Defensively, middle linebacker George Hall is credited with having led all tacklers with six, plus a forced fumble. Guynn and fellow redshirt freshman tackle Ryan Baker recorded sacks.

As for Kirsch, Tiller assessed his showing as, "OK. Not good and not bad."

Others Tiller cited as having stood out included cornerback Zach Logan, Long, Williams, linebacker Stanford Keglar and all the linebackers as a whole.

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was critical of his unit afterwards.

"We turned it over way, way too much," Chaney said, "and made too many poor decisions. We did some good things … but we didn't sustain anything; there was nothing good that we sustained over a period of time. That's about strain and focus and those are things we need to keeping working on improving."

Chaney has overseen an offense this spring that has explored both ends of the offensive spectrum in football: Balancing a new option-oriented running package with its traditional pass-happy ways.

"I'm OK with where we are," Chaney said. "I figured I was going to try to throw the ball a little bit more this week and let the quarterbacks get it on a little more and get the receivers some opportunities.

"We'll go up (and watch the film) and find that we ran a hundred plays and on 70 of them we looked like we knew what we were doing and on 30 we'll look like we've never played football before. Welcome to the second scrimmage of spring football. We'll move on."

Tiller seemed to believe the team came out of the scrimmage healthy.




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