Purdue's defense has given up 96 points in its last two games, giving the Boilermakers plenty of areas to try to fix in their extended preparation for Nebraska.
And although he wouldn't delve deep into specifics, Coach Darrell Hazell alluded to changes during his weekly teleconference Tuesday. Among those adjustments are playing senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston on the edge at times, in an effort to generate more one-on-one matchups for him, and perhaps inserting a trio of freshmen defensive linemen.
It's all designed to help Purdue create more negative plays at the line of scrimmage. The Boilermakers' defense ranks eighth in the Big Ten in yardage, but a closer look to overall defensive stats shows Purdue last in turnover margin (minus -4, with only seven takeaways) and last in the redzone.
"If you can put offensive teams in second-and-12 and second-and-11, that's one of the things we're looking to do with some of the changes we've made on defense," Hazell said. "But obviously, we've got to start winning the turnover margin, and we have not done that the last couple weeks and we need to start doing that."
After a review of the film from games this season, Gaston says Purdue's primary issue is tackling, pointing out that it could have more TFLs, sacks, etc. - and have given up fewer touchdowns - simply by bringing down carriers on first contact.
"We've got to get to our gaps and make sure our gaps aren't vacant," Hazell said. "But once we get there, we've got to do a good job of tackling and making sure we keep our heads up and staying on our feet and wrapping up. And getting more and more people around the ball.
"We're not creating enough turnovers right now, and one of the reasons is that we don't have enough guys near the football. So we need to get more guys near the football."
Gaston downplayed a shift, saying he's comfortable at his usual three-technique DT but will move outside when ask. And it seems he'll be asked at times, giving Purdue an opportunity to get perhaps its best defender in more favorable matchups.
"It gets him away from all those double-teams," Hazell said. "I think that's going to help us. He's going to get some one-on-one plays with some tackles out there and think that can create some issues for offensive linemen."
Purdue might also use freshmen Evan Panfil and Jake Replogle - Hazell likes the rookies' motors - and tackle Ra'Zahn Howard.
The fresh blood has picked up the intensity in practice.
"We've hit the weight room a lot harder," Gaston said. "Groups have been getting together by themselves to up the tempo and really go over some of the things we've messed up on.
"Each individual is putting it on their (own) shoulders. And when you do it like that, when you want to make the play and you want to do your job correctly. When you get out there as a unit, when everyone does their job correct, then you're going to win that play, win that down and win the game."
Taylor RichardsClick Injury updateHere to view this Link. and Frankie WilliamsClick Injury updateHere to view this Link. have lost their red pinnies this week, after having sat recently due to concussions.
Defensive end Greg LattaClick Williams, a cornerback, missed the Northern Illinois game after having suffered a concussion the week before; Richards missed only a couple practices last week after getting nicked. Here to view this Link. isn't practicing this week, leaving the senior "questionable" for Nebraska.
But considering Latta's not practiced since re-aggravating the injury vs. NIU, it seems unlikely that he'll be near 100-percent for Saturday. Wednesday's practice will be telling.
"We need to see if he can go (Wednesday)," Hazell said. "If he can't go tomorrow, he's probably doubtful."
Landon FeichterClick If Latta can't go, Hazell mentioned rookies Panfil and Replogle as possibilities to pick up snaps, along with DT Chuck Ayres. Here to view this Link. could be back as early as the Ohio State game on Nov. 2. If not then, "definitely the next week" vs. Iowa, Hazell said.
Gaston can't explain it, but he says the Boilermakers are feeling good this week, despite taking a couple of beatings in their last two outings.
"We really don't know what it is, but there's a lot of positivity going around and that's great, especially with all the things that we're going through," Gaston said. "We lean on each other and stand shoulder to shoulder and that's how we're going to be measured. The positivity and the atmosphere around the team has really been high. I feel like practice have been going good; obviously there's still things to work on, but we've really been getting after it."
Hazell says the Boilermakers' energy has been up - perhaps due some to the changes they're making - during practices the last week-and-a-half. The point was illustrated, he said, on Tuesday, when the offensive sideline erupted after Danny Anthrop missed hauling in a long pass from Danny Etling, knowing that's a missed opportunity that the offense is now capable - and making even expecting - to capitalize on.
"They're hungry, they're extremely hungry," Hazell said. "And they understand that they've underachieved a little bit and it's our job as a staff to make sure that doesn't continue to happen. We'll keep pushing them and they'll keep playing hard."
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