Instead of making tackles as LB at IU, RB Horvath breaking them at Purdue
Thank goodness that Purdue running backs coach Chris Barclay slide into Zander Horvath's DMs. If not, Horvath likely would have been making tackles at Indiana as a linebacker instead of breaking them at Purdue as a running back.
The 6-3, 230-pound Horvath has been a workhorse for the Boilermakers in 2020. In fact, the junior is the lone running back on the roster who has a carry this season. Where would the Boilermakers be this season without Horvath?
"I think in that (recruiting) process, Barclay was definitely the one who was talking to me the most," said Horvath, who was headed to be a walk-on for the Hoosiers but instead took Purdue's walk-on offer. "But one of the main things for me, too, in my college decision was academics. And Purdue is great for engineering, too, and that's what I wanted to study coming in college. So, I think that probably was the most important part for me. But just the fact that I played running back all my life and Barclay was willing to offer that was another crucial part in my decision."
Purdue likely had no inkling of how good Horvath--a construction management major who is now on scholarship--would become. And he'll need to continue to shine on Saturday night when the Boilermakers (2-0) take on No. 23 Northwestern (3-0) at 7:30 p.m. ET in a game with major Big Ten West implications.
With 2019 rushing leader King Doerue out the first two games win injury, Horvath is proving to be a reliable workhorse, ranking second in the Big Ten in rushing (115.5 ypg) with 231 yards on 43 totes (5.4 ypc) with a TD. Along the way, Horvath has displayed a nimbleness that defies his muscular physique, at times spinning away from foes and leaping over them, too.
“He's a gifted athlete," said Barclay. "For him to be the size that he is, the things he's able to do on the football field, still they amaze me at times. ... "
Horvath has rush for over 100 yards in three consecutive games dating to last season. The last Boilermaker to do that was Edwin Watson in 1997. Not bad for a guy whose only scholarship offer out of Marian High in Mishawaka, Ind., was to Army.
"It's definitely building confidence," said Horvath, who also has eight receptions for 55 yards. "If I can continue to do this on these next upcoming games, that confidence boost is going to keep on building up. I just got to really hone in on the details and just give it all, every play in the game, so I can successfully get those 100 yards, and just keep on going with that."
A big key to the success of the offense vs. Northwestern will hinge on its ability to run the football. That's Horvath's cue to keep doing what he has been doing after the Boilermakers were off last week when their game at Wisconsin was cancelled due to COVID-19.
"Zander's done a very good job for us and he's our running back right now and he's got to carry the load," said Jeff Brohm. "I think he works extremely hard, he's strong, he's physical, he's got good hands. We want him to run downhill as much as we can. We want him to, as he makes a cut or two and he's making guys miss, it's downhill, he's lowering his pads, he's going forward, minimize the spin moves and the dancing that is done sometimes by running backs."
No doubt, Horvath is at his best when he employs a no-frills style similar to another No. 40 who played running back at Purdue: Mike Alstott, a player Horvath is very familiar with.
"Oh, yeah," said Horvath. "Definitely. His run game is insane. It's something I try to work with."
Horvath will face a NU defense that is No. 3 in the Big Ten vs. the run (121.7 ypg) and has yet to yield a point in the second half in any of its three games in 2020.
That will challenge a Boilermaker attack that is just 12th in the Big Ten in rushing (94.5 ypg). Just two league teams (Maryland and Michigan) average fewer rushing attempts than Purdue’s 29.0. And Purdue's one rushing TD ranks last in the Big Ten along with Michigan State.
“We have got to be able to run the football,” said Brohm. “We have got to be able to do some things to help (quarterback Aidan O'Connell), but Aidan's got to use that experience and what happened there (24-22 win at Northwestern in 2019) and use it more wisely. And it's going to be a combination of things.”
Part of that "combination of things" has to be production from Horvath, who is pleasantly surprised by how successful he has been at Purdue after arriving with no fanfare ... and no scholarship.
"People have a lot of doubt when you're in that situation," said Horvath. "But, I mean, over time, I was just willing to put in the work, and so far it's been very beneficial. I'm willing to keep working to be more successful in the future."
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