Tuesdays with Tiller: Purdue football notes

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Four-game assessment
Coach Joe Tiller usually waits until a season is well underway before offering much insight into his feelings about his team.
With four games in the books in 2008, he offered the following thoughts Tuesday at his weekly press conference:

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"I think our team has the ability to continue to improve and get better. I think our receivers and quarterback are getting closer to being on the same page, and I mentioned that early in the season. And I think as games go by, we're getting a little more productive in that area. I don't know what the yardage is like but we're getting more productive.
"Defensively, if we hadn't had the third quarter of the last game I would have said we made progress defensively. So obviously we did some backsliding and we need to get back to where we were. You know our forté is going to have to be our ability to run and get the football.
"I like the way the offensive line's come together. I like the receivers; we need Desmond Tardy to come through and have a big year. We need Keith Smith to step up. We need another receiver, too, and I think we've got that guy in Aaron Valentin. Those are the areas of the team I like the best right now."
Injury report
Tiller said nothing has changed since Sunday, relating to the shoulder injury sustained in the fourth quarter Saturday by running back Kory Sheets.
"I think he's going to be fine," Tiller said.
Safety Frank Duong, though, appears doubtful, after straining his knee in South Bend.
So does tight end Kyle Adams, said Tiller, who'd hoped to have the hobbled starter back in time for the Nittany Lions.
Painter 'locked on' receivers
When asked to evaluate the play of quarterback Curtis Painter Saturday against Notre Dame, Tiller admitted the senior might not have surveyed his options as well as he might ordinarily.
"I think he did get on one receiver and stay on him with his eyes," Tiller said, adding, in defense of Painter, that the most recent game tends to skew opinions of players' overall play. "I didn't see him moving the safety with his eyes like he normally does.
"And he probably got locked on a couple of guys more than he should have. That's a point of emphasis for us this week, to get him back from a mechanical point of view... and make sure he's seeing the field and you're not going out there and playing with tunnel vision."
Sester progressing
After having back surgery in the spring, senior offensive tackle Sean Sester has yet to start a game this season, after starting every game his first three.
"He's progressing, which is good, but slowly," Tiller said. "He played more plays last week than he did the week before."
Tiller said Sester's back still occasionally stiffens. The discomfort subsides with rest, though.
Freshman improving
Freshman linebacker Chris Carlino is making a case for added playing time, Tiller said.
The rookie middle linebacker has seen only special teams action the past few games, despite Purdue being perilously thin at his position on defense.
With senior Anthony Heygood perhaps set to begin seeing more time at middle linebacker when Purdue goes to a 4-3 alignment, Carlino might see time in the middle, shifting Heygood back outside.
"If Chris could come on and continue to improve as much as he has from the day he arrived up until this point," Tiller said, "look for him to be on the field more."
Purdue is hoping redshirt freshman converted defensive end Nickcaro Golding can develop fast enough at strong-side linebacker that he can make Heygood's move inside more palatable.
Joe on Joe
Penn State coach Joe Paterno had the following to say Tuesday about coaching against Tiller for the last time. Tiller, of course, is retiring following the season.
"I like Joe. I'm not going to miss coaching against him. He's a heck of a coach. He's gotten as much out of his squad as anybody's gotten in the Big Ten in the last 15 years.
"He's just a good, solid guy. He's become a friend because he and his wife and my wife and I have been on trips together with the Nike people. We've gotten to be good friends. We've sat around many a night and just talked over football and other things. I'm going to miss him just being out of the profession.
Competing against him is not something that you particularly enjoy. He's a tough competitor. He gives you a big smile and the whole bit, but he's a tough guy. He's a tough guy.
So, I'm just going to miss him. I won't get to see as much of him as we're used to seeing him. But I won't miss coaching against him."
So close?
Painter used much of his portion of the press conference Tuesday to convey how "close" he feels the offense is to playing at its peak, mentioning it several times.
"Looking at each game," Painter said, "we do some things well, but we're just a little bit off being great. Looking back ... we've been so close. If we get some of those things worked, we'll be scoring (more) points.
"We're so close to being a great offense."
One of those issues that might not to be worked out is Purdue's downfield passing game, as Painter acknowledged. The Boilermakers have had little success throwing the ball deep.
Purdue was determined to hit Notre Dame deep - "to keep them honest," Painter said - but by the coaching staff's count, went 0-for-6 on the shots it took.
"We've been close on those," said Painter, who's misfired on a couple deep passes to open receivers this season, including a couple times in South Bend. "Those would be huge for us."
What happened?
After the two teams were tied 14-all at the half, Notre Dame scored touchdowns on all three of its third-quarter drives against a defense that admitted afterwards to have "put our heads down" at halftime.
"We came out dead," defensive tackle Mike Neal said. "And (Notre Dame) came out and punched us in the mouth.
"We didn't do a good job responding when we had the opportunity to."
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