Tuesday, May 23, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: PURDUE
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
- - - - -
This time last year, Purdue was asking "If not now, when?" about a championship; now, about avoiding a return to futility
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 39-22 (23-17 Big Ten) - 2005: 5-6 (3-5 Big Ten)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 11 (7 Offense, 4 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Joe Tiller is ending his first decade as Purdue coach, but his assistants will be largely brand new. The shakeup follows a wake-up call of a season, a 5-6 clunker that included a six-game losing streak before the schedule broke the much-hyped Boliers' way over the last three games. Most familiar among five new faces is former Florida offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, a refugee of the ill-fated Zook Administration in Gainesville who should go down as its most competent cabinet member: under E.Z., the Gators led the SEC in passing offense, total offense, third-down conversions and touchdown passes in 2004, and had better numbers every year of his three-year tenure there than in Urban Meyer's first season. Before that, he was a key architect of Marshall's blitzkrieg its first few seasons in the MAC. Then again, his Illinois offense last year only scored three against his new team's atrocious defense in a typical display of futility, so draw from all that what you will.
WHAT'S THE SAME: The offensive line returns four starters, three of them veterans with some shortlist notice for all-Big Ten nods forthcoming. As a group, the line gave up the second-fewest sacks in the country last season, not a small achievement for a team that dropped back for 428 passes. Senior Mike Otto and junior Jordan Grimes have each been in the lineup since basically the day they arrived.
DANCE WITH WHO STUCK AROUND: Brandon Kirsch followed through on his incomprehensible decision to leave early for the pros, leaving sophomore Curtis Painter the presumptive no-questions-asked starter at quarterback. He was thrown into the last five games of the season and was not an appreciable improvement over the interception-prone Kirsch, throwing five picks to three scores himself and averaging more than 100 yards fewer than his predecessor per game. Painter, however, did win his final three starts - Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana, but still - and now returns last year's top two receivers, little speedster Dorien Bryant and loping small forward Kyle Ingraham.
BUT THAT SCHEDULE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SOFT: No matter who the quarterback was, the uber-experienced Boiler defense, one that returned every starter from a quietly vicious 2004 group, consistently reeked, even when accouning for its high level competition; in consecutive games, it allowed 278 yards to Laurence Maroney, 463 yards to Brady Quinn, 369 to Drew Tate and 506 to Brett Basanez, which made holding Michael Robinson and Drew Stanton to 309 and 266, respectively, look about like $2.00 a gallon would look about now. It wasn't until the final two games that the unit got around to stopping anybody, and as that was Indiana and Illinois, there is no evidence of any pending carry-over effect among the four non-descript returnees.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: For the third or fourth straight year (precision, apparently, not the strong point of the Purdue student paper, which is consistent with SMQ's memory of staffing his campus rag), the offense won the Spring Boiler Drill, an undefined competition (again, not so hot with the precision) apparently consisting of some sort of demented, Oklahoma-esque initiation of harrowing public isolation, mental torture, pain and humiliation. With its win, the offense got steak dinners, the defense mere hot dogs and beans. More important, however, than the potential NCAA violations of rewarding players with a steak dinner - a threat to which Luther Van Damm, for one, can well attest - the lingering buzz surrounding the drill was Dorien Bryant's singlehanded game-winning score against three defenders, which was itslef preceded by the violent displays of the headhunting Painter against 277-pound sophomore defensive tackle Jermaine Guynn:
SMQ has always said, when it comes to describing the ideal quarterback, "gratuitously death-defying" certainly tops the list. Just look at the last two Boilermaker quarterbacks purportedly endowed with the edgy, gutsy, "caution to the wind" attitude: Brandon Hance and Brandon Kirsch. Er...at least Painter's not named "Brandon."
- - - - -
Curtis Painter knows neither fear nor boundaries
Also: FieldTurf at Ross-Ade!
REASON FOR HOPE: Even revolving-door starters throw for a ton in this offense, and the vet O-line will keep the young quarterback clean and the running game on good enough ground to keep defenses honest.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: The offensive backfield has shown virtually nothing to date; various members of the defense have, as part of a larger whole, but not in its most recent incarnation. Was '05, seemingly the perfect chance to make another league title push, a tipping point on the slide to demise?
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... The Onion: Still around, doing okay most of the time, but obviously hasn't been the same since it peaked its masterpiece in 2000...and even then, you knew it wasn't ever going to reach the same level again.
- - - - -
Purdue and The Onion: Still chasing that turn-of-the-century heyday
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Seven wins, back into a bowl game. Tiller has worked wonder sin the passing game with less than he has on hand here. His program is backed against a wall in a competitive league that can put it back in the lower division for the forseeable future in a hurry, but nearly a straight decade of winning isn't going to go away so easily.
- - - - -
Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17:Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut
- - - - -