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October 11, 2010It was a preseason talk with his position coach, Gary Emanuel, that's paid dividends this season for Boilermaker defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Short wasn't exactly living up to the lofty standard his coaches were holding him to, so Emanuel, also Purdue's co-coordinator, stepped in.
"Before the season he sat me down in his room and asked me what was wrong, what was going on, or was there anything wrong in my life," Short said. "I was like, 'No, I think I'm just thinking too much about knowing what I need to do, instead of just executing it.'"
Emanuel stressed to Short not to over-think situations on the field.
"He said then everything will fall into place," Short said.
So far, those words have rang true.
Short's performance in Purdue's 20-17 upset win over No. 25 Northwestern on Saturday in Evanston might have been the best of his career.
The returning starter compiled eight tackles, including a sack-and-a-half, broke up a third-down pass and blocked a key 41-yard field goal attempt, which would set up Purdue's game-winning touchdown drive.
One play prior to the block, Short combined with linebacker Dwayne Beckford for the third-down tackle for loss that forced the kick, one of many big plays made by a defense that stopped Northwestern's high-powered offense on its fival five third-down snaps.
As important as the blocked field goal was, Short might have made an equally pivotal play without making a play at all.
Prior to Northwestern missing a game-tying field goal in the final minute, Short drew a holding penalty that negated a first-and-goal opportunity for the Wildcats and pushed the hosts from the Boilermaker 26 to the 36. The Wildcats wound up kicking from the 28.
"I just came out and didn't think much," Short said. "I catch myself thinking too much, but today I just played."
Short's most important play against Northwestern was his block of Stefan Demos' 41-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Short simply took advantage of an observation he made on Demos' made 46-yard field goal in the second quarter.
"The first time they did a field goal I was on the outside and we got a little push," Short said. "I knew I could get it by going inside, so I went inside and I just stuck my hand up and I got it."
On the season, Short has 20 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two-and-a-half sacks and a team-leading five pass breakups. He's already eclipsed his freshman totals for tackles for a loss (four) and sacks (none).
Short is second in the Big Ten in pass breakups, a statistic generally dominated by defensive backs, and fifth in tackles for loss.
Wisconsin's J.J. Watt is the only defensive lineman, other than Short, ranked in the Big Ten's top 10 leaders for pass breakups.
"Coach said if you can't really get by your man, you know he's going to do a quick release, so just put your hands up and maybe the ball will hit your hand or you can catch it," Short said. "In practice, we bat balls all day in practice."
Short also blocked an extra point against Ball State earlier this season.
"He has a knack for batting down balls and being there at the right time, especially on field goals," said freshman defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, who started next to Short Saturday night. "I love being on field goal block next to him. Whether it's him, or if I get that big push, I know it's going to happen sooner or later."
While Short ranks among Big Ten statistical leaders, he's not entirely pleased with his play.
"I can play more up to a level I wasn't playing at (earlier) this year," he said. "I just tell myself to keep picking it up, keep picking it up and everything will fall in place."
The key for Short will be to let the game come to him.
"And I should be able to for the rest of the season," Short said.
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