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July 16, 2008It always seems to be the same story for Purdue year after year. The Boilermakers enter the season strong, poised to make a surprise run at the Big Ten title, while simultaneously turning heads by cracking the nation's top 25. But all usually comes to an end once Purdue drops their first game against one of the Big Ten powers. Last season was no different for the Boilermakers.
Purdue head coach Joe Tiller and his Boilermakers dashed out to a 5-0 start last season, posting 45 or more points in four of the five games. It looked as if Purdue was fielding a pretty powerful team, backed by a pass-heavy offensive attack, but when the Boilermakers hosted Ohio State in the conference opener, their offense managed just to score seven points late in the fourth quarter en route to a 23-7 loss to the Buckeyes. The loss stuck to the Boilermakers, as they went on to lose to Michigan the next week before suffering a three game losing streak to close out the Big Ten season.
While Purdue went on to win the Motor City Bowl over Central Michigan, the season that came following a fast 5-0 start turned out to be quite the disappointment. Looking as if they were ready to take the Big Ten by storm, Purdue fell far short and finished the season 8-5 (3-5 Big Ten).
Despite a season that didn't come close to the early season expectations and the high potential, Purdue found a few diamonds in the rough, still giving the Boilermakers hope for this season. Before looking ahead to the oncoming year, following is a breakdown of Purdue's season last year.
What went right
If there was one thing that Purdue had going for them last year, it was their offense. The aerial attack threat that the Boilermakers posed was cause for worry for any team on the other sidelines. The offense averaged 307.2 yards per game through the air, which ranked 12th in the nation in passing yardage.
How was the offense so successful? One reason - quarterback Curtis Painter. Painter is on pace to break every major passing record at Purdue and he got there from being a patient, effective signal caller. Last season Painter threw for 3,846 yards and 29 touchdowns in his junior year as he successfully led the Purdue offense while rarely making costly mistakes.
While Painter was undoubtedly the leader of the Boilermakers, he couldn't have gotten it done without the core of explosive wide receivers. Headlining the group was Dorien Bryant, who caught 87 passes for 936 yards and eight touchdowns. Bryant was a clutch for Purdue all season and will surely be missed this year. Painter also got help from tight end Dustin Keller, who caught 68 passes for 881 yards and seven touchdown.
What went wrong
Purdue has always had the same ongoing issue - they cannot come up with wins in big games. The common theme among Purdue teams in the past has been their inability to come up with a big upset which could have possibly propelled Purdue to big seasons in the past. Their inability to knock off the Big Ten powers has come for a variety of reasons, and last season was no exception.
The first problem may reside somewhere that is least expected - in Painter. While Painter has been nothing but solid for the Boilermakers, he hasn't performed too well for Purdue in big games. In his career, Painter is 0-7 against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and has two touchdowns and eight interceptions in those games. Painter has certainly struggled in games that have season defining implications, which has undoubtedly come back to haunt the Boilermakers.
With an offense as potent as Purdue's, it makes the lives of the defenders a whole lot easier, but when the Boilermakers found trouble offensively, it was cause of worry. While Purdue's defense wasn't awful, they allowed 389.2 yards per game, which ranks 63 in the country.
Will this year be different
The most important piece to the puzzle is returning for Purdue in Painter, but this season will pose its own set of new obstacles in addition to things they need to work on from a year ago.
The offense won't be able to take off at the rate it did last year, given it is only returning six starters. Though Painter returns, and he is the biggest key, he loses both of his biggest weapons in Keller and Bryant. The biggest weapon returning for Painter and the Boilermakers' offense is receiver Greg Orton, who caught 67 passes for 752 yards and three touchdowns. Purdue has the potential to return to high levels offensively, it will just be a bigger challenge.
The defense, which struggled at times last year, also only returns six starters. Purdue does return linebacker Anthony Heygood, who had 80 tackles (47 solo) last year.
The biggest thing Purdue must accomplish in order to turn its luck around is success in big games, and they have plenty of them on tap this season. Purdue plays Oregon and at Notre Dame in the non-conference schedule, then faces Penn State and Ohio State to open up the Big Ten season. If history repeats itself, Purdue could be in trouble early this season, rather than later.