September 10, 2008

Purdue Q&A

To help prepare its subscribers for the upcoming game, Duck Sports Authority exchanged questions about the Pac-10/Big-10 contest between Oregon and Purdue with Gold & Black Illustrated's Brian Neubert. Click the link to read expectations for this weekend's non-conference tilt from a Purdue perspective.

1. What questions were answered and which still remain for Purdue following their first game?

Answer: Well, it's hard for me to say with any confidence that any questions were firmly answered in the season opener, because the competition - though seemingly much improved over last year - was still grossly inferior. But positive signs came with Purdue's renovated group of receivers making some big plays, for one thing. Purdue lost its most dangerous offensive playmakers from last year, and it's been a question, to us anyway, whether it would have much firepower. Purdue's receivers are basically made up of four fifth-year seniors who've not played much up until this point, two junior college transfers and a guy, Keith Smith, who played quarterback last year and safety the year before. Purdue's special teams were great in the opener, but again, vs. lesser competition.

Lots of questions remain. The receivers still have to prove themselves as they and quarterback Curtis Painter continue to get familiar with one another. The Boilermakers are perilously thin at linebacker and banged up on the offensive line. Injuries have taken a toll already at running back, linebacker and on the offensive line, so there's plenty of places where it's hoped backups or young players hope to emerge.

2. Purdue and Oregon rarely cross paths. What are Purdue fans' general impressions of the Ducks and their football team?

Answer: I think fans are excited, because this is a great opportunity for Purdue. The non-delusional realize that Oregon is a very, very good team and this game is a chance for Purdue to notch the kind of high-profile win it's been missing for several years now. Purdue's won a lot of games the past couple years, but it's not beaten a ranked opponent since 2003 and hasn't fared well against the better teams in the Big Ten over that time.

3. What will the best and worst matchup be for Purdue for the Oregon game?

Answer: I can't claim to know much about Oregon, but Purdue lives and dies by the pass - always has under Joe Tiller - and that will be especially the case this season because of Curtis Painter. Oregon has an amazing secondary, so Purdue's passing game against the Ducks' pass defense will obviously be the game's pivotal matchup. This will be the ultimate challenge those all those new receivers I mentioned earlier.

4. How important is this game to Purdue in the minds of fans and the football team?

Answer: I think it's important because it's a great opportunity. Whether they'll admit it or not, this is the game Purdue spent the summer preparing for. The subplot here is that Joe Tiller needs just one more win to become the school's all-time leader in coaching victories. A win over Oregon would be the best possible way to break that record, because it would also break that string of futility against premier opponents and dash a criticism of Tiller that's become prevalent the past couple years. If Purdue loses to Oregon, then the record might have to wait a week, when Purdue plays Central Michigan, basically for the third time in a year. As you can imagine, not many will get too excited about that.

5. Who have been the pleasant surprises so far this year on the Boilermaker's squad?

Answer: Much was expected of him, so I don't know if he qualifies as a surprise, but wide receiver Keith Smith looks like he might have a pretty big impact on Purdue's offense, at a position where it's needed a guy or two to step up. Smith's a 6-2, 230-plus-pound receiver who's very physical and pretty athletic. He came to Purdue as a QB, but played safety in 2006 before redshirting (as a quarterback) last year. He moved to receiver late last fall and has had coaches and teammates gushing about him ever since. He backed it up in the opener, leading Purdue with six catches, his first one going for a 26-yard TD. He endeared himself to fans, too, by dragging tacklers a couple times.

6. What is the general expectation from Purdue fans on how their season should unfold?

Answer: I think people by and large are optimistic. Purdue's always been at its best with senior quarterbacks and Painter is regarded by some as one of the best in the nation. The defense is also expected to be improved over last year, as well. But injuries are already taking a toll on both sides of the ball. The offense lost valuable running back Jaycen Taylor, essentially its co-starter and one of its best overall football players. The defense now is indefinitely without Jason Werner, maybe its best linebacker. This is an interesting year, because Tiller is retiring after the season and giving way to his offensive line coach, Danny Hope, who's been the head coach at Eastern Kentucky the past couple seasons. People are enthusiastic about the present, but hoping that it can sort of lay a foundation for Hope to keep building on.

7. Bonus question: Predict the score and why...

Answer: I'll have to cop out on a score, because I haven't seen enough of either team. But Oregon is a very, very good team from what I've seen and heard and their speed will be very difficult for Purdue to deal with. I might be wrong, but I think this one might be a little too much to ask of a Purdue team still feeling its way around. If this game were mid-season, maybe I'd have a better opinion of Purdue's chances.

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