Craig Has The Scout - Purdue 2020
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Who: Purdue Boilermakers
When: 11:00 am - October 31st, 2020
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm. I think. It appears he will be back on the sidelines in Champaign. Brohm really earned his keep his first two years in West Lafayette. He probably owes some of his salary to the Boilers after his 2019 season. Brohm inherited a similar situation to Lovie in Champaign and loaded up with transfers to fill out the roster. Last year was always going to be a dropoff as the young talent took over. Losing Rondale Moore exacerbated a step back year. Brohm is supposed to be an offensive guru and will need to revamp the offense for 2020 to justify the contract Purdue gave him in 2019.
Offensive Style: Passing Spread with Pro Sets bolted on. Jeff and Brian Brohm are play-calling for the Boilers, and both were QBs under Bobby Petrino. They took a large portion of the Petrino playbook, including the passing system, and have modified it. Petrino used a lot of I-formation and Pro back sets (think of LeShoure going wild), whereas the Brohms have moved to a more wide-open pass-heavy attack that would make Joe Tiller proud. Purdue uses a TE on almost every play and has a wide array of options they rotate freely to open up space in the passing game. The key for Purdue has always been the OL, and last year it was atrocious, they are trying to clean that up this year.
Defensive Style: A 3-4 that morphs to a 4-2-5 often. Bob Diaco is the new DC at Purdue after Nick Holt and Jeff Brohm nearly escaped a murder-suicide event last season. The general premise of the defense is close to the 3-3-5 that Holt ran last season. Diaco is starting to take on a Ted Roof dimension as a journeyman DC who has some really cool descriptors of his defense. For Diaco, it is the "No-Crease" defense, which is a base 3-4 with LBs close to the LOS to prevent gaps. The premise is similar to Lovie, disciplined play that tries to limit big plays and a focus on turnovers. The strength of the defense is the front with George Karlaftis and Lorenzo Neal. Derrick Barnes is solid as well, and with that, the Boilers have a 3-man front on par with any in the B1G West.
Specialists: Purdue has a 4th year FG kicker in JD Dellinger who is solid, but the Boilers do not like to rely on him from distance. The return game for Purdue is better than that at Illinois, so I will be curious to see how Illinois plays punting this week, allowing returns or directional kicking by Hayes.
Three Things to Watch
The Illini DL against a rotating cast of Boiler OL. Purdue has a left tackle, and he is pretty solid. They have a C who they can rely on but was pulled for part of the Iowa game. After that, they were rotating a cast of OL. The C - Garvin - was really solid in pass protection in the 2nd half last week. I am curious to see if Roderick Perry can continue his strong showings this week now that opponents have tape on him and his linemates. Purdue has 7 players playing significant snaps on the OL, which is normally a sign of concern. The Illini DL needs to play more effectively as a unit this week to challenge the inexperience of Purdue.
The experienced Illini OL vs. the talented Boiler DL. Diaco has always made the most of the talent when he had it (see, Manti Te'o), and the Boiler DL is very talented. The Illini OL is going to need to keep Peters clean in the passing attack to help sustain drives.
Can Illinois contain both Moore and Bell? The Illini Pass D was shredded last week by Wisconsin. The Badgers owned the Illini by settling receivers in zones in the intermediate routes down the hashes and sidelines. Purdue had its success against the Hawkeye 4-3 in the exact same areas. Purdue has two receiving threats better than any the Badgers had on the field Friday night.
Scouting Review - Offense
Jeff Brohm showed up in West Lafayette and saw the wreckage left behind by Darrell Hazell and went to work. First, he shored up the plentiful holes in the roster, then changed the schemes on both sides of the ball. He brought his offensive ideas from Western Kentucky and dropped them into the B1G West.
The B1G West was pretty ripe for the picking at that time too. Northwestern was stagnant, Wisconsin was Wisconsin, and Iowa was finally convinced that Greg Davis maybe needed to be put out to pasture. Purdue started their rebuild right along with Minnesota and Nebraska, and Lovie was just bringing in his first recruiting class alongside Brohm (after a horrific first year). Brohm had a lot of sizzle that first year.
Since then, the offense has added a pair of wideouts that are as good as any tandem in the country with Rondale Moore and David Bell. Mix into that group a solid sophomore tight end in Payne Durham and 4-star Milton Wright speedster and the Boilers have upgraded the skill talent considerably since Brohm's arrival. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the B1G West did not remain static. Wisconsin struggled in 2018 by Wisconsin standards, but are a legit top-10 team again. PJ Fleck has raised the bar in Minnesota by leaps and bounds, while Scott Frost has improved on the Mike Riley debacle in Lincoln. Northwestern and Iowa have both produced some high-level defenses in that time as well (and Fitzy actually hired an OC that can call a game in the modern era). With tape and talent improvements, the B1G West has slowed the Boiler offense considerably.
The biggest drop was seen last season though, and it started upfront. The 2019 OL for the Boilers was painful to watch. The run game was non-existent, generating 2.2 YPC in the first half of the year. Defenses began to key heavily on the pass and Penn State sacked the QBs 10 times in their game. The Brohms in the second half of the year began focusing on running the ball more and saw the YPC increase to 3.6 YPC for the back half of the year. Additionally, the run game was turned over to Zander Horvath, who runs extremely awkwardly, but gives the Boilers a competent and experienced back in the backfield. Horvath generated 6.1 YPC last week against an Iowa defense designed to contain the run. Mix with that Aidan O'Connell who is a weak-armed but accurate passer and Purdue is expecting the offense to revert back to 2018 levels this season.
Purdue employs a pretty vanilla run game. They run standard running sets (Power, Traps, etc.), but lately have run everything they can out of a zone blocking formation. Petrino was more of a Power Spread, using the traps, etc. more often, but Brohm has tempered that with his teams. The primary thing to watch with Purdue this week is to set up the run game by moving the backs/TE to set the Illini front to their advantage.
In this play, pre-snap, the Boilers started by flipping the TE away from the near sideline. The Illini set their defensive front with the near side as the strong side. After that, the back flips sides as well. The Boilers will most likely do more of this against Illinois similar to last year, whereas last week they did very little of this against the Hawkeyes.
Against an Illini front that is all-new for starters, I do expect the Boilers to try an inside trap as the first play out of the gate. Last year, it was in the first series.
I'm unsure of the status of Hansen, but this would be a great way to challenge the middle of the Illini defense early and get them playing tight to the line.
Although they don't employ it as much as Petrino teams, the Boilers will try and run the Power Spread parts of the playbook early against Illinois. The Illini did a pretty solid job of gumming up the zone runs of the Badgers last week, and Purdue has been focusing on building a run game this year. That focus will lead them to give a number of looks early to keep the Illini defense honest.
The game last week against the Hawkeyes had Brian Brohm calling these two pulling plays. They struggled to establish the power run game but will try and re-establish against the Illini this week.
Last week, the Boilers utilized the counter as well. I don't remember them running this against Illinois last year, but if Illinois is slanting the line this might be something they run to break a big play. The Illini should be able to read the pulling blocks of the Boilers, as you can see the deeper alignment of the pulling lineman, who has his weight off his hand.
Even if the power run game gets going, the Boilers will revert back to the zone blocking scheme. The zone blocking more closely resembles the pass protection schemes Purdue prefers, which helps the passing game to pick apart the zone defenders.
Once they start the run game, the primary play is the inside zone. They'll use motion across the formation to give eye candy to the Illini safeties who crash in the run game. The first clip here utilizes a slice block by the TE.
The Boilers have a play-action look out of this releasing the TE into the flat as well.
The other look is with a motion across the formation from the wideout.
The Boilers will run a WR motion into the backfield with this as well. Both of these runs are generic runs with lots of eye-candy for the back seven of the Illini.
With Horvath, the Boilers won't run much outside-zone, but should King Doerue be available you might see more of it. In this setup, the Boilers are using a zone scheme with Pull-Pin rules for the OL.
The uncovered OL pulls to get to the edge and sets the hole for the RB. If the Illini slant the DL again, this is another play the Boilers might dial-up more often though to let Horvath find the hole.
The final run action from the Boilers is the bubble screen. It might as well be part of the run game for the Boilers. They ran this concept a few times last year as well.
With the duo of Moore and Bell, the Illini corners are going to need to set the edge to prevent a track meet up the sidelines. I would run this about five times in the first quarter to get the Illini secondary chasing the ball early.
The strong point of the Boiler offense is the passing game though. The Boilers love West Coast concepts that pick apart levels in zones. The Boiler pass protection varies based on the size of the shot they are taking, but in the base passing attack, they will protect with the 5 OL and flood all zones.
As you can see in this play, the routes are all moving to the right, to ease the reads for O'Connell. The slot runs the 5-yard short route, and they slide the deep out behind that O'Connell hits. The TE is actually open here as well releasing up the backside hash. The near side WR is running a deep post should the safeties crash the deep out and TE post. The thing that makes the Purdue passing game so hard to defend is the different concepts. If the Illini begin to soften to cover the deeper routes like above, the Boilers counter with stop and shallow in routes.
The key is to help the quarterback make clean reads on the defense, and when challenging zones the concepts create open receivers. And to be honest, with Moore and Bell, the Illini don't have the luxury to run man often.
When Purdue really wants to take shots, they enlist 7 man pass protection sets and run play action. This will be a similar look for the flea-flicker run Saturday. The first play here is based on the inside zone blocking scheme.
The QB makes a poor throw, but the TE makes a great catch. On the top level, you can see Bell starting to run himself open. Luckily, O'Connell can't throw the ball that far. Here is the max protect look utilizing outside zone play-action.
Bell was wide open, and O'Connell threw errantly. The wind-up on this throw would make Robert cringe.
Against Illinois two deep safeties, the Boilers will run a concept like this.
The concept here is always to go to the left side of the formation. The Boilers start this play by motioning the TE across the formation. From there, they run a post, a deep post, and an out to the side. The play-action opens up the seam between the LBs and safeties, and the TE runs free here for a big gain.
They will use lateral motion across the formation in many ways. Here is the WR motion into the backfield mentioned from above.
Iowa defends this very well, but it is very clear the route combinations. The Boilers ran a series of routes to exploit the gaps in the Hawkeye pass defense. With the Illini LBs coverage so far this year, it should be more open on Saturday for O'Connell.
When O'Connell has time, he is able to find the open receiver. He is never going to be a big-armed gunslinger but can pick apart open seams. Here he is given time for Bell to open up the in route.
When O'Connell has pressure in his face, he throws short often. If Perry and Milan start getting pressure in O'Connell's face, the Boilers will occasionally roll the pocket.
Again, the play-action comes off of an outside zone run setup. O'Connell rolls and three receivers are running routes on his half of the field. O'Connell probably needs to set up to complete based on arm strength.
The final route to mention is the AJ Jenkins Petrino route. Brohm runs a couple of versions of it. First up, the AJ Jenkins route.
Bell runs the shallow cross, and the opposite receivers all run Go routes to clear the zone defenders. This is an easy five yards.
They have versions of it that utilize the TE in the cross as well.
The outside receivers run a scissor combo pulling the safety and corner deep. The inside receiver runs a post clearing the LB. The TE crosses wide open across the field.
The Boilers key to success is to stay ahead of the chains and stay out of obvious passing situations. The Illini will need to be aware of the Boilers blending tempos, speeding up the game when they have a mismatch, and slowing down the game to take shots when available. The offense will take the time to establish the run game, which should open up the deep passing attacks.
Scouting Review - Defense
Nick Holt was considered a revelation in his first year in West Lafayette. Holt came to Purdue with a pretty good pedigree as far as stops, but very little to actually show in reality. For all of Darrell Hazell's faults, he did recruit decent defensive talent. Holt took advantage and rode the experience and well-coached defense from Hazell to a top tier unit his first year. Once he had to teach the talent, things went south quickly and he was let go last year.
Bob Diaco is going to have a chance to pull the same miracle Holt did three years ago. Diaco is living off his reputation from his days at Notre Dame at this point but has seen decreasing results ever since his days in South Bend. Diaco's high point in defense corresponded with the highest talent level on that side of the ball. Similar to Lovie, his reputation on defense is built on forcing turnovers and a bend but don't break style.
Diaco should show dramatically better results than Holt's tire fire of a season last year. Diaco inherits a young roster, albeit one with experience on the field. The defensive line in particular should be a strength. George Karlaftis and fellow defensive end Derrick Barnes were the stars last year and Lorenzo Neal returns to the defensive tackle spot after missing last year due to injury. The D-line will need to generate a pass rush to protect against the long-yardage explosion plays Holt gave up.
Projecting the Boiler defense is tough when I'm more curious to see what the Illinois gameplan is this week. The gameplan by Rod Smith last week felt disjointed and completely out of sync with the individual strengths of the players. The Illini offense continually struggles to sustain drives, and have relied on explosive plays in the last few years to move the ball. Peters did his best, but when the run game struggles, Peters' best qualities are eliminated. Additionally, when Peters is the most explosive player on the offense (two long runs), you're going to have a bad time.
If Illinois actually uses TEs this week, the base defense of the Boilers should be a 3-4 with a Cover 4 behind it.
In this play, the DL is slanting which skews the look a bit. The 3-4 can turn to a 4-3 easily when the OLB puts his hand in the ground as seen here.
The OLB set up as a rush end is generally good for the offense since none of them are solid pass rushers.
The Illini will probably see that 4 man front primarily on Saturday to help with the run fits. This should open up the Boiler D to intermediate routes from the TEs and Bhebhe. Here is Iowa taking advantage.
I think this was supposed to be Cover 4 but the CB got caught and missed the TE release. The TE dropped between the gap in the defense.
To help generate a pass rush, Purdue will both blitz and utilize line stunts. The first stunt is the E-T twist.
The Illini OL should have this covered, but I'm not sure. Peters struggles with pressure in his face and this gives the DEs solid rush lanes to the QB. Another pressure using the DL is the NT loop.
Both of these are slower developing and rely on solid coverage on the backend. The Illini receivers were not breaking open on routes last week and Purdue will rely on their young secondary to allow this to get home.
The Boilers will bring blitzes as well, both out of 3 and 4 man fronts. Here is an MLB blitz.
The Boilers were supposed to be in a 4 man front, but the OLB was late with his hand in the ground. This is their nickel package as well, but as you see, in a passing situation they are going to bring pressure and shoot for mistakes to generate turnovers on the back end. Here is a safety blitz out of the standard 3-4 front.
Again, this involves a slanting DL (away this time) with the safety filling an open gap. If this was a pass play, he is coming clean on the QB.
I suspect the Purdue game plan this week is going to be playing it very safe for the first two quarters to understand the Illini game plan. From there, the defense will begin to disguise looks trying to force Illinois into 3rd and long situations. Diaco will not be afraid to bring the heat then. They need to get to the QB though because Illinois has the weapons to go over the top on the defense.
What does it mean?
Last season Illinois won this game because they were able to run the ball. The Illinois offense last week was unable to generate a run game, which meant that the offense struggled. This Purdue defense will not be mistaken for the Badger defense though. A softshell Purdue defense to start should help. The Illinois offense will begin to sync and move the ball. I'll go so far as to say they will score points this week.
The Illini defense will struggle to contain the weapons from Purdue. To slow the Boilers, the Illini will require O'Connell to throw picks and miss reads in the Boiler attack. If Purdue gets up early, it will smother the Illini similar to the Wisconsin game and run away from the Illini.
For Illinois to Win:
Purdue gets all the credit for beating Iowa, but I think Iowa last week was not ready to start the season. The Hawkeyes committed 10 penalties and had some very uncharacteristic mistakes that let Purdue back into the game. Illinois is going to need to establish the rushing attack (and Diaco is ok giving up 3-5 yards per rush on 1st down) to keep the defense fresh and establish an offensive flow. Rod needs to isolate the Purdue LBs against Illini RBs and TEs too.
Once they are able to consistently move the ball, explosive plays like that should follow. Illinois is going to need to score near 35 to win this game.
The Illini defense will need to keep the dynamic duo of Purdue receivers in front of them. Illinois will also have to find a natural pass rush out of the front seven without exposing the back end with excessive blitzing. If Lovie can use line stunts and selective blitzing to break up the rhythm, Illinois can get out front and limit the Boiler capabilities
For Purdue to Win:
Purdue gets all the credit for beating Iowa, even with the Hawkeye generosity. Purdue stayed committed to running the ball against the Hawkeyes and it paid off with their final drive. The Boilers were able to grind the ball against the Hawkeyes and pick apart the zone. They took care of the rock most importantly.
The most impressive part of the win though was the defense. The Boilers took Iowa out of its comfort zone and allowed only three points in the second half. Shutting down a run game and pressuring a QB in his face worked well for the Badgers, and the Boilers should be able to continue the trend against the Illini.
The line opened at Illinois +4.5. It has since risen to 7. The initial number is a Vegas knows something special. The statistics would tell you that Purdue should be favored by 8. And that is heavily biased with 2019 numbers without Rondale Moore. Brohm will return to the sidelines on Saturday with his full complement of weapons, and an OL that should give time against the Illini pass rush. The Boilers should cover this easily, even with the higher line.
YTD Against the Spread: