Purdue’s receivers have heard all week about Oregon’s secondary.
They’ve heard about how the Ducks’ unit is considered among the nation’s best with three three-year starters, all of whom are on the preseason watch list for the Bednarik Award for best defensive player; how they have great speed and play physical; how they have success in all coverages.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti “loves” his secondary.
Purdue coach Joe Tiller said the group has “an abundance of talent.”
Purdue receivers are offering praise, too. But they also know this is the opportunity to prove they’re not just a bunch of slow, unproven options.
And, they say, they’re ready to do just that against the No. 16 Ducks today at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“I think it’s good for us,” slot receiver Desmond Tardy said. “It will let us know where we’re at right now. They’re a great team. It’s another chance for us to prove how good we are and how good we believe we are.”
Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter said he noticed Oregon’s speed as soon as he watched a game tape. When a receiver catches a ball, Oregon’s defensive backs are there for an immediate tackle. In coverage, speed allows the defensive backs to stay close to receivers and not get beat on deep routes.
There’s versatility, too.
Cornerback Walter Thurmond III, who has a track background, is the fastest of the group. Bellotti said corner Jairus Byrd has the best bump technique – tight coverage on the line of scrimmage – of the group. Patrick Chung is the All-American, fifth-year senior who mixes speed, experience and physical play to swarm the field from his “rover” position. Safety T.J. Ward is the new starter, but Bellotti said he is the strongest player on the team.
“We all kind of mesh together and do different things well,” Byrd said. “Yeah, we have good athletes, but we jell pretty good. We’ve been together for a while, so just the cohesiveness (helps). It’s how we think and go about things. The speed definitely helps us. At the same time, you can’t just be fast. You have to be fast with a purpose and know what you’re doing.”
The group has excelled against tough competition, beating top-10 teams USC and Arizona State last season. So far this year, the Ducks have rolled over their two opponents – Washington (44-10) and Utah State (66-24) – that featured mobile quarterbacks. That won’t be the case today, and that concerns Bellotti.
“I think our secondary is very, very good,” Bellotti said. “But they’ll be tested, as they have not been tested this year in terms of a quarterback who will buy time in the pocket and allow routes to develop instead of taking off running.”
Oregon also hasn’t faced receivers this season as physical as Purdue’s.
The top four options are at least 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds. The unit also spent the week working on different release moves off the line, and they use their size to their advantage.
“We have physical receivers who will go up there and hit you in the mouth,” receiver Greg Orton said. “But even if we’re going to be physical, we have to be mentally good. We can’t just be out there fighting with them. We still have to execute and be consistent in everything we do.”