WEST LAFAYETTE – It's a beautiful day for football at Ross-Ade Stadium. The grass is green, the stands are almost full and Boilermaker football is back in West Lafayette. The football on the field has been much less beautiful, however.
Purdue's offense has been in and out of sync all half, with stretches of three or four plays in a row that seem to signal an explosion coming and then other stretches in which gaining yards is like pulling teeth. Elijah Sindelar has made some terrific throws, including a perfect touchdown pass to tight end Brycen Hopkins into a crowd of three defenders, but he's also missed some throws that could have extended drives, ones that the Boilermaker offense needs him to hit to be successful in the long run.
Purdue's offense is most effective when the short and intermediate passing game is humming, which gives the Boilermakers chances to mix in draws and other creative plays in the run game. The passing game has been inconsistent so far today, however, and so the rushing game has been almost non-existent. Purdue passed 26 times in the first half and ran just six times for seven yards. Obviously this offense will always be built around the passing game, as it should be with dynamic players like Rondale Moore and David Bell on the field, but the run game needs to at least be a threat and right now it isn't. That was evident in the second quarter when Purdue marched 75 yards on 16 plays and came away with only a missed field goal because Sindelar missed a few short passes that could have extended the drive.
Still, Purdue has the lead. The defense has a lot to do with that, as it has done a very good job against the Commodores attack, which is led by Ball State transfer Riley Neal. Neal made one nice deep throw for a 49-yard gain to set up a touchdown, but other than that, the Boilermaker defense has been stout. Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who averaged nearly eight yards per carry in the SEC last season, is picking up just yards per carry and Neal hasn't had many opportunities to throw deep as Purdue has gotten consistent push up front. The Boilermakers have rotated their defensive linemen much more often today than they did in Week 1, probably trying to stave off the fatigue that seemed to set in among that unit in the fourth quarter against Nevada. Former Snider defensive tackle Lawrence Johnson started and has one tackle.
Purdue has also gotten some help from a Vanderbilt team that hasn't been particularly disciplined. The Commodores have committed eight penalties for 75 yards, a couple of which have extended Purdue drives. Two of those infractions came on the final Vanderbilt drive of the first half, which had some momentum until a double penalty (holding and unsportsmanlike conduct) moved the ball back 25 yards.
This is a game Purdue should win, although I had the same thought late in the game against Nevada. The Boilermakers have better athletes and they've been better on defense. If the offense starts clicking for an extended period of time, Purdue could run away with this game. If it still can't find a way to run the football, Vanderbilt will hang around and have a chance to win at the end, much like the Wolf Pack did. I'm sure that's not a scenario Purdue fans want to see play out again.