WEST LAFAYETTE – During the Jeff Brohm Era, it's no secret that Purdue has hung its hat on offense. The Boilermakers have only asked their defense to be good enough to get the offense the ball back.
Tonight, however, against an Oregon State team with an All-Pac-12 quarterback and a boatload of experience on the offensive line, Purdue's defense has stood tall. Outside of a halfback pass that went for a 34-yard gain and set up a touchdown one play later, the Beavers have gained only 106 yards (4.1 per play) and the Boilermakers are in the game despite a somewhat uneven offensive performance in the opening half.
The Boilermakers pledged to be more aggressive on defense this year and they have kept that promise. The new attitude under defensive coordinator Brad Lambert is most obvious with the safeties, Marvin Grant and Cam Allen, who are each showing no hesitation in coming up near the line of scrimmage to make big hits on Oregon State ball-carriers (either on the run or on short passes to the flat). That could burn Purdue at certain times this season – it arguably already did on the halfback pass from Tyjon Lindsey to a wide-open tight end running free behind the defense – but it also creates opportunities for galvanizing tackles for loss that push the opponent behind the sticks.
Purdue has also done a pretty good job of covering downfield, despite the aggressiveness of the defensive backs. There have not been many deep-ball opportunities for the Beavers (again, the trick play excepted) and there have been several times where quarterback Sam Noyer has had to throw the ball away. Even better, the Boilers have gotten good push up front and are holding the Beavers to 3.4 yards per carry. It's been about as good of a defensive performance as anyone could reasonably have asked for in the first game under a new regime. Of course, it doesn't hurt that defensive end George Karlaftis spent much of the second quarter harassing Noyer on what felt like every other snap, laying multiple massive (legal) hits on the quarterback. That pressure eventually made Noyer make a mistake and, as Karlaftis bore down on him again late in the half, he threw a pass directly to Allen, setting up a Purdue field goal just before the break.
On offense, however, the Boilermakers have been hit or miss. The biggest problem, especially early was an inability to protect quarterback Jack Plummer, who spent much of the first few drives running for his life as Purdue's offensive line proved somewhat porous. Coach Jeff Brohm solved that problem at least somewhat by alternately bringing in an extra tight end to block or moving the pocket to get Plummer out of the way of the oncoming rush. When the quarterback had time to set his feet, he did a good job, hooking up with David Bell on one deep ball for 42 yards and throwing what should have been a touchdown pass to Bell from 19 yards that out fell incomplete because of blatant pass interference that went uncalled (the Oregon State defensive back yanked Bell down by the jersey).
That play turned out to be one of the bigger moments of the first half. Instead of a touchdown or first-and-goal at the 2, Purdue ended up out of field-goal range after one of its coaches (unclear whether it was Brohm or another offensive coach) got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for being on the field, shouting about the no-call.
That cost Purdue a chance to even the score at 7 after the Beavers took an early lead, but the Boilermakers bounced back later in the first quarter with a four-play, 45-yard drive that was helped along by a key roughing-the-passer penalty that was every bit as debilitating for the Beavers as the unsportsmanlike conduct call was for Purdue. Zander Horvath finished off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run from a Wildcat formation that saw he running back take a direct snap and shed a tackle in the backfield.
That 11-yard rush was easily Purdue's best run of the day. As much as the Boilermakers insisted that they wanted to establish the run early, that proved to be pretty much impossible against Oregon State's front. The Purdue running backs ran into brick walls on pretty much every run between the tackles and the Boilers averaged just 3.3 yards on its 14 carries in the first half. The more effective Purdue "running game" was, like last season an array of screens and swing passes to its running backs that got them the ball in space. That will likely have to be a significant part of the offense again this season, unless the offensive line improves markedly.