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2011 Season Preview: Sold Souls And The Purdue Boilermakers

Injuries wreaked havoc with what was already a rather young Purdue squad. Two questions: 1) How far can a healthy Boilers squad bounce back, and 2) Did this vengeful sports god think Robbie Hummel was a football player or something?

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

At Missouri, we used to joke that Dan Devine had sold Mizzou's soul for the 1960 national title.  This niftily explained all of 1980s and 1990s misfortune -- the Fifth Down, the Flea Kicker, signing the No. 1 running back in the country in 1986 and watching him destroy his knee in a high school all-star game, et cetera.  (This would also prove that the sports god is incredibly sadistic; Mizzou finished "undefeated" in 1960 but failed to win the title because they "lost" to a Kansas team that used an ineligible player and later had to forfeit the win. But that's another story for another time.)

As far as you know, I don't really believe in sports gods, sold souls and the like, but ... clearly Joe Tiller sold Purdue's soul for that 2000 Rose Bowl bid.  How else do you explain Purdue's amazingly bad recent injury luck?

Things got comical in 2010 -- Purdue's starting quarterback played barely over three games before being lost for the season.  The backup got hurt as well.  Their most frequently-targeted receiver lasted less than two.  Their starting running back?  Zero.  All of them were lost to knee injuries, and almost directly as a result, Purdue's offense was absolutely, positively dreadful over the final two months of the 2010 season.  It's hard to actually figure out what the Boilers are capable of in 2011 because what they produced in 2010 was so different than what they might have produced in an alternate universe where they don't go through skill position players like Pez or Spinal Tap drummers.  I'm just amazed that Robbie Hummel doesn't play football.

Through the last few years, Purdue has basically achieved directly where its recruiting averages would predict despite the added degree of injury difficulty.  Clearly their ceiling could be higher with some degree of health, but how much higher?  And is assuming health a giant waste of time since it's just never going to happen?

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk**: 87
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep at Notre Dame 12-23 L 21.6 - 30.5 L
11-Sep Western Illinois
31-21 W 20.2 - 41.1 L
18-Sep Ball State 24-13 W 27.1 - 29.6 L
25-Sep Toledo 20-31 L 24.4 - 34.4 L
9-Oct at Northwestern 20-17 W 17.4 - 24.8 L
16-Oct Minnesota 28-17 W 21.4 - 19.9 W
23-Oct at Ohio State 0-49 L 6.3 - 33.3 L
30-Oct at Illinois 10-44 L 13.5 - 33.8 L
6-Nov Wisconsin 13-34 L 12.2 - 18.4 L
13-Nov Michigan 16-27 L 6.2 - 11.6 L
20-Nov at Michigan State 31-35 L 23.2 - 32.3 L
27-Nov Indiana 31-34 L 17.3 - 30.5 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 19.7 105 28.8 74
Adj. Points Per Game 17.6 117 28.4 65

It began simply enough.  Miami transfer Robert Marve began the year as Purdue's first-string quarterback ahead of Caleb TerBush.  TerBush was ruled academically ineligible, and Marve led the Boilers to a 2-1 record with okay-looking wins over Western Illinois and Ball State.  Early in the fourth game against Toledo, Marve went down with a season-ending knee injury, and redshirt freshman Rob Henry, the third-stringer in August, took a majority of the snaps the rest of the way. After a loss to Toledo, Henry engineered a fourth-quarter comeback against Northwestern and led the Boilers to an 11-point win over Minnesota (the only time all season they played well enough to score an Adj. Win).  The Boilers stood at a semi-surprising 4-2, and Henry looked like the quarterback of the future.

Then the bottom completely dropped out.  Henry lost a fingernail against Ohio State (an injury that is so painful, and so hilarious in a Crazy Old Testament God kind of way ... at least give him a high ankle sprain or something) and briefly gave way to freshman Sean Robinson, who was simply not ready.  Robinson completed 13 of 30 passes for all of 82 yards in bludgeonings at the hands of Ohio State and Illinois before improving ever so slightly against Wisconsin and Michigan.  Henry came back in the final two games of the season and did just well enough to break hearts with a couple of untimely interceptions.

Or to put it another way...

Adj. PPG
First Three Games (Marve): 23.0
Next Three Games (Henry): 21.1
Next Four Games (Robinson): 9.6!
Final Two Games (Henry again): 20.3

To be sure, Purdue's Adj. PPG averages were rather dreadful even without Robinson throwing passes for four games ... but those were four incredibly awful games.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 110 111 105
RUSHING 102 106 94 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 109 107 108 94
Standard Downs 110 114 109 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 113 115 109 50
Redzone 109 114 103
Q1 Rk 75 1st Down Rk 118
Q2 Rk 115 2nd Down Rk 84
Q3 Rk 102 3rd Down Rk 114
Q4 Rk 117

In 2009, Purdue passed 51.1% of the time on standard downs and 29.4% of the time on passing downs.  With Marve behind center for three games in 2010, it was 55.6% on standard downs and 38.5% on passing downs.  So Purdue's full-season splits above might not in any way reflect what Danny Hope and offensive coordinator Gary Nord intended to do at the beginning of the season.  They worked with what they had to work with; they tried to protect Henry on standard downs (it didn't really work, of course, as the running game wasn't very good), then had him roll out and attempt to create something on passing downs.  At the end of the season, he had compiled 996 passing yards (53% completion, 6.1 per pass, 8 TD, 7 INT) and 547 rushing yards (+2.3 Adj. POE).  (Robinson finished with 301 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions, for what that's worth to you.)

So now it's 2011.  Marve is working his way back toward 100% health, Henry and Robinson are back, and TerBush is apparently eligible as well.  This should be enough quarterbacks to at least get Purdue through non-conference play before they have to skim the walk-ons pool.  The gameplan could be different depending on who wins the job -- with Marve, there would be more short passing involved; with TerBush, more of a tradition pocket attack.  Early money is on Henry, but ... we'll see who is actually in uniform when Middle Tennessee comes to town to start the season, huh?

Other tidbits:

  • Four starting linemen return, which is ... fine, I guess.  They did not do their runners any favors, and part of their solid Adj. Sack Rate might be accounted for when considering how much Henry rolled out.  Regardless, experience is a good thing, and if their experience combines with a healthy Ralph Bolden, the running game should improve by default.  Bolden was lost for the season last spring but rushed for 935 yards (+1.4 Adj. POE) in 2009, and the staff was working him back into the mix slowly this spring.  With the departures of Dan Dierking (530 yards, -3.3 Adj. POE), Keith Carlos (314, +1.9) and former star recruit Al-Terek McBurse (189, +3.7), the Boilers lost all three of last year's primary rushers; they were replaceable, but one still has to worry about depth here.
  • When possession receiver Keith Smith was lost fewer than two games into the season, Cortez Smith became more or less the go-to option.  He ended up with 434 receiving yards (13.2 per catch, 60% catch, both healthy numbers), but both he, Keith Smith and tight end Kyle Adams are gone.  Into their place steps Antavian Edison and ... I'm not sure who else.  Edison was interesting -- clearly the staff liked his potential; they went out of the way to get him the ball.  He ended up with 32 receptions and, actually, 36 carries on the season.  The problem was ... he didn't really do much with his opportunities.  He averaged 9.9 yards per catch, which isn't bad until you realize his catch rate was a terrible 49%; meanwhile, he averaged all of 3.6 yards per carry (-5.2 Adj. POE).  In nearly ten attempted touches per game, Edison should have generated far more than 476 combined yards.  Beyond Edison, O.J. Ross (149 yards, 13.5 per catch) and Justin Siller (104 yards, 8.7 per catch in just five games) showed a bit of potential but got few opportunities.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 43 53 39
RUSHING 43 55 44 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 40 63 29 24
Standard Downs 52 55 54 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 44 86 24 10
Redzone 89 78 91
Q1 Rk 76 1st Down Rk 45
Q2 Rk 31 2nd Down Rk 55
Q3 Rk 45 3rd Down Rk 60
Q4 Rk 70

Quick, name a Purdue defensive player from 2010.

Now name a Purdue defensive player from 2010 not named Ryan Kerrigan.

That's what I thought.  In 2011, we will learn just how much of a difference a single, nearly transcendent defensive end can make for a defense.  Purdue's line stats were outstanding, and I don't think it was just because of Kerrigan and his hilarious stats (60.0 tackles, 26.0 TFL/sacks, 5 FF, 2 FR).  Tackle Kawann Short was also very good (though he could have benefited from teams doubling Kerrigan), and players like Bruce Gaston (4.5 TFL/sacks) and Gerald Gooden (4.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF) had their moments.  They bought time for a young back seven, and that development might pay off this year.  The line obviously won't be as good without Kerrigan, but the rest of the defense returns almost entirely intact.

Beyond Kerrigan, perhaps the most impressive part of Purdue's defense in 2010 was the play of the safeties and the corners in preventing big plays.  They had quite a bit of "bend-don't-break" going on and allowed significant cushions to opposing receivers -- perhaps because they were breaking in an entirely new starting secondary after losing four starters from the 2009 squad -- but they made the tackles they needed to make a reasonable amount of the time.  Cornerback Ricardo Allen was well-rounded (3.5 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 4 PBU) for a freshman, though obviously 64.5 tackles are more than you'd like to see from a corner (I'm not the only one who likes Allen); Allen, Josh Johnson and Charlton Williams give the Boilers secondary depth, as do safeties Logan Link and Albert Evans, who weren't extreme playmakers but did make plenty of "last line of defense" tackles.

As a whole, opposing offenses picked up on the cushions Purdue was allowing and did a lot of quick passing on standard downs, not only because it was available, but also because it probably kept Kerrigan off their backs a bit.  It will be interesting to see how opponents' approaches might change without Kerrigan causing night sweats.

Other tidbits:

  • It will also be interesting to see if Purdue blitzes more without Kerrigan's backfield omnipresence.  If so, that could benefit Joe Holland's stat line -- he led returning Boiler linebackers with 7.5 TFL/sacks.  Dwayne Beckford was your prototypical tackles machine (70.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks), but Will Lucas could emerge as well after a decent freshman campaign (36.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR).
  • While it's possible that Short benefited from lining up alongside Kerrigan, it's also possible that Kerrigan benefited from the strength of Short.  Kerrigan was great in 2009 -- 18.5 TFL/sacks, 7 FF -- but the fact that his TFL total went up in 2010 despite what one had to consider were a ton of double-teams tells you that Short was probably a bit of a distraction himself.  Well, that, and Kerrigan was a really, really good defensive end.  Either way, I expect big things from Short this season.

Purdue's 2010 Season Set to Music

"It's A Mean Old World," Otis Rush.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit


Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's
Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 65
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 64
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -6 / -3.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (7, 9)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +3.0

At Football Outsiders, we don't yet have a way to capture the number of games lost to injuries, but until proven otherwise, I'm just going to assume Purdue was the national leader in the category.  A program that had reliably fluctuated on either side of the F/+ Mendoza line (+0.0) suddenly collapsed under the weight of their M*A*S*H unit.  In and of itself, that suggests Purdue could rebound quite a bit since no one gets obliterated by injuries (of both the silly and less than silly variety) every year, right?


Leaving injuries aside, the Boilers return a healthy number of starters, and their YPP margin and Adj. TO Margin both suggest that they were unlucky in this regard (okay, in every regard) last year. If the COTG is done messing with Boiler fans, Purdue could be well positioned (in other words, they're semi-experienced and in possession of a rather easy schedule) to at least return to bowl eligibility in 2011.  The quarterback race and its implications will be interesting to watch, but if a better line and a healthy Ralph Bolden can actually establish a decent running game, that will make life easier for whoever wins the job.  I expect a more aggressive secondary to somewhat counteract a line that loses mighty Ryan Kerrigan, and Purdue's success should, in the end, be decided by both the health and effectiveness of the offense and the coaches' ability to actually get to know their personnel and gameplan accordingly.




* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.