November 13, 2008

Behind Enemy Lines

When Joe Tiller announced that the 2008 season would be his last as head coach at Purdue, he probably had visions of a team sending him off into the sunset with a Big Ten title and a win in a bowl game. But, this season hasn't worked out that way and Tiller's club arrives in Iowa City with a 3-7 record. We go Behind Enemy Lines with Brian Neubert from Gold and Black Illustrated to get the latest on Purdue.

1. What is the situation like at quarterback this week, who do you think will play, and what does each player bring to the table?

Neubert: "It's a week-to-week thing, from what we're being told, with Curtis Painter still being a possibility as he continues to recover from a separated shoulder. But I'm expecting personally to mostly see Justin Siller in the final two games, though.

"They're two entirely different quarterbacks. Painter's the prototypical drop-back passer. Siller's much more mobile. Siller brings much more of an improvisational element to the offense, an ability to escape the rush and make plays outside the system.

"Big things were expected from Painter this season, since he's been very productive in his career and ended last season well. But he was terribly inconsistent and struggled mightily before he was injured. In his defense, his corps of receivers has been completely overhauled and isn't anywhere near as talented as the group he spent his first three seasons throwing to.

"Siller had a dream game against Michigan, then came crashing down to earth at Michigan State. I don't put too much on Siller for the loss in East Lansing, though, because he wasn't protected well and his receivers dropped a bunch of passes. Michigan State's pass rush was all over him all day."

2. Under Coach Tiller, Purdue has been known as a team that can put up a lot of points. This year they are last in the Big Ten in scoring. What has gone wrong?

Neubert: "Well, for one thing, Purdue's played a lot of good teams. But with that said, the Boilermaker offense has been miserable against respectable opponents this season.

"With erratic play at quarterback and receiver and injuries devastating the offensive line and tight end, the offense has really struggled this season, even though running back Kory Sheets is having a great season.

"Turnovers and red-zone failures have haunted the offense all season - it's been almost uncanny how the same things have seemed to happen over and over and over again - and this group just isn't talented enough to overcome such things. Purdue has no big-play potential whatsoever in its passing game, which doesn't help either. In recent years, Purdue's offense hasn't always been able to piece together extended scoring drives, but it masked that with big plays through the air. That ability is gone now and you're seeing the result."

3. How have the Boilermakers performed on defense and which players should Iowa fans keep an eye on Saturday?

Neubert: "Judging the total body of work this season, the defense has been pretty good, all things considered, though the statistics may not reflect it.

"There have been some serious lapses, like the disastrous third quarter at Notre Dame, but by and large, Purdue's played well defensively, particularly against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. Ohio State didn't score a special teams touchdown, Penn State scored an acceptable 20 points and Michigan State's offense was held to just two touchdowns at home.

"All season, the defense has been put in compromising positions by the offense's failures or by special teams problems, but more often than not, they're been pretty stingy in the red zone.

"I'm not sure you could have asked a whole lot more from this group, which has played all season with linebacker Jason Werner, who was thought to perhaps be its best player."

4. There was some hope coming into the season for Purdue making a strong run this year. Is there a point in time that you can point to where the season started to go south?

Neubert: "Well, it's been downhill since Purdue dropped a heart-breaker in overtime to Oregon in a game it led 20-3 early in the second quarter. But that was just in Week 2, so I don't know if that was some kind of seminal moment or if the rest of the season has just illustrated that Purdue's simply not very good.

"There was hope for Purdue to have a pretty good season, but the things it needed to happen for that to occur, haven't. For one thing, Painter needed to have a lights-out year and his receivers needed to come along quickly. And the Boilermakers had to stay healthy. None of those three things happened."

5. Coach Tiller will be leaving at the end of the season. How is he handling the rough ending and what are the prospects of a quick turnaround with the incoming coach already on staff? Is there a lot of turnover expected on the coaching staff and a new style of play coming in the near future?

Neubert: "I couldn't say how he's handling it, because I only see the public side of him, but it certainly wouldn't seem like he's having much fun. The results of this season might not be altogether surprising when you look at the trends of the past few seasons and the overall talent level at Purdue right now, but there was definitely hope he could go out with at least a winning season. That hope started taking hits way back in the spring, when it seemed like the whole team was hurt at one time or another.

"There's no telling just yet what'll occur with the coaching staff, but you can obviously expect some change. I don't think Danny Hope will change Purdue's style of play, but I know he is committed to tweaking the offense to feature more athleticism at quarterback."

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