Craig Has The Scout - Purdue 2023
This is a fascinating week for scouting. Barry Lunney and Ryan Walters know each other's tendencies. Walters probably knows the way Aaron Henry thinks. And Purdue has a slight advantage in that offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is the only coordinator in this game who has existed outside the Illini ecosystem. This will be a fascinating chess match.
And here's Craig to give you his scout:
Who: Purdue Boilermakers
When: 2:30 pm - September 30th, 2023
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, IN
Head Coach: Ryan Walters.
Offensive Style: The Running Air Raid? Graham Harrell is an Air Raid guy. The list of QBs Mike Leach started with at Texas Tech was Kliff Kingsbury, BJ Symons, Sonny Cumbie, Cody Hodges and Graham Harrell. Harrell grew up in the pure, unadulterated Leach Air Raid. Michael Crabtree was catching passes from Harrell in the zenith of Leach at Texas Tech. Leach QBs all migrated their way out, taking on coaching jobs if they did pan out in the NFL (including Seth Doege, one of his last, Purdue TEs coach). Harrell got his start coaching Inside Receivers for Mike Leach (other guys who held that job were Art Briles and Dana Holgorsen). Harrell moved from Washington State, to North Texas with Seth Littrell (who played for Leach at Oklahoma), and then out to USC under Clay Helton. At USC Harrell began adding a lot more run concepts, and last year at West Virginia they ran more often than they passed. Harrell moved on from Neal Brown (who played for Leach at Kentucky) and West Virginia in the offseason to Purdue. His offense is pretty similar to what Wisconsin is trying to run.
Defensive Style: 3-4 Man Cover 1. Kevin Kane is the DC, but this is the defense Walters, Kane, and Buh put together at Illinois. The principles of the front seven are ripped from the Clancy Pendergrast defense. The back end rules are an aggressive press-man with a deep safety. Vic Fangio runs a lot of this, but Dom Capers became one of the biggest proponents with his Blitzburg defenses under Bill Cowher. Neither concept is new, but require great athletes at OLB, good man coverage corners, and a free safety who can cover a lot of ground. Walters mixed in more Cover 2 last year with Illinois, and is running that as well this season.
Specialists: Purdue has some really bad special teams this year on the kicking side. Their punter is next to last in conference, and the FG kicking is doing better than Nebraska. On the return side though, Tyrone Tracey has broken a kickoff return for a TD already this year and is a danger if he gets a chance to return.
2023 Purdue at a Glance:
2023 Record: 1-3, 0-1
SP+ Offensive Rating: 71st
SP+ Defensive Rating: 76th
Turnover Margin: -2
Three Things to Watch
Time of Possession. Illinois is next to last in TOP this season in the B1G. That is a wild departure from the successful Bielema games. Turnovers are a big part of it, but Illinois is struggling to sustain drives.
3rd down conversions. Illinois is converting 38% of their 3rd downs. Purdue is allowing 52% conversion. Something has to give, hopefully in the Illini's favor.
Illini rushing yards. In their two losses, Purdue has allowed 100 rushing yards. When opponents are able to run the ball, the Purdue pressure is neutralized. Illinois has struggled to get the run game going (in particular the Counter play, which was a bread and butter play last season).
Scouting Review - Offense
The hiring of Graham Harrell was the first head scratching move that Ryan Walters made. Harrell was a wunderkid OC, assumed to be the next great Air Raid OC. The problem with the last generation of Air Raid OCs is that the rest of college football caught up and incorporated the concepts into their offenses. The service academies run mesh these days. For Harrell, that means the offense he mastered as a player is ubiquitous and doesn't provide an advantage anymore.
Many of the Air Raid coaches have seen this happen in recent years. Mike Leach was a purist and continued to make it work until his death. Yet, Dana Holgorsen has struggled with it at Houston, Seth Littrell was fired at North Texas, Kliff Kingsbury was fired from Arizona, and Neal Brown who is on the hot seat at West Virginia (with help from Harrell). Those that have succeeded off the Leach tree have made a modification that is now being replicated. Sonny Dykes (who failed with the pure Air Raid at Cal), Sonny Cumbie (LA Tech), and Lincoln Riley have all modified the scheme with a new twist. Riley is the most famous adding the counter running attack to the scheme.
Harrell doesn't seem to be the innovator, and has in turn started to look like a more conventional OC. He is close to 50% on his run/pass ratio when things are going well (Leach was famously always close to 70%), and near 70% when Purdue has been trailing this season. In addition, the offense is forcing the QB to run and scramble often vs. getting out quick strikes in the passing game. The QB is Hudson Card, formerly of Texas. Card is completing 63% of his passes, but similar to Tommy DeVito, many are within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Card has a little Wes Lunt to his game, he'll make a throw that seems otherworldly at times. At others, he seems to be forcing passes into windows. He's not afraid to run the ball though.
Last season, the big story for the Boilers offense was the emergence of Devin Mockobee. Mockobee has remained their most potent run option, but has started to share backfield duties with Tyrone Tracy. Tracy was moved from WR in Brohm's offense to a quick hitting RB in the Harrell scheme. Tracy leads the team in touchdowns. The rushing attack of the Boilers is starting to come together and will be a challenge for the Illini.
The Boilers have boiled down the passing offense to three WRs who are involved in the passing attack, along with the TE as the 4th option. Deion Burks is the deep threat and has all the team's receiving touchdowns. Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen is the possession receiver, and leads the team in receptions. The other wideout is TJ Sheffield, a slot receiver who is an interior threat.
The offensive line for the Boilers is plagued by some of the same issues Illinois has seen this year. The tackles are struggling to hold up in pass protection, and Card has not seen as many clean pockets as Harrell would prefer. Teams that put hard pressure on the edges are getting to Card, and he has been flushed often during the season. The interior of the line is very good though, and that has allowed Card to scramble for yards.
Harrell is going to attempt to get the run game rolling early. Mockobee was the primary back under Brohm a year ago, and will continue to see a majority of the snaps. The move of Tracy into the backfield creates a dynamic presence and counterpunch to the power of Mockobee. As Harrell builds the run game, they'll want to start with wide zone read-option run play.
Mockobee is a patient runner and will find the hole and explode. The Illini have had issues filling gaps on the edges, and the Illini will see a steady dose of this. The Boilers have a few cards up their sleeve to create challenges for the defense. The first is using Tracy as a change of pace.
The exact same play with the exact same result. Tracy had a more treacherous run, but his ability to accelerate and then outran the defense to the end zone. The contrast was Mockobee having a hole open, then plant and go.
To keep the defense honest, the Boilers have a few play-action passes to take advantage of wandering eyes. The receivers will be running option routes, and against any zone will sit in between defenders on a hitch route.
The receivers will press the defenders and then read the coverage. If the Illini are in man, the receiver will run downfield on a post crossing route.
The man coverage had the receiver on the near side break across the formation. The receiver on the top ran a deep post. Card had good protection which allowed him to sit and wait for the receiver to clear the safety help.
The read-option look will have a few other wrinkles mixed in. The Boilers like to motion the receivers to create mismatches side to side (and declare opposing coverages). They'll use it as well to open bounce the back seven and open running lanes. Here is the read-option attached to an orbit motion.
The motion froze the backside LB (#7) and allowed the OL to get easily to the second level. The LB wasn't wrong watching the motion though, they will use it to attack the flats with the receiver.
The Boilers theory is to get the receivers against a LB on the perimeter. The man defense of the Illini means the LBs can be isolated. If the defense starts cheating on the flat routes, they will take deep shots such as this.
This is a really nice play design. The TE who normally is used as a blocker turns upfield on the wheel route. This play is good for once a game, but could be good for six.
There is other eye candy the Boilers will provide as well. Harrell is trying to incorporate the parts of Lincoln Riley's offense that is working, mainly the counter run scheme. The Boilers are doing the counter run play with two varied looks. One is a long mesh on the handoff.
While the other is a more traditional handoff.
The counter run game will be used more against the Illini if the DTs sit in the read and react mode. Newton and Randolph have a chance to neutralize the route.
The Boilers like using mesh in the passing attack as well, but use option routes to read zone vs. man. Card seems to bail on the routes quickly though.
Card has gotten happy feet (Altmyer has done the same) and looks to unload the ball quickly. Here he hits the back on the flare route to the sideline. He does it with multiple route trees.
Illinois LBs will be challenged with the quick flares as they are isolated on the perimeter. The Boilers run a nice little spin counter play on this as well.
This is another eye-candy play. I'm very concerned with the Illini safeties cheating up. When the LBs and safeties cheat, Purdue will look to hit deep In routes to take advantage of the gaps.
Purdue has an issue with turnovers on big plays this year, but nothing to the level of the Illini. The Boiler offense has talent at the skill positions, but has struggled at the tackle positions. The interior of the line should be able to take advantage of Daxon and the Boilers will be pressing the Illini in read-option. I didn't show it, but Card will keep the ball and I expect him to run more on Saturday vs. normal.
Scouting Review - Defense
The Walters defense is being fully utilized by Purdue this season. 5 men along the LOS, a safety 20 yards off the ball, and plenty of man coverage for the Boilers thus far. The biggest issue confronting Purdue is lacking some of the horses to run the scheme.
The best fit thus far is OLB Kydran Jenkins. Jenkins has 8 pressures so far this season, among those two sacks. Jenkins led the Boilers in sacks last year as well, and will become a familiar face to the Illini tackles this weekend. His partner in crime on the other side is Nic Scourton, who is only a sophomore but fitting in well. To help with the defensive front, Walters was busy in the portal this off-season. He added Jeffrey M'Ba from Auburn, Malik Langham from Vanderbilt, Isaiah Nichols from Arkansas. Langham and Nichols are starting with Cole Brevard on the interior three.
Cam Allen returns from an All-B1G performance a year ago, and leads the team in interceptions at corner. He has taken well to the scheme, but is no Witherspoon. His partner is Marquis Wilson, a transfer from Penn State. The Boilers also added a transfer corner from Ole Miss. The corners are solid in coverage, but just as vulnerable as Illinois has been to the sideline fade routes. This is something I would love to see Lunney take advantage of with the big bodied receivers.
The back-end coverages are more varied this year vs. what Walters used at Illinois last season. Cover 1 Man Free is still the primary coverage, but he is mixing in more Cover 3 looks this season. Here is the familiar Man Free Cover 1 with a 3-man rush.
The rush lanes are pretty pure for the Boilers, but they open up scramble lanes for the QB in this look. In order to prevent the scramble, the Boilers can also rush five.
The hard rush requires the QB to hit a tight window against the man coverage. Purdue mixed in the 5-man rush more against Virginia Tech vs. Syracuse. The other rush package the Boilers have used is a 4-man rush with a Cover 1 Robber look.
Altmyer has struggled to read coverages under pressure this year, so Kane should dial this up often to cause problems for Altmyer on his reads. The other confusion Kane will provide is a zone look with a Cover 3 backend.
The Boilers have a 5 across shallow zone and a 3-deep. Altmyer will need to identify this as zone quickly, the defense is set to return an interception on the shallow zone routes. If Altmyer starts to run against the rush, the Boilers have started adding a spy element.
Altmyer has had happy feet the last couple of weeks, so he may run directly into pressure with the 4-man rush and a spy. Purdue is showing more variability in the defensive scheme vs. what they ran at Illinois last season.
Walters and Kane are still blitzing, here is a corner blitz against the run.
The Boilers are blitzing less than a year ago, and are relying on the defensive front to generate pressure. So far, Jenkins is creating the pressure needed to prevent the need for aggressive blitzing. Jenkins and Scourton are the best pass rush options, and both play OLB. I would expect more 5-man rushes this week than normal.
What does it mean?
Purdue hit the portal hard in the off-season to try and create a team competitive in the B1G West. Brohm left a pretty bare cupboard behind. Walters did a nice job building a roster, but they have been shredded a few times this year. Syracuse created havoc with a QB who gained chunk yards on scrambles. The corners were also vulnerable to deep In routes. If Illinois comes out and runs their same offensive pace and style as in previous weeks, Purdue will shut down the Illini.
The staffs have a high level of familiarity though, and as such both will be adding elements to try and confuse the other. Purdue has a great first line of talent, but they lack depth, especially at the skill positions. Illinois has more depth, and as such I suspect Illinois will eventually wear down the Boilers.
For Illinois to Win:
Stop turning the ball over. That is the main thing. Additionally, Lunney needs to attack and dictate the game against Purdue. This game sets up perfectly for RPOs against the Boiler corners, the big body Illini WR should be able to get separation. Additionally, Illinois needs to mix in play-action to freeze the Boiler defenders and give Altmyer clear throwing windows.
Defensively, Illinois needs to play assignment sound. Purdue is going to test Illinois side to side for most of the game, then take deep strikes on In-routes and plays like the Wheel route. The Illini defenders have played well in trail coverage, but they cannot allow huge separation down the field.
For Purdue to Win:
Purdue needs to establish the run game against the Illini front. When Illinois is forced to honor a side to side running attack, the two best defenders turn full read and react. This allows Purdue to dictate the style of play. If Purdue manages game pace and tempo, the Illini will be playing from behind again.
Defensively, the Boilers need to neutralize Altmyer as a running threat. The Illini backs have struggled to get the run game fully unleashed vs. a year ago, but Altmyer has broken multiple big runs in Illinois' wins. If Purdue can get Altmyer running into pressure, he will generate sacks for them. Additionally, the confusing back-end coverage shifting will present multiple interception opportunities for Purdue.
This is an interesting game. The two staffs are incredibly familiar with each other (half of the Purdue staff was in Champaign last year). Both sides will try to throws wrinkles to confuse the other side and take advantage of inherent weaknesses in scheme. All that said, the game eventually will boil down to execution.
Illinois is in year three of a rebuild. Purdue is in year one. The ability of Illinois to struggle, then turn to the bench and have athletes recruited to the scheme is a depth advantage Purdue lacks. I think Purdue will jump to the lead early, but Illinois will slowly get back into the game and cover this.
Craig YTD Against the Spread: