Purdue football: 5 keys for beating Syracuse
Purdue hits the road for the first time this season, traveling to Syracuse while looking to jump above .500.
But the Orange will be a challenge, perhaps a bigger one than anticipated after Syracuse has started the season 2-0.
Let’s take a look at 5 keys for the Boilermakers against the Orange:
Stop the run
Couldn’t be more obvious, right?
But for Purdue, the objective takes on a new challenge in coming weeks, as the Boilermakers are without versatile linebacker/safety Jalen Graham, who is out up to a month with a leg injury suffered in Week 1 vs. Penn State. The Boilermakers got by against Indiana State, but that was an FCS program that was overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage.
Syracuse provides a much bigger test. The Orange have rushed a robust 91 times through 2 games, picking up 421 yards and scoring 5 touchdowns. Two players have more than 100 yards, including running back Sean Tucker’s 212 and quarterback Garrett
Graham is Purdue’s best defensive play-maker, so replacing the 6-3, 220-pounder — who has played linebacker, safety and nickel, depending on the situation — will not be easy. Against Indiana State, Purdue inserted Sanoussi Kane in as a starting safety, moving Chris Jefferson down to nickel. But at Syracuse, it’s likely that the Boilermakers will want to play bigger, meaning putting a reserve linebacker on the field, rather than a safety.
But who? Junior Jacob Wahlberg, a 6-4, 235-pounder, might be an option, because he’d give the Boilermakers another between-the-tackles hitter. Or Purdue could use 6-3, 235-pound junior Clyde Washington, who might be a little better in space.
Either way, Purdue is likely to try to replace Graham by committee, going with a 3rd linebacker or a 5th DB depending on the down and distance.
Find a No. 2
Charlie Jones has been a revelation.
The grad transfer has 21 receptions in only 6 quarters for the Boilermakers, with 4 touchdowns. But a consistent second option for Aidan O’Connell hasn’t yet emerged; 6 more players have combined for 23 receptions, with none having more than Tyrone Tracy’s 6.
Purdue needs a player to separate himself as a clear 2nd option. Broc Thompson would be an answer, if only the veteran could stay healthy, but his offseason surgeries — to knees and shins — are proving too much to keep him on the field, at least at anywhere near 100-percent. Maybe Tracy can continue to break through after having 6 touches in Purdue’s 1st 3 possessions Saturday vs. ISU, after he had only 2 touches total the week before in the season-opening loss to Penn State. Junior Mershawn Rice, whose career has been besieged by injuries, looked great in Week 1, with 3 catches, before being blanked in Week 2. And TJ Sheffield and, to a lesser extent, Deion Burks have had moments but not enough of them.
Who will it be?
Purdue won 4 games away from Ross-Ade Stadium last season, earning victories at UConn, Iowa, vs. Northwestern in Wrigley Field and against Tennessee in Nashville for the Music City Bowl. The 4 road-trip Ws are the most for the Boilermakers since the 1940s.
Maybe the Boilermakers can keep it up. With a slew of veterans who were integral to Purdue’s road success last season, it seems reasonable to expect them to be competitive, at the least. The experience at the JMA Wireless Dome might be a different one, so trying to adjust as quickly as possible is a must.
Stay on the field
Purdue scored 21 points in 12 offensive snaps against Indiana State.
It’s unlikely to be able to move the ball with the same kind of big-play efficiency against the Orange, who have allowed only 1 trip into the red zone in 2 games, against Louisville and UConn. And Syracuse opponents have converted only 9 3rd-down chances in 23 attempts (39.1-percent) and are 0-3 on 4th downs. Syracuse feels particularly good about its pass defense, which has allowed only 302 yards total in 2 games and has 2 interceptions while giving up only 1 TD.
That’ll mean strength vs. strength Saturday, as O’Connell and company will try to put as much pressure as possible on the Orange defense.
Score on D again
Purdue has scored on defense in back-to-back games for the first time since 2013, when cornerback Ricardo Allen had pick-6s in consecutive games.
Jefferson had a 72-yard return for a score vs. Penn State, then Cam Allen had a 65-yarder for a score against Indiana State. Each also had an opportunity for a pick — and possible score — earlier in the game vs. the Sycamores but dropped the errant passes.
If Purdue gets another extra score on defense, or if Jones gets unleashed on special teams, it’d go a long way toward a victory.