Purdue football: The deep defense shines ... and scores again, too
Midway through the third quarter Saturday, safety Cam Allen saw an errant Indiana State pass hit him straight in the chest, then drop to the Ross-Ade Stadium grass. Almost simultaneously, his secondary teammates raised their hands to their heads, knowing the defense had missed an opportunity.
The disappointment didn’t last long. Moments later, Allen jumped another ISU pass, picking it off in stride as he raced the football back 65 yards for a touchdown to extend Purdue’s lead to 49-0 with less than 7 minutes to go in the third quarter.
In a game in which the offense will get a bunch of post-victory headlines — quarterback Aidan O’Connell missed on only 2 attempts in throwing for 4 touchdowns (3 of them to budding star receiver Charlie Jones) in the first half alone — the defense deserves equal time. The Boilermakers held FCS Indiana State to 145 yards and 7 first downs in their 56-0 victory. But more than the yardage, the defense found a way to score for the 2nd straight week, as Allen’s pick-6 followed the 72-yarder of Chris Jefferson last week in the season-opening loss to Penn State.
“I felt for the Indiana State quarterback when he threw the interception to Cam on the slant. I’ve done that before in practice,” O’Connell said after the win. “(Cam) is a smart player. He’s going to read your eyes. … He loves the game and loves to get better.”
Granted, the win came against a lower-division team in the Sycamores, but the Boilermakers defense might have found something to build on as Purdue gets set for its first road test of the season next week at Syracuse. Even though the Boilermakers are without a few key pieces — linebacker/safety/nickel Jalen Graham is out for at least a month, it seems, after suffering an undisclosed injury vs. Penn State — they appear to have enough depth in the defensive front and a secondary that is capable of making plays.
Without Graham, likely Purdue’s best NFL prospect and its best play-maker, the Boilermakers shifted Jefferson to nickel, then inserted versatile, and hard-hitting, Sanoussi Kane as a starter at safety. They are on the field with Allen and big, physical cornerbacks Cory Trice and Jamari Brown, who also had a pick vs. ISU, and veteran Reese Taylor, a transfer from Indiana.
They’re making plays, scoring TDs in each of the first 2 weeks. Jefferson gave Purdue a third-quarter lead vs. the Nittany Lions on Sept. 1, then Allen came up big vs. the Sycamores. For Allen, who was a quarterback at his high school in Bluefield, Va., it was his 8th career interception. He says those QB days at Graham High School are helpful now.
“I can go back to my old high school days and think about where I’d want to go (with the ball),” Allen said. “It’s just being a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball, that’s how I approach it now.”
Purdue cleaned up some of its defensive lapses from Game 1 to Game 2, cutting down on its missed tackles, getting off the field and getting a couple early stops after it looked as though the Sycamores might get into the end zone in the first half. Now, the Boilermakers head to take on the Orange, a step up in competition, next week, but the defense is feeling good.
“We have been able to gain competition by increasing the depth at multiple positions, which is always important,” Coach Jeff Brohm said. “We want to continue to push the top ones to step forward and be leaders and play-makers every game, and we saw that today. … We have to be good in order to win.
“I think it’s one of the reasons we won last year. The defense was able to play really, really good football and complement the offense.”