What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Travis of Hammer & Rails, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Purdue.
1) Congratulations on the big win over Southern Illinois last week. You've already doubled your win total from a year ago! Break out the party hats and noisemakers in West Lafayette! Seriously, though: Purdue football was an abomination last year. This year y'all do look better (other than that faceplant against Central Michigan, at least). How much better is Purdue than a year ago? What's the secret sauce in their improvement?
TRAVIS: I think Purdue is significantly better, but that is more a result of last year being so awful. When you go four games with a single red zone appearance (and that was thanks to you guys fumbling in the red zone) that is pretty much a historic level of awful. Coach Hazell said that there were times last year where Purdue couldn't even correctly call a play, much less run one. It was just bad.
This year we have at least looked competent at times. The Central Michigan game was ugly because Purdue made a ton of mistakes in the form of penalties, turnovers, and drops that killed their chances every time the Chips opened the door. I was decently worried about the SIU game because the Salukis were 3-0 and ranked 16th in the FCS, but Purdue surprisingly jumped on them early and never let them get close. Sure, their tight end MyCole Puritt had a huge day, but he is one of the best TEs in the nation. He was really the lone sore spot.
Given that we beat our FCS opponent 20-14 last season and they went on to finish 1-11 as well, that's progress.
2) Let's not mince words: last year Purdue's offense was absolutely wretched. Purdue was dead last in the league in total offense (a full 60 ypg behind the 11th place team), dead last in rushing offense (a meager 67 ypg), and dead last in scoring offense (14.9 ppg, almost 10 ppg behind the next-worst scoring offense). Purdue's not all of a sudden sporting a high-powered offense, but it's definitely trending toward genuine competence, which is a significant improvement. What's been the biggest change from last year to this year?
TRAVIS: We have a real, live offensive line that can give the quarterback time and open a few holes in the running game. Danny Etling was sacked more than any other quarterback in the Big Ten last season and Purdue rushed for a total of 805 yards. The line was a large reason for that, because it was awful. So far we're starting four sophomores and a junior up front and it hasn't been terrible. If anything, Etling looked a little shaky at first because he was expecting to get hit, but rushed when he had more time to throw. Since he is no longer running for his life as soon as the ball is snapped things are getting better.
3) What players on Purdue should Iowa fans be aware of on Saturday? Who's likely to make plays, score points, and pose threats to Iowa? Likewise, who on the Purdue defense is likely to stymie Iowa's playmakers?
TRAVIS: Offensively I am excited to see what redshirt freshman Keyante Green does. Purdue has struggled running between the tackles in all four games, but he got his first career action last week and ran for 71 yards in the fourth quarter as Purdue killed the clock. He is a tougher runner than Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, who are speed guys that need space to make plays. Hunt has played wide more often than not.
On defense freshman linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley has been exciting, mostly because he is an actual Big Ten linebacker that we have recruited and he is ready to play. It's been about 10 years since we have had anyone as good as him and so far he has shown he has a bright future. Up front Ryan Watson already has four sacks, while Frankie Williams has been solid in the secondary.
4) Purdue's defense is solidly middle of the pack in the league rankings so far -- is that more a function of the opponents they've played or does it reflect more honest improvement for the Boilermakers on that side of the ball? It looks like Purdue's pass defense is a bit more stout than the run defense -- is that a fair assessment? Where is the Purdue defense most vulnerable?
TRAVIS: I am surprised it ranks that well, but I think much of that comes from the SIU game where we were really strong against the run. Western Michigan and Central Michigan ran all day on us, so it is definitely a concern, but stopping the run has always been a concern for Purdue. Notre Dame's offense just doesn't run that much, but last week Purdue held a very good running back in Malcolm Agnew in check. It was refreshing to see.
I think we still have a long way to go because we're so thin at linebacker. As much as I like Sean Robinson and how hard he plays, he is still a converted quarterback playing middle linebacker in the Big Ten. When a true freshman (Bentley) comes in, immediately starts, and looks better than anyone else that has played linebacker for the past decade you know you have a problem.
5) What's a realistic goal for Purdue this season? Is a bowl game potentially in play? With two wins in the bag, you just need four wins in league play and I'm not sure that's completely preposterous, given the state of the Big Ten (and the West Division, in particular) this year. Are Purdue fans daring to dream of a bowl bid or is 4-5 wins the ceiling of expectations in West Lafayette? Are you hoping the Big Ten adds more teams with directions in their names, given your glorious success over Western Michigan and Southern Illinois?
TRAVIS: You said it well. As bad as the Big Ten looks there could be four wins there. Northwestern is terrible. Illinois is still terrible despite their record. Minnesota can't pass. Indiana is a random number generator that could beat Ohio State or lose to North Texas. I look at the Iowa game as one of those swing games that could really turn things around. The Hawks have a good record and have been in the league's upper half for awhile, but from what I have seen it is a winnable game on Saturday.
I would say that 4-5 wins is still likely the ceiling, but if Purdue gets a 2-0 start by beating Iowa and Illinois (difficult, but not impossible) who knows what can happen at the end of the schedule. At this point I would probably be satisfied with beating Northwestern at home and either Illinois or Indiana on the road.
6) Do you agree that the Delanybot 9000 forcing Iowa to visit West Lafayette in back-to-back seasons is the most indefensibly cruel bit of scheduling voodoo it's ever devised?
TRAVIS: Hey, we have to go to Bloomington for the second year in a row, so cry me a river. No one wants to go to Bloomington.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
TRAVIS: I think we see a close game because Purdue is better and Iowa seems to really like close games so far. I will go with 27-24 Iowa.
Thanks for being a good sport, Travis, although I still hope your team loses by 50 on Saturday. You can check out the H&R crew at Hammer & Rails. You can also follow them on Twitter at @HammerAndRails. The Iowa-Purdue game is in West Lafayette, IN on Saturday, September 27, and is scheduled to start at 11:00 am CT, with television coverage from BTN.