Craig Has The Scout - Purdue 2021
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Who: Purdue Boilermakers
When: 2:30 pm - September 25th, 2021
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm. Brohm has been able to put solid offenses together during his time in West Lafayette. Once Hazell's recruits left though, he has had issues stopping other teams from scoring. The Brohm offense is going to be pointsy but the defense is the key to the team this year. If he didn't fix the defensive issues this might be the end of Brohm.
Offensive Style: Balanced, up-tempo "pro" spread. Brohm's offense has a traditional set of run concepts, and he likes to mix a short passing game with the run game. Brohm then takes chances down the field and has fun with trick plays. The last two years Brohm had Rondale Moore on the perimeter, but the offense struggled to generate as many big plays like the previous years.
Defensive Style: 3-4 with Cover 3. Purdue had a terrible go with their defense last year, and that forced out Bob Diaco. Purdue theoretically has 3 co-DCs this year. Purdue brought in Mark Hagen from Texas, Brad Lambert from Marshall, and Ron English from Florida. Lambert will be calling the defense though. Lambert will mix between the 3-4 and a 2-4-5 Nickel. The back-end coverage features a lot of Cover 3, and it looks like they enjoy running Robber.
Specialists: Purdue's punting is dead last in the B1G, and the difference between Illinois and Purdue is 7 yards per punt.
Three Things to Watch
David Bell Snaps. Bell is in the concussion protocol. Bell is the last fully explosive component of the Purdue offense and will be a game-time decision for the Boilers. The next receiver up is also injured for Purdue, so the challenge to the Illini secondary diminishes as Bell sits.
George Karlaftis TFL. Illinois is allowing three sacks per game. Karlaftis has been off to a slow start but picked up the pace against Notre Dame. The Illini OL has struggled in pass protection and Peters was part of the issue as Illinois gave up six sacks to Maryland.
Time of Possession. Purdue is actually 3rd in the B1G in TOP. They are averaging 4 MPG more than the Illini. If Illinois is dominating the TOP, they are in this game. If it is close, Purdue will be ahead and running clock.
Scouting Review - Offense
Over the summer, the question every Boiler fan wanted to be answered was who was the starting quarterback. The nominees were former walk-on senior Aidan O'Connell and junior Jack Plummer. Both split time a year ago. Plummer won the job coming out of fall camp. It was all well and good until the Notre Dame game. Plummer struggled with pressure in his face and started throwing the ball off his back foot. And so, O'Connell replaced Plummer to end the game.
Purdue's musical chairs at QB has also coincided with the change in fortunes for the Boiler program. His first year Elijah Sindelar led them to a bowl taking a vast majority of the snaps. The following year it was David Blough doing the same. Plummer and O'Connell have been playing musical snaps ever since. I fully expect Plummer to start on Saturday but I bet O'Connell isn't far from Brohm at any given point.
The offensive staff has been consistent under Brohm. The staff on offense clicks and works well together. The most impressive part of the offense is the self-scouting. They run a pretty straightforward scheme, but don't have any major tells on the play-calling. The other impressive thing for the Boilers is the increase in offensive talent in West Lafayette under Brohm.
The Purdue offense has shined the most when the run game is working. This season they are leaning on King Doerue for a majority of the carries. Against Notre Dame, the offense struggled to move the ball rushing. The result was 22 rushes against 59 passes. When they ran, 59% of the carries were for 2 yards or less. The aggressiveness Illinois has exhibited so far makes me believe Purdue will pass more frequently on 1st down than in their recent history.
Purdue will still try to establish a consistent run game though. Against a very aggressive defense, the easiest way to simplify the run game is the inside zone. Every team running the modern spread bases the offense on the read-option zone attack. Purdue uses two different blocking schemes with it.
This appears to be the duo blocking scheme. They ran this more against UConn than Oregon State and Notre Dame combined. They also run a split zone version.
The H back is Wham blocking across the formation. They also have z-motion attached for additional eye candy. A majority of the time the Wham block is shown though, the play is a pass.
The H back leak here is aided by the near-side receiver routes.
They have a series of outside zone runs to match the inside zone runs. They will also move between the shotgun sets seen above and the Pistol. The goal is to provide eye candy to the defense. The eye candy allows them to attach play-action passing and RPO concepts to the run. Here is the play-action pass.
This play is why I hope that Bell isn't 100% Saturday. It is easy to lose him in pass coverage. They will also add an RPO element to this, although RPOs for Purdue typically means pass.
Again in this case, Wham block and a pass play. Another tie-in is the QB Naked Boot.
This is another play-action pass. This is the Ron Turner naked boot play. The play-side inline TE fakes the zone block and gets the pass from Plummer.
Brohm was a Bobby Petrino QB, so he has an affinity for power run schemes. Here is the Power run blocking.
With the H-back in the backfield, this has the look and feel of the traditional I-formation Power blocking scheme. They will run the same play again using other backfield looks, here is the Pistol formation.
Illinois was burned earlier this season when they were keying on the offensive guards pulling. The pulling guards are used extensively in the passing attack as well. The power running schemes also include buck sweeps.
Brohm needs to get the run game going. Virginia was able to establish a run game which led to 423 yards passing. Brohm has watched the tape and will try to replicate their game plan.
If a team is going to run as much z-motion as Purdue does, they will run jet sweeps.
The two most explosive offensive players are both wide receivers for Purdue, so it makes sense to use this and open up the edges with the run game. The jet motion will pull the view of the linebackers, and as the linebackers are watching the action they will sneak a TE behind them.
Both the MLB and safety are following the z-motion here as the TE moves into the gap between them. The other way the Boilers open up the middle of the run game is a bubble screen on the perimeter.
Joe Tiller made this play famous, so it is fitting that Brohm makes use of it. The play is just an extension of the run game. This version is not the classic Tiller version though. Here is that play.
The outside WR is supposed to pick the LB when this play is run correctly. If he does, this is a first-down play.
When you speak of read-option for most teams, it is a QB-RB mesh play. When you speak of read-option with Purdue, it involves the bevy of short routes the Boiler receivers run. The Boiler WRs will run to a depth and see how the defenders move. Based on where space exists, they will modify their route. It requires the QB to read more of the defense but increases the completion percentage.
I saw a similar set of plays with the receiver who is targeted here running an In. I'm not sure what the reads are, but Plummer is making this read and setting up for the throw at the snap. Here is the option route.
The two inside receivers are running option routes to sit down in zones, while the two outside receivers are running deep routes. The swing is the safety valve.
In addition to the option routes, they will run hitch routes and slants.
The Boilers motioned the slot receiver on this play to isolate Bell on the play-side. The receivers on the far-side ran hitches and were finding gaps in the zone. The slant is the primary read, and Plummer is locked in on that side. Notre Dame is in zone, and Bell comes free quickly.
When running the quick game, the Boilers are more than happy to go empty. The empty look passing attack reminds me of Bill Cubit's Western Michigan team that beat Illinois. The receivers are reading the defenders and sitting in zones.
In the first play, Notre Dame is blitzing and Plummer hits the shorter routes. In the second play, the TEs are running the short routes, and Plummer hits the intermediate route for the 1st down.
The plays are the same, but the formations again will vary. The Boilers typically vary the formations utilizing the same personnel. Here is the Hitches scheme again, with trips to the near side.
The Air Raid coaches made this a staple of most recent passing attacks. Another Air Raid staple, and Petrino staple, is the mesh passing concept.
Purdue uses the mesh with picks to open up their top receivers. Illinois ran this with AJ Jenkins extensively with Paul Petrino.
The Boilers will use the deep pick plays to open up the playmakers again. When the defenders stay tight with the playmaker, the pick player gets freed up.
Nebraska ran pick plays extensively as well. Here, the TE is supposed to pick the defenders guarding Bell. The defenders overcompensate to cover Bell and leave the TE wide open.
The offense is explosive, but once the offense can't run the ball they become dependent on the short passing game. That allows the defense to begin playing fast and tight to the LOS. Purdue needs to open up the top of the Illini defense, they are not built for long sustained drives. They have quick scoring opportunities. Purdue may be tempted to get into a scoring bonanza with Illinois. The prudent thing to do though would be to control the clock with the run game and limit the chances Illinois has to post extended scoring drives.
Scouting Review - Defense
For as much consistency as Purdue's offensive staff has had, the defensive staff is where careers go to die. Brad Lambert comes in as the 3rd play-calling DC in the last four years. The defensive scheme has shifted from Holt's 3-4, to Diaco's 3-3-5, and now a 4-2-5 primary defense. The change, in theory, frees up Karlaftis to bring pressure off the edge.
The LB corps is solid with a pair of returning starters living up to their billing. Jaylan Alexander and Jalen Graham are 1st and 4th on the team respectively in tackles. The secondary is young but talented.
Lambert is not unfamiliar to Petersen. They run in the same circles, both doing a rehab stint with Doc Holliday at Marshall. Lambert will have taken note that Illinois struggled against the young, athletic secondary from Maryland. Purdue has similar athletes in the secondary and will try and replicate the pressure against the Illini receivers.
Lambert prefers to run the 4-2-5, but they will also move to a base 3-4 at times. Here is the primary defensive look.
The top end of the play, the secondary is running Cover 4. The bottom side is running man coverage. The Boilers run split coverages often, which will slow down Peters read time. The other look here is the 3-4 front.
No split coverage here, but a pure Cover 4 look. The Boilers will mix in Cover 2 on the back end with man coverage underneath.
This is a solidly executed defensive plan where the Boilers top LB was shook by the Notre Dame back in the hole. Depending on the health of the Illini running back corps, they won't have anyone able to make this play.
The 4-man front the Boilers are running has a DE that is similar to the Illini LEOs. They will exchange the DE at times in coverage with a LB to create issues with QB reads.
15 is the DE in the 4-man front. The ILB coverage is covered by the DE, and the ILB is free on the pass rush. The defense has various LB blitzes as usual. The Boilers like to maximize pressure on the blitzes though, blitzing two and three LBs at the same time. Here is the overload blitz.
The Boilers also showed a full blitz of the front seven too.
Lambert appears to be working primarily on executing the basics. Karlaftis is their best defensive player and he is routinely drawing double teams. This is allowing the LBs to roam freely. The Karlaftis might make more plays in this game against the Illini OTs.
Lambert and the Boiler defense will try to replicate the havoc they brought against Notre Dame. The Illini offense struggled to execute against the pressure Maryland brought. The defensive line talent of Purdue is better than Maryland, which puts the onus on the Illini OL to hold up against the pressure.
What does it mean?
The Brohm offense is consistent in moving the ball. The offense in Purdue has never been the problem. Brohm has never been able to put together a full team. A half-team works in the B1G West if you have a defense. It doesn't work as well if the defense doesn't work.
Illinois has a major issue with stopping opposing passing games. Purdue will use quick hitters to move the ball against Illinois, as long as the QBs are accurate the offense will move the ball.
Lambert is trying to fix a very broken defense though. He is working on execution as the first step. The scheme is a little unique, and they do a nice job of mixing coverages. If Purdue can get both phases of the team clicking it could be dangerous.
Illinois is wildly inconsistent, if the team that played the first 56 minutes of the Maryland game shows up they can limit the Purdue offense. Illinois is going to struggle to move the ball against the Purdue defense though. The Illini defense will need to keep them in the game.
For Illinois to Win:
Brandon Peters needs to speed up the process on offense. The OL will be challenged by the Purdue DL, and Peters clock needs to account for the rush and get the ball out. An Illini offense that falls behind the chains is one that will fail to capitalize on the young secondary of the Boilers. When the Illini get one-dimensional the offense struggles and become very inefficient.
Defensively, they need to force some turnovers against the quick-strike passing attack of Purdue. If the Illini can't close down the quick-hitting passing attack, Purdue will dink and dunk down the field and run away from Illinois.
For Purdue to Win:
The Boiler offense was unable to take the top off the Notre Dame defense last week, and as a result, the offense was completely ineffective in the red zone. Plummer will get the start, and he is very effective inside 15 yards but struggles beyond that. Illinois needs to make a choice between pressing the Boilers in close or playing bend-but-don't-break defense. Walters historically is aggressive, and Purdue needs to make Illinois pay for that decision. The offensive key is an effective run game to slow the pass rush.
Defensively, they need to create havoc plays and get Illinois behind the sticks. Petersen gets conservative in his playcalling, which Purdue can take advantage of similar to the UTSA edge blitzes.
Purdue will strive to balance the offensive attack against the Illini. The Illini defense has intermittently struggled against the pass but shook up the defensive secondary last weekend. The Boilers had a week to review the Illini changes and will make appropriate changes.
The Illini offense needs to get in sync and overcome the pressure from the Purdue front seven. If Illinois can pair that along with turnovers on defense, they have a chance to win this game. I just don't trust the Illini defense enough to stop the Boiler short game and generate the turnovers. I'll take Purdue to cover.
YTD Against the Spread: