By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Purdue was one of the toughest teams to figure out in 2009. The Boilermakers appeared headed to Big Ten doormat status after stumbling out to a 1-5 start. Although it wasn't reflected in the win-loss
column, they were in position to win each of those games, including a 38-36
loss at Oregon, a team that finished seventh in the final BCS rankings. Then,
on a mid-October Saturday afternoon in West Lafayette, Purdue shocked the
nation with a 26-18 victory over No. 7 Ohio State. The win snapped a 19-game
losing streak against ranked opponents for the Boilermakers. But they weren't
done there. The very next weekend, they pulled out a 24-14 triumph over
However, the Boilermakers seemed to climb right back into their shell, getting
blanked by Wisconsin on Halloween, 37-0. They were able to pick up wins at
Michigan (38-36) and at Indiana (38-21), but a 40-37 loss at home to Michigan
State on November 14th knocked Purdue out of bowl contention.
OFFENSE: Purdue will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in Robert
Marve, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Miami. He was
dealing with a knee injury last year, though he is now 100 percent and ready
to prove as much to the coaching staff.
"Everything about Robert Marve excites me," head coach Danny Hope said at Big
Ten Media Day. "He's a great player. He's certainly one of the great
quarterback prospects coming out of the country a couple of years ago."
"He's, I think, the most talented quarterback I've been around from a total
package. He's got outstanding arm strength. Very accurate. Has a lot of
velocity on the ball. He's a great athlete."
Marve will also have the luxury of throwing to senior wideout Keith Smith, who
led the Big Ten with 91 receptions last year and finished with 1,100 yards and
six touchdowns. At running back, Ralph Bolden amassed 935 rushing yards and 11
total touchdowns last year, but he tore his ACL in the spring. The coaches are
holding out hope Bolden can return this year at some point, but in the
meantime sophomore Al-Terek McBurse is set to take over the rushing load after
carrying just four times as a freshman. McBurse was among the most highly
sought after running backs coming out of high school, rushing for 2,400 yards
his senior season. Junior right guard Ken Plue (6-7, 340) and left tackle
Dennis Kelly (6-8, 297) are both massive bodies, although they represent the
only starters returning along the offensive line.
DEFENSE: Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is coming off a breakout year in which he
earned All-Big Ten honors with 13 sacks. He'll be counted on to provide senior
leadership and, of course, get after the quarterback. Teaming with Kerrigan at
the opposite defensive end spot will be junior speed rusher Gerald Gooden.
Defensive tackle Mike Neal won't be easily replaced after being selected in
the second round of the NFL Draft. Kawann Short (6-4, 310) started at the
other tackle spot last year as a freshman, but must improve his consistency.
At linebacker, all three starters return. The headliner is junior Joe Holland,
a converted defensive back who ranked second on the team last year with 81
tackles while learning how to play linebacker. Fellow linebacker Jason Werner
was granted another year of eligibility after ranking third on the team with
77 tackles and 4.5 sacks, while sophomore Dwayne Beckford is slated to start
in the middle.
All four starters are gone from last year's secondary, leaving nickel man
Albert Evans as the most experienced returnee, though he'll play at safety
this season. Sophomore Chris Quinn will hold down the other safety spot, while
junior Charlton Williams has locked up one of the corner positions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: McBurse averaged 24.6 yards in kick returns last year and also
took one to the house. However, his rushing workload will dictate how much he
can be used on special teams. The Boilermakers were average at best in the
return game last year, so they really need someone else to step up in that
department. Freshman Cody Webster was a First Team All-State punter in high
school and could get a look there, as the Boilermakers ranked toward the
bottom of the nation in net punting in 2009. Carson Wiggs was first in line to
take over at punter, but he also handles the kicking duties (14-of-21) the
coaching staff would prefer him to focus on that area.
OUTLOOK: Purdue will open the season against Notre Dame, which coach Hope said
has created more of a sense of urgency in terms of the team's preparation.
Given how things unraveled at the start of last year, the coaches have
emphasized the importance of getting off to a good start, and more
specifically -- ball security and tackling. Hope also wants to see his defense
create more turnovers, as the Boilermakers ranked 87th nationally last year in
turnover margin. Having lost so many close games last year, it's not far-
fetched to envision the season turning out quite differently had a couple of
bounces gone the Boilermakers' way.
Now in his second year as head coach, Hope is intent on bringing the team back
to the postseason. A schedule that doesn't include Iowa and Wisconsin will
certainly help, as will a talented new quarterback, and an ability to turn a
couple of those close losses into wins.