In Purdue’s season opener against Nevada last Friday night, the Boilermakers’ defense seemed to pick up right where it left off at the end of 2018. And that’s not a good thing.
For the season, the Boilermakers’ opponents averaged 6.0 yards per play — already not a great figure. But if you just look at their last four games of 2018, things look even worse. It gave up 6.8 yards per play in a 41-10 loss to Minnesota, including a ghastly 6.4 yards per carry. In a 47-44 loss to Wisconsin, it was 7.3 yards per play — 7.5 on the ground (which, okay, Jonathan Taylor.) Things were a little better in a 28-21 win over Indiana to end the regular season (6.0 yards per play, 4.7 on the ground), but then Auburn’s offense did basically whatever it wanted to in the Music City Bowl (7.8 yards per play.)
Purdue’s defense had some good games in 2018, but the end of the season was a nightmare for the unit. And while on paper, Nevada getting 5.2 yards per play in the season opener isn’t an awful performance, that was a team with a freshman quarterback and a Mountain West offensive line. (Purdue lost more because its offense couldn’t stop turning the ball over than because of anything its defense did, but that’s not the point of this article.)
The Boilermakers have an experienced linebacking corps, with a pair of fifth-year seniors — Markus Bailey, who had a team-leading 6.5 sacks in 2018, and graduate transfer Ben Holt, who notched 11.5 tackles for loss at Western Kentucky last season — as well as junior Cornel Jones, who led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. But the Boilermakers are starting two freshmen on the defensive line. Four-star George Karlaftis will be a good player in time, but he’s been pushed into a big role as a true freshman.
In the secondary, senior safety Navon Mosley is one of the team’s best, and sophomore cornerback Kenneth Major had a strong debut in 2018 with a team-leading three interceptions. But the other safety (Jalen Graham) is a true freshman, and the cornerback opposite Major (Dedrick Mackey) is a sophomore who didn’t play a ton last season.
Against Nevada, the Boilers were able to stop the run, but weren’t able to get much pressure on young QB Carson Strong — and that led to a big day throwing the ball. Of course, Ke’Shawn Vaughn is better than any running back on Nevada’s team; perhaps Riley Neal can take advantage of the secondary to throw for some yards? If Vanderbilt’s offense can’t get anything going against Purdue, that should sound some alarm bells.