WEST LAFATETTE –- Is that right? Is pass-happy Purdue really leading the Big Ten in rushing?
Better believe it.
Thanks to the nearly 400 rushing yards totaled against Southeast Missouri State, the Boilers average 258.7 yards rushing. That's better than Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and everybody else.
The Boilers do it by committee. Ralph Bolden leads with 223 yards. Akeem Shavers has 186. Six other players have rushed for at least 32 yards. As a team they average 5.6 yards a carry and have rushed for nine touchdowns.
Why the running success?
In part, coach Danny Hope said, it's necessity. Last year's rash of quarterback injuries forced the Boilers into more of a running mode. More quarterback injuries this year (Rob Henry is out for the season with a ACL injury; Robert Marve has only now returned from complications from last year's knee surgery.
“We had so many injuries at the quarterback position,” he said, “we had to expand the run game to compete. We've picked up from that.
“We have a good offensive line, good backs. Cornell Jackson is a tough, hard-nosed running back coach. He's hung his hat on ball security, blocking, receiving and toughness. We have tough running backs who want to win and who execute their role. We'll feature the run.”
Purdue (2-1) will next feature that run when it hosts Notre Dame on Oct. 1. Hope said coaches have been out of town recruiting. Preparations for the Irish will begin Thursday.
Purdue defensive end Robert Maci will never be confused with Ryan Kerrigan, the former Boiler All-America defensive end now thriving with the Washington Redskins. But Maci is leading Purdue with four tackles for loss and two sacks (for minus-21 yards) among his nine tackles. Not bad for a guy who is not listed as a starter.
“He's a smart player and he's always been a great effort guy,” Hope said. “He's older now. He's bigger, stronger and more mature physically. He holds up better on the line of scrimmage. He's always had a knack for finding the ball and making plays. He's a wide-open type of guy and it's important to have those type of guys on the field.”
Antavian Edison's play-making ability could make a big impact the rest of the way. He's a receiver with a tailback mindset and sprinter's speed.
The 5-11, 175-pound junior has caught six passes for 137 yards, a team-leading average of 22.8 yards a catch. He's also rushed eight times for 41 yards, just over 5 yards a carry.
“He probably still thinks he's a running back,” Hope said. “He's always been fast and had courage, but he's become a more physical player. He's not the biggest or strongest blocker, but he has a lot more fight about him now.
“He's turned into a more physical runner. He's more detailed in his routes. He's become more accountable off the field. He's grown up a lot.”
Making an impression
Tight end Crosby Wright has taken advantage of Gabe Holmes' knee injury. In three games Wright has six catches for 80 yards. Holmes has played in one game and has one catch for 11 yards.
Wright, a junior, arrived in West Lafayette in 2008 as a walk-on. He didn't play that season or the following one. Last year he played in all 12 games as a special teams player.
“He's a good player,” Hope said. “He came to us via a walk-on and I don't believe he had a real extensive high school career. He's always gotten after it. He's a smart guy and a guy, when you showed him how to do something, he could turn right around and emulate you almost to the letter. I'm very impressed with how well he picks things up. He's very easy to coach.”