WEST LAFAYETTE — Ricardo Allen wasn't bragging. Purdue's senior cornerback was stating facts. Truth is what truth is. Maybe Aristotle said that. Or, perhaps, Lombardi.
Anyway, Allen set a goal of nobody catching a pass against him in preseason camp.
“I didn't give up a catch on team drills,” he says. He tries not to smile from a news conference podium. He partially succeeds.
“I did give up some on one on ones.”
Team drills are when 11 offensive players go against 11 defensive players. One on ones are just what they sound like — receivers going against defensive backs, may the best man win.
Allen projects as an All-Big Ten player and potential NFL draft pick. Throw at him at your own risk. More often than not in practice, quarterbacks threw elsewhere.
“They didn't throw to my side very often,” he says. “Still, you've got to stay with fundamentals. Do your job and make sure you're tight in coverage. You might not get as many chances, but you want to look good on (practice) film. You still get graded. You still get pluses and minuses on how you did.”
Allen figures to get tested Saturday when Purdue opens its season at Cincinnati. So will the entire Boilermaker secondary. While the Bearcats quarterback situation remains uncertain — seniors Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux remain locked in a starting battle — the passing game will get plenty of work even with Tommy Tuberville taking over from Butch Jones. Last year Kay and Legaux combined for more than 3,000 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
That's fine, Allen says. Purdue has a new coach, too, in Darrell Hazell, and a new defense under new coordinator Greg Hudson. The approach, Allen adds, is simple: “We have a relentless mindset. Get to the ball, get turnovers, get off the field on third downs.”
Cincinnati returns 17 starters from a 10-3 team. It projects as a contender in the new American Athletic Conference that replaced the old Big East. Some experts have the Bearcats opening the season 9-0.
It's a tough way to start a season, let alone a new coaching era. The Boilers say they are fine with that.
“It's a great advantage to start with a tough team,” Allen says. “We're not playing a (Football Championship Subdivision) team. This is a team that maybe can compete for a national championship.
“It will show what our team, our players and our coaches are about.”
The uncertainty of preparing for any opening opponent is compounded by the fact Cincinnati has a new coach. Of course, the Bearcats have the same problem with Purdue and Hazell.
“In terms of preparation, it's like rolling the dice,” Allen says. “You don't know what you'll get. You've got to adjust and play the fundamentals.”
For road inspiration Purdue looks to last season, when it pushed Notre Dame and Ohio State to the limit away from Ross-Ade Stadium. Both the Irish and the Buckeyes finished the regular season 12-0.
“We can play with anybody,” Allen says. “We've come together more as a team this year. We compete more. We feel we've taken a step on offense, on defense and on special teams to finish games. The coaches make us feel confident. They make us know what we're doing is the right thing to do.”
Hazell and his staff did that the old-fashioned way — hard work.
“We do a lot of situational work,” Allen says. “That makes you situational smart. If not, you might forget the down or the distance or what plays they might try to run.
“At the end of the day, you either make the play or you lose. It's that cutthroat in a game, and our practices are like that. You either win or lose. There are no gray areas. We've had a lot of reps. We've developed a one-deep, a two-deep, somewhat of a three-deep. We can rotate players and still compete. We don't have a drop-off.”
Purdue will take buses to the game, leaving Friday morning in time for the Tailgate on the Circle event in downtown Indianapolis before going on to Cincinnati.
“It's a new year and fans are behind us,” Allen says. “Everybody loves Coach Hazell. Everybody is pumped about the season. There are a lot of messages on Twitter. It will be great get this Boiler nation back in action.”