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Has Purdue kicker found his groove?

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Kickoff: Purdue at Illinois, 3:30 p.m., Saturday
RADIO: 1380-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Boilers face must win at Illinois

Friday, November 16, 2012 - 12:01 am

So maybe Purdue kicker Paul Griggs has found his eureka moment, when inconsistency becomes clutch kicking and potential becomes achievement.

First, though, there is a reality check.

“I saw him go by on a cloud earlier,” coach Danny Hope joked, “but he'll shank a couple in practice and we'll get him back to earth pretty quick, I assure you of that. It won't last long. It never does.”

Griggs' walking-in-the-clouds opportunity came after kicking the 46-yard, last-second, game-winning field goal that beat Iowa, blasted away a five-game losing streak and guaranteed Purdue's collapsing bowl hopes would last another week.

So as the Boilers (4-6) brace for Saturday's trip to Big Ten cellar dweller Illinois (2-8), they seem to have their kicker, at least, finally established.

Or do they?

Purdue has used three kickers this season. Thomas Meadows handles kickoffs and averages 58.9 yards with 10 touchbacks. Redshirt freshman Sam McCartney handles mostly shorter field goals. He is 3-for-4 for the season, 16-for-19 on extra points.

Griggs is a true freshman who, as the nation's No. 3 kicker last season as a North Carolina senior, was recruited to take over the job after the graduation of Carson Wiggs, the most accurate field goal kicker in school history (56-for-76, 73.7 percent). He's been used mostly for longer field goals and is 4-for-7, including a miss from 52 yards against Ohio State. He's 16-for-18 on extra points.

Could the Iowa game winner be a defining moment for him?

“I think it can be a huge career builder in some ways,” Hope said. “It can be a difference maker.

“Four years ago Carson Wiggs came out against Ohio State, hit a 59-yarder and gave us a big edge in the game, gave our team a lift, and was a difference maker in a huge game. I thought that really impacted his kicking career at Purdue, how he went about his preparation, and his commitment to it.

“I would assume that the kick for Paul Griggs could be a career kick or a difference maker in his career in a lot of ways. They're very similar scenarios.”

Purdue's biggest difference maker on Saturday could be its running game, which got a huge boost with the return to form of often-injured tailback Ralph Bolden. His 102 rushing yards against Iowa, including a 56-yard burst, was by far his most productive game of the season.

Bolden has played in just five games because of his recovery from last year's knee surgery. He's rushed for 217 yards and averaged 5.6 yards a carry.

He's one of four Boilers to have rushed for at least 150 yards. The others are Akeem Shavers (553 yards, four touchdowns), Akeem Hunt (333 yards, two touchdowns) and Brandon Cotton (150 yards).

They'll go against one of the Big Ten's worst run defenses. Illinois allows 178.2 rushing yards a game.

“The running game has to be a big part of our offense,” Hope said. “It takes pressure off the quarterback. It does some things to open up the passing game. It impacts the potential of your play-action pass package.

“Our offensive line is getting better. You have to have good, healthy running backs that run hard. We've been in good shape with that the last couple of weeks.

“We need to stay two dimensional with the run and the pass. Balance is very important to us.”

Quarterback Robert Marve is all for that.

“The running game makes everything run smoothly,” Marve said. “It helps with pass protection. The defense has to be more focused on the running backs, so the play action is there. We have to keep dominating in the running game.”

Illinois' blitzing approach hasn't produced quarterback-crunching numbers. The Illini's 18 sacks rank eighth in the Big Ten, one more than Purdue.

Still, they will bring the heat and Purdue's inconsistent offensive line must handle it.

“They do a lot of blitzes,” Marve said. “They bring it from everywhere. But if you break the blitz down, it can be a huge play for you. It can be a huge risk on their part.”

The Illini might not have all-conference linebacker Jonathan Brown, who is dealing with a shoulder injury. They do have a couple of promising freshman linebackers in Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina. Monheim earned his second Big Ten freshman of the week award after totaling 15 tackles in last Saturday's loss to Minnesota.

Purdue's focus remains on winning its last two games to become bowl eligible.

“Everybody wants it,” Marve said. “Everybody wants to go to a bowl game. Nobody wants to lose one of next two games.”