Coach: Joe Tiller (9th season, 62-37) 2004 record: 7-5 (Lost to Arizona State in Sun Bowl) Big Ten finish: 4-4 (t-5th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 87th (125.3 ypg) Passing: 4th (321.2 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 14th (105.3 ypg) Passing: 89th (239.9 ypg
at Penn State
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
11 returning starters in red
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Purdue head coach Joe Tiller hopes the return of 18 starters erases the memories of an agonizing 2004 season. Tiller's team appeared headed for a historic season, starting 5-0 and climbing to a No. 5 ranking, before things went south in a hurry. Purdue lost five games by a total of 14 points to finish 7-5 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten (tied for fifth).
Purdue has gone to a bowl game every year under Tiller, but playing in the postseason is no longer good enough for the ninth-year Boilermaker boss and the Purdue faithful. Tiller and his coaching staff have spent countless hours tweaking their schemes, mainly on the offensive side of the ball.
"Changes don't mean wholesale changes," Tiller said. "I just think we've become too predictable. We're not on the attack as much as we used to be, and we need to get back to that."
The Boilermakers studied former Utah coach Urban Meyer's offense and implemented some of the Utes' formations. Expect some option looks, with an emphasis on designed quarterback runs, use of slot receivers in the running game and misdirection in the backfield.
There should be life after Kyle Orton and Taylor Stubblefield for the Boilermaker offense, which returns seven starters.
The offense has been tweaked, and quarterback Brandon Kirsch's ability to scramble and create on the fly gives the Boilermakers a dimension they haven't had in a while. Kirsch won't put up the numbers Orton did, but in six career starts he has shown that he can get the job done.
Running backs Jerod Void, who ranks fifth in school annals with 26 rushing touchdowns, and Brandon Jones have appeared in every game the last three seasons. In addition, Kory Sheets can score every time he touches the ball.
At receiver, the speedy Dorien Bryant, who averaged 15.4 yards per catch a year ago, will replace Stubblefield in the slot. Kyle Ingraham might be the team's go-to receiver, and Brian Hare is a deep-play threat. Those three, along with tight ends Charles Davis and Dustin Keller and heralded recruits Selwyn Lymon and Greg Orton, could give the Boilermakers one of the Big Ten's best receiving corps.
Three starters are back up front, and right guard Jordan Grimes appeared in 10 games last season. Matt Turner will start at center, Uche Nwaneri at left guard and Mike Otto at left tackle. Sean Sester will take over at right tackle.
All 11 starters return on a defense that was awfully tough against the run a year ago and led the Big Ten in sacks. Ray Edwards could be Purdue's next great defensive end if he becomes more consistent. At the other end spot is Anthony Spencer, an excellent run stopper. Edwards, Spencer and reserve end Rob Ninkovich (eight sacks in 2004), plus starting tackles Brent Grover and Brandon Villarreal, give Purdue one of the country's best defensive lines. Keep an eye on tackle Ryan Baker.
The starting linebackers are George Hall, Stanford Keglar and Bobby Iwuchukwu. Hall was second on the team in '04 with 92 tackles.
Redshirt freshmen Zach Logan and Fabian Martin will push starting cornerbacks Paul Long and Brian Hickman. Two-year starter Bernard Pollard, a second-team All-Big Ten pick a year ago, anchors the secondary from his strong safety spot. At free safety, starter Kyle Smith is back, but he'll have to fend off Torri Williams, who broke his right leg in spring practice but should be ready for the season.
Kicker Ben Jones had a junior season to forget after being terrific in 2003. A groin injury plagued the 2003 Lou Groza Award semifinalist last fall, and he hit only 10-of-18 field goals. Jones is healthy now and looks to return to his prior form. Punter Dave Brytus averaged 40.0 yards per boot and should be quite a weapon.
Bryant will be the one to watch on kickoff returns and will handle punt return duties.
Considering the Boilermakers' abundance of experience and talent, they should be in the hunt for a New Year's Day bowl bid.
If Kirsch limits his mistakes and the receivers are as good as advertised, Purdue's offense should again be one of the most productive units in the conference. The defense is loaded and could be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Helping the Boilermakers' cause will be a dream schedule. Michigan and Ohio State are absent and Iowa visits West Lafayette.