It was hard to watch Purdue's offense in 2010.
Ravaged by injuries at key positions, particularly quarterback, the Boilers were reduced to a one-dimensional attack that ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring (19.7 ppg), passing (150.8 ypg) and total offense (311.6 ypg). The playbook offensive coordinator Gary Nord had to start the season turned into a leaflet by mid-October.
Fast-forward to Saturday's game against Illinois. Purdue mixed personnel and formations, got plenty of players involved and kept an aggressive Illini defense on its heels in the first half.
The 2011 Boilers' offense isn't the reincarnation of basketball on grass, but it's a fun, creative system to watch. Quarterback Caleb TerBush had a brilliant first half against Illinois, completing 12 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Eight different Boilers caught passes in the first half, and eight different players ran the ball.
"We've gravitated to this offense," coach Danny Hope said.
Purdue's bad luck on the injury front continued in August when quarterback Rob Henry, the projected starter, suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Robert Marve was bothered by a knee injury, and TerBush, academically ineligible last season, hadn't played in a game since 2009.
The Boilers emphasized the run early as TerBush adjusted to his role. They racked up 200 rush yards or more in three of the first five games. Although the pass game remains a work in progress, TerBush's performance against Illinois is a promising sign.
"The potential of our passing game is getting better," Hope said. "We'll become a more wide-open offense as time goes on, but right now, we're good at running the football. It was really out of necessity from a year ago. We have some good backs, and we've had some success with it."
Top backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers have combined for 147 carries, 723 rush yards and eight touchdowns. Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert both have two touchdown runs and seven players have 10 or more carries through the first seven games. Four players have recorded 100-yard rushing performances.
Against Illinois, Nord used wide receiver Justin Siller, a former quarterback, in the Wildcat formation and constantly moved players to different spots.
"No one can key on one guy," Hope said. "It's the way that our offensive staff and our offensive coordinator goes about their business in manufacturing different ways to get the ball into playmakers' hands. That's what it's all about."
Although TerBush remains Purdue's starter at quarterback and Marve didn't play against Illinois, Hope wants to keep both signal callers involved for the stretch run.
"Robert is a special athlete and potentially a very special quarterback," Hope said. "He's too good not to be in the games helping us win."