It's time to pass out season grades for the Purdue Boilers.
After major injuries ravaged the offensive depth chart in 2010, Purdue found greater consistency this season but didn't put up many "wow" numbers. The Boilers ranked in the middle of the Big Ten in total offense (seventh), scoring offense (seventh), rushing offense (sixth) and pass offense (sixth). They kept a quarterback on the field for an entire season in Caleb TerBush and also used Robert Marve under center quite a bit, including in the signature home win against Ohio State. Coordinator Gary Nord used a lot of personnel as seven players recorded 20 or more rushes and eight players recorded 11 or more receptions. The unit really lacked star power but got the job done for the most part. Put simply, Purdue had an average offense, which is a step up from 2010.
The defense certainly missed star end Ryan Kerrigan, who showed how good he is this season with the NFL's Washington Redskins. Kawann Short stood out at defensive tackle with 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, but Purdue didn't get enough from the edges and recorded only 21 sacks, down from a league-high 33 last season. The run defense also was a bit of a disappointment. Purdue had more experience in the secondary and some veterans at linebacker but didn't show great playmaking ability, recording just 14 takeaways all season, the second-lowest total in the league. The unit had some good moments in wins against Illinois and Ohio State and had some nice individual pieces in Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Purdue was truly a mixed bag on special teams this season. The Boilers excelled in both punting and punt coverage. Freshman Raheem Mostert led the Big Ten in kick return average (31 ypr) and bionic-legged kicker Carson Wiggs booted 16 field goals, six from 40 yards or longer with a long of 53. But Wiggs also had a potential game-winning kick blocked at Rice, the Boilers struggled on kickoff coverage, and special teams miscues proved costly in a 23-18 loss at Penn State. Then again, a special teams play arguably saved Purdue's season as Bruce Gaston Jr. blocked an extra-point try by Ohio State that could have secured a Buckeyes victory. Overall, there was more good than bad here.
Purdue was an average football team this season, but average equals bowl berth, which the Boilers will gladly accept for the first time in four seasons. The offense didn't get derailed by Rob Henry's preseason injury, and the defense and special teams made some key plays at key times. It's fair to ask where Purdue football is headed under coach Danny Hope, and the team's performance against Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl will help determine the direction heading into a pivotal 2012 campaign.