Purdue turnovers eclipse progress on offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Gary Nord has never seen anything like this before.

Not only has Purdue struggled to hang onto the ball this season, but the Boilers' giveaways always come back to haunt them. The correlation between 20 Boilermakers turnovers and five losses by an average of just 6.6 points is obviously very strong. But turnovers for points have really put the nail in the coffin.

"We've had more turnovers for touchdowns than I've had in my entire career, 28 years I've coached," said Nord, the Boilers' first-year offensive coordinator. "We don't just throw an interception; we throw an interception for a touchdown. We don't just fumble the ball; we fumble the ball and they pick it up and score a touchdown.

"It's been an unbelievable string of events that's happened to us."

It has led to a 1-5 start to the Danny Hope era.

Things don't get much easier Saturday as No. 7 Ohio State visits Ross-Ade Stadium (Big Ten Network, noon ET). As Nord points out, the Buckeyes defense scored more points than the offense in last week's 31-13 win against Wisconsin.

Perhaps what's most frustrating for Nord and the offense is the unit actually has done a lot of good things this season. Just check out the Big Ten statistics:

  • Quarterback Joey Elliott is No. 1 in passing yards and pass average (1,575 yds, 262.5 ypg)

  • Running back Ralph Bolden is No. 2 in rushing (99.8 ypg) and No. 3 in all-purpose yards (129.7 ypg)

  • Wide receiver Keith Smith is No. 2 in both receptions average (7 rpg) and receiving yards (97.5 ypg)

  • Wide receiver/punt returner Aaron Valentin is No. 1 in both all-purpose yards (145.2 ypg) and punt return average (13.7 ypg, more than four yards better than anyone else in the league)

  • Purdue ranks second in the league in pass offense (265 ypg) and fourth in total offense (410.2 ypg)

But all those positive numbers seem to be wiped away by one negative one -- 20.

"The five games that we lost, if you take a couple plays out of each one of them, everybody thinks we're having the greatest season in the world," Nord said. "They've executed the offense very well for the first year being in it. At times, we'll execute the play and then we take care of the ball, run and get a first down, we get tackled and we fumble the ball. That's happened a couple of times."

Purdue's starting offense features a senior at quarterback (Elliott), two juniors and a senior at wide receiver (Smith, Keith Carlos and Valentin), a junior at tight end (Kyle Adams) and a sophomore at running back (Bolden). But the appearance of experience is just a mirage.

None of those skill players were regular starters last season, and only Smith played a major role as a reserve.

"We did a little study on where the turnovers have come from and about 80 percent are kids that are first-time [starters]," Nord said. "You know you're going to go through some growing pains, but unfortunately, they've come at some critical times. And we're not at a point in this stage to be able to overcome them."

Despite the struggles, bothHope and Nord have seen the team play through adversity and maintain its mental focus, an area stressed before the season. And while protecting the ball is continually emphasized in practice, the coaches are careful not to overload their players.

Everybody knows the problem.

"If you're thinking and trying to figure things out while it's taking place, you're not going to be able to play fast and have success," Nord said. "You've got to continue to preach and harp on the basic fundamentals of controlling the football and securing the football, where they carry it, what arm they put it in, things like that.

"Once the game comes about, then you've got to let it go."