Numbers do lie for Purdue defense

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack was shocked to find out where his unit ranked among Big Ten teams through the first few games. He's not the only one.

"There's lies, damn lies and then there's statistics," Spack told The Journal and Courier. "This is the best we've played in four years, and our statistics don't show it. We're playing pretty good, so I don't worry about all that. When you're on the field 99 plays a game, that's just the way it is."

Spack's last comment might be a veiled jab at a Boilermakers offense that has struggled at times this year, but you get the point. Purdue ranks last or next to last in the Big Ten in the four major statistical categories:

  • Scoring defense -- 22.3 PPG, 10th

  • Pass defense -- 234.7 YPG, 10th

  • Rush defense -- 192.3 YPG, 11th

  • Total defense -- 427 YPG, 11th

Having seen the Boilers first-hand against Oregon and on television against Central Michigan, I can say unequivocally that they're a much better defense than the numbers would indicate. Oregon racked up a bunch of yards between the 20s, but Purdue continually made big plays in the red zone to stiffle drives. The Boilers' secondary, led by safeties Frank Duong and Torri Williams, is superior to the groups of recent seasons. Linebacker Anthony Heygood ranks second in the league in tackles (9.7 TPG). As for last week, Central Michigan ran 82 more plays than Purdue, which hasn't sustained a rhythm on offense for an entire game.

There are two main reasons why Purdue ranks where it does.

  • The Boilers have faced tougher competition than most Big Ten teams -- a top 10 offense in Oregon and a top 20 quarterback in Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour.

  • Several Big Ten teams that have often struggled on defense -- Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State -- are off to strong starts.

Statistics can help shape judgments about teams, many of which are true. But the numbers don't add up when it comes to Purdue's defense.