On Saturday the Virginia Tech Hokies will face their first road challenge when they travel to West Lafayette to face the Purdue Boilermakers. Sun Tzu said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles." There is much discussion concerning whether or not the Hokies know themselves, and Gobbler Country will certainly spend time exploring such concerns, but for now let us explore our next enemy.
In 2014 the Boilermakers achieved a record of 3-9, and were 1-7 against conference foes. Purdue did face a particularly rough schedule against four ranked teams. Interestingly, their largest margin of loss came against unranked Northwestern. The Boilermaker’s overall margin of loss was 15.1 points. Against ranked opponents the margin was 17.25 points, and versus unranked teams it dropped to 13.4 points. The smallest margin of loss Purdue endured was a heartbreaking, one-point loss to Minnesota. Although their record is not particularly impressive all the teams they defeated did not have losing records. Their highest quality win was their opener against Western Michigan who went 8-5 in 2014. The other two teams they defeated were Illinois and FCS squad Southern Illinois. The combined record of the foes they bested was 20-17.
When Hazell took over as head coach in 2013 he inherited a team that was fully in a rebuilding period. He has lead Purdue to achieve incremental improvement from 2013 through 2014, and one expects that further improvement will continue. An expected improvement Virginia Tech should not take lightly.
The Boilermakers opened the 2015 season against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Although Purdue lost the game, 41-31, the game was much closer than the score may imply. In fact, Purdue led for about half the game. The reality is that the matchup was not really decided until the last two minutes of the game. The Purdue quarterback, Austin Appleby, threw two pick sixes. The first occurred on the first play from scrimmage, and the second occurred 1:20 from the end of regulation. Appleby was extremely prone to mistakes when he was pressured. He was 31-48, 270 yards, and 1-4. In addition to a robust passing attack Purdue ran the ball 47 times and had three rushing touchdowns. Their lead runner was D.J. Knox who ran 22 times for 102 yards and 1 TD. The Boilermakers racked up 454 total yards, 28 first downs, and dominated time of possession at 34:47.
Although Purdue lost the game it is easy to argue that it was due to self-inflicted wounds. Last year Marshall went 13-1 and won the Conference USA championship game. What Hokie fans need to realize is that, except for the two pick sixes, Purdue outplayed Marshall. They demonstrated a solid balance of offense and an ability to achieve first downs. Marshall’s defensive efforts overshadowed Purdue’s, but the Boilermakers were not pedestrian in their defensive execution. The boys from West Lafayette generated three turnovers themselves and held the Thundering Herd to 25:13 time of possession. The Boilermakers committed game costing mistakes, but they did demonstrate some dangerous capability.
In their second game Purdue hosted the Indiana State Sycamores, an FCS team. The Boilermakers won the game, 38-14. The Sycamores were fairly successful last season, going 8-6. In their match against Indiana State the Boilermakers got their penchant for interceptions under control, throwing zero, but did lose two fumbles. They continued to demonstrate a balanced offense throwing 36 times for 289 yards and running 45 times for 251 yards. Purdue lead for the entire game, and Appleby was much sharper. He went 20-34, 289 yards, and had four TDs. Appleby also had 12 runs for 50 yards. The Boilermaker’s rushing attack was again led by D.J. Knox who had 16 carries for 91 yards.
Since they were facing an FCS team it is fair to surmise that Purdue should have won, but just like VT’s performance against Furman, we can expect that they were simply able to sharpen skillsets that they already had intrinsic to the team. Based on the last few years, and their performance this year, it is clear that Purdue is rebuilding, but they do have weapons that Virginia Tech must honor. Purdue will attack with a balanced effort, but based on their performance thus far, it seems that VT’s defense should be able to pressure Appleby enough to force the same kinds of mistakes Purdue made against Marshall – mistakes that the Hokie secondary should be able to take advantage of.
Virginia Tech showed that they did have the temerity to stand with a team like Ohio State through the first half of a game. When VPI played Furman Motley showed that he could perform against competition at that level. Purdue is not a powerhouse, but it is an FBS away team, and represents a solid opponent that the Hokies can continue to hone their offensive efforts against.