The Virginia Tech Hokies host the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday in Lane Stadium. The Hokies are coming off an impressive 36-17 season-opening win over the Old Dominion Monarchs. Meanwhile, Purdue suffered a disappointing loss to Fresno State in the opener.
To preview this weekend’s game from a Purdue perspective, I had the chance to speak with Andrew Ledman over at Hammer and Rails, and he was kind enough to answer several questions about the 2023 Boilermakers.
1. What are your impressions of new head coach Ryan Walters?
From a purely personal standpoint, he’s done and said all the right things. He’s given Purdue some youthful energy that the program hasn’t had since, well...ever? As soon as he got hired, his first move was giving a scholarship to our starting running back Devin Mockobee, who began as a walk-on; that was a pretty cool moment and endeared him to both the team and the fans. He’s got a much different energy than former head coach Jeff Brohm. From an on-the-field perspective, I think last week left some things to be desired, but it’s week one with a whole new team and his first game as a head coach. Things will improve given time.
2. What should Virginia Tech expect from Hudson Card? Is he a dual-threat QB?
Card was given the keys to the offense basically once he committed to Purdue from Texas. The former Longhorn has a strong arm and a good head on his shoulders. Last week he showed that he wasn’t afraid to both make tight throws and also throw it away when there’s nothing there. He didn’t make many mistakes on his reads or his throws. He’s a dual-threat QB only in the sense that if forced, he can extend a play and occasionally make a move on his own. He’s no Michael Vick or Tim Tebow, but if Purdue needs three yards and he’s got an opening he can get them. Last week, he would’ve had a better game if he had been a bit more aggressive in the run game, honestly.
3. What are the offense’s biggest strengths?
At this point, I just think we don’t know. Purdue lost their starting QB, starting TE, and number one WR to the NFL draft. Adding in Hudson Card has been a huge addition, but the top two tight ends for Purdue were both out last week and likely won’t play this weekend either so the tight end position is a bit of a question mark. Deion Burks certainly showed an ability to be a playmaker at WR, but that was just one game. He’s going to have to continue to do it for everyone to truly think of him as a strength. While he didn’t have a great game last week I think Devin Mockobee still has the chance to be the true strength of this offense. The sophomore running back is quick and elusive, and if the offensive line stabilizes a bit, he could really help Purdue control games.
4. Tell us about the offensive line.
Where to begin? Over the last 12 months, Purdue has had a number of departures from the offensive line of players that were generally thought to be contributors. Some went out via the transfer portal, some were medically retired due to back or other conditions, and some went down with injury. It’s been a bit of a MASH unit. Last week against Fresno State, Purdue was, at one point, down to their 5th string center. That’s not a situation you ever expect to be in. Purdue is hopeful they can get the backup center back at full strength for this game, but it’s not guaranteed. The unit mostly kept Hudson Card upright, but he didn’t always have a ton of time, and they absolutely struggled running the ball.
5. What are the defense’s biggest strengths?
The defensive line is the main strength of this squad. When you combine the returning players and the players grabbed via the transfer portal Purdue has a unit that can do a good job at both stopping the run and getting to the QB. They didn’t record a ton of sacks of TFLs last week, but they often got pressure on the Fresno State QB. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t finish the job. They always say that the biggest improvement is from week 1 to week 2, so for Purdue’s sake, the hope is these guys can finish the job more in week 2.
6. How many games do you expect Purdue to win in 2023?
I initially said seven was the ceiling, and I’m sticking with that. Six is probably more likely, but I’m an optimistic guy. Purdue has one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but Purdue also has a knack for knocking off highly ranked and more talented teams. Just check out recent wins against top-ranked Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State. Purdue likely won’t be heading back to the Big Ten title game this season, but under a new head coach with so much departing talent, just finding a way back to a bowl game would be a huge success.
As I said above, I’m an optimist. I’m also an unabashed homer. I won’t always pick Purdue, especially in the Big Ten season, but I’ve got this stubborn belief that Purdue can win most of their non-conference games. Virginia Tech has talent, there’s no doubt about that, but I feel like these two teams are evenly matched and both searching for an identity. Virginia Tech has history on its side here as the more successful program, and Coach Walters and staff haven’t yet played a road game, so that’s going to be a challenge. All that out of the way, I’m gonna pick Purdue in this one to walk away with a close victory. 31-28.