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November 4, 2009

Weekly Purdue Review

In this week's "Weekly Purdue Review," a random collection of notes and analysis about Boilermaker football, we look at some of Purdue's top defensive players, the quarterback position and much more.

Kerrigan thrives against Big Ten's biggest names

There's probably no real reason for it, but there's no questioning how good defensive end Ryan Kerrigan's been in his career against two of the Big Ten's biggest names: Michigan and Ohio State.

Last season in Columbus, Kerrigan enjoyed what might have been a coming-out performance of sorts, making six tackles, three of them for loss, with two sacks in a game in which the Boilermakers held the Buckeyes without an offensive touchdown.

In Purdue's win at home over Michigan three weeks later, Kerrigan wrought havoc on a struggling Wolverine offense, to the tune of 10 tackles (still a career high), three-and-a-half tackles for loss, three sacks and a pass breakup.

Then, earlier this season, in Purdue's shocking win over No. 7 Ohio State, Kerrigan earned national defensive player-of-the-week honors, as he sacked Terrelle Pryor three times, forced him to fumble twice, recovering one of them, and finished with nine stops overall, four of them for loss.

Purdue meets Michigan again this weekend, this time in Ann Arbor.

"Things have just kind of turned out that way," Kerrigan said of his history with the two Big Ten powers. "I have had a couple of good games against those teams and hopefully that trend continues this week."

The Muncie native approaches every opponent the same way, but says it's easy to get excited about playing against programs with the sort of name recognition Michigan and Ohio State have not only in the Midwest, but nationwide.

"Michigan's the winningest program in college football and Ohio State's right there with them," Kerrigan said, "so you definitely get a little more excited to play teams like them.

"Other than that, I don't know what it is; I've just been lucky enough to have a couple good games against them."

Of course, Kerrigan's been pretty good against just about everyone lately, leading the Big Ten by a healthy margin with nine sacks, all but two of them having come in conference play, and ranking among league leaders with 14-and-a-half tackles for loss.
- Brian Neubert

Werner persevering

Purdue's leading tackler, Jason Werner, has enjoyed a fine season to date, and he's done it in spite of a heel injury that doesn't seem to be getting better.

"It's just weak," Werner said. "I'm trying to play on it the best I can. It's just sore, really."

Werner, who's often seen wearing a protective boot following games, sustained the injury during training camp.

"It is getting stronger, but it's probably one of those things that after the season, it will need a few weeks to heal," Werner said. "Right now, the most it gets is two or three days.

"I'm trying to get back to where I'm running on my toes again and get my step back. I'm just taping it up and trying to go as fast as I can."

Purdue's top strong-side linebacker, the fifth-year senior leads the Boilermakers with 63 tackles, including 14-and-a-half tackles for loss, which rank him among Big Ten leaders, tying Kerrigan. He's also posted four-and-a-half sacks, made an interception and forced a fumble.
- Brian Neubert

Elliott looking to rebound

After suffering through what was his worst outing as a Purdue starter, quarterback Joey Elliott is eager for redemption.

He could attain it Saturday by becoming the first Boilermaker signal-caller since Bob Griese in 1966 to win in Ann Arbor. To accomplish that feat, however, he and the offense as a whole will need to do a 180 from their performance vs. Wisconsin, when the QB completed just 5-of-23 passes - Purdue's receivers dropped nine - for 59 yards and an interception. He was pulled in the third quarter, after missing on all seven of his passes after intermission, as the Boilermaker coaches emptied their bench for mop-up work.

"He was a little more antsy in the pocket than he needed to be," Coach Danny Hope said. "We protected pretty good. A couple times they got on the edge of us some, but that's going to happen. But he just didn't play as well as he has. He came out Sunday and practiced very well, was the same guy in charge, ready to go, ready to play football."

Elliott will try to replicate his performance in the previous two games, when Purdue defeated Ohio State and Illinois. In those two, the fifth-year senior completed 46-of-74 passes for 447 yards, with two TDs and just one pick.

But it was a regression, not just for Elliott, but the offense, vs. the Badgers.

"Sometimes when things don't go well offensively, sometimes you'll throw a bad ball, but a receiver will make a great catch for you and it picks up your confidence as a quarterback," he said. "But whenever you have as many three-and-outs, you start pressing."

Elliott, though, thinks he can get back into form vs. the Wolverines. He harkens back to his first year as a starter at Evansville Harrison High School, when he played poorly in a loss to a rival but defeated the same team in sectionals shortly thereafter.

"In high school we had a lot of come-from-behind victories," he said. "Our offense, that's how we were, we had to put up points as fast as we could. And I think our offense is the same here, we have a lot of go-to guys and feel like we can put up points when we need to.

"Saturday just wasn't our day. We laid an egg, but we've just got to get back to the drawing board and get better."

Hope says Elliott is capable of doing so, based on the character of the QB.

"I think he's always done a great job of bouncing back from any adversity we've had all along," Hope said. "For a guy who's never played much in the game, becoming the starting quarterback, I think he's handled every aspect of that role, from the media to the game day, very well all season long."
- Kyle Charters




Who's Hot?

Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs: We might be reaching here in light of the one-sided loss, but the two freshman linebackers have gotten better as the season's gone on and give Purdue more of a physical presence than some of its starters. They play with energy and attitude, as well.

Experience, of course, remains the drawback.

Maybe reaching here again, but Purdue's coverage on kickoffs and punts has been pretty solid lately.

What's Not

The Boilermakers' nine completions marked their fewest in a loss dating back to prior to the modern era of Purdue football, which we consider as beginning in 1997. The passing game woes contributed mightily to Purdue's worst loss since 1996.


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