Boilerman note: Before we begin, I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago. You know, back when we were all playing non-conference games and there was a glimmer of hope about this football season. That glimmer is gone. I refuse to edit out the parts that no longer apply solely out of laziness.
First, let’s take a quick look back at the 2019 Purdue Defense.
On second thought, let’s not. There were reports of friction between Coach Jeff Brohm and DC/borderline psycho Nick Holt early in the season. Mix in injuries and a lack of depth at key positions and well, no bueno, mis amigos.
Ok, that’s enough. Onto the new DC, Bob Diaco, formerly of Cincinnati, (fuck) Notre Dame, a 3-year stint as head coach at UConn, and quick stints at Nebraska under Mike RiLLLLLLLey, Oklahoma, and LaTech. So, he’s been around. Under Brian Kelly, his defenses at Cincy and fND were quite good. So much so that he won the Broyles Award in 2012. His systems do work, the question becomes does Purdue have the personnel to match.
Let’s start with the basics, Diaco employs a base 3-4. Given Purdue’s lack of depth at the D-Lineman spot, this is pretty big. Lorenzo Neal returns from injury and gives the Nose Tackle spot some teeth. He’ll have to become a run clogger to let George Kartlaftis continue doing work on the outside. RS Senior Anthony Watts will also have to provide Neal with some relief but provides depth where Purdue was barebones last year.
The other area of concern last year was Purdue’s linebacking corps. Losing senior leader Marcus Bailey early on and key backup Cornell Jones severely hampered the Boilers and thrust a lot of young guys onto the field. The end result was a Rush Defense that rated 95th in the Nation. Under Diaco’s 3-4 scheme, sophomore Jalen Graham and transfer DaMarcus Mitchell now become key cogs on the outside. On the inside, expect senior Derrick Barnes to move back from the line and Jaylan Alexander to round out the starters. I would be remiss if I didn’t include All-B1G Name Team Semisi Fakasiieiki in the conversation.
The secondary should be fairly solid between Corey (real name, no gimmicks) Trice, who finished as Honorable Mention All-B1G last year, and either JC transfer Geovante Howard, Dedrick Mackey, or Kenneth Major. Given that Diaco appears to prefer zone coverage, these guys have the experience and depth to hopefully keep opponents from too many big plays. Safeties are also an area of depth with a couple of RS Seniors of Brennan Thieneman and Simeon Smiley in the two-deeps.
Obviously, there is reason to be hopeful. Last year couldn’t have gone much worse and while losing experienced players like Bailey and Neal certainly hurt, it gave some of the younger guys a chance to see the field and get much needed experience. There are some big questions that loom though. Will the Boilers have enough time to adjust to Diaco’s scheme? Starting off against a conference foe in Nebraska doesn’t exactly give one time to work out the flaws in a new system before taking on a very good Memphis team and a tricky offensive scheme against Air Force.
I’m holding out hope that Diaco can get this thing turned around. If not, Purdue’s back to relying on the offense to outscore opponents. Not that it matters because we aren’t getting football.