ANN ARBOR — Four games into the 2012 season, is it safe to label Purdue’s offense as prolific?
Nobody’s doled out that type of superlatives just yet, but after Saturday’s 51-41 win over Marshall, the Boilermakers boosted their passing proficiency, in part because they had to out-throw the Thundering Herd in order to earn the nonconference win.
Traditionally a pass-happy program, Marshall leads the nation in passing yardage (1,973) and is third in the nation this season in passing (394.6 yards per game).
But to put it in some context, Marshall is also last in the country in points allowed (222), and its defense has allowed an average of nearly 500 yards a game — 115th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Purdue may have exploited Marshall. But when the Boilermakers host Michigan in a Big Ten Conference opener Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., the Wolverines are preparing for the fact that Purdue not only has options in its offense, but it also has wrinkles.
“I like what they do as far as getting their running backs and splitting them out as receivers, and putting receivers in the backfield and tight ends all over the place,” Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens said. “We have to come out there prepared. We have to be good with our eyes. They move guys around, and we have to locate those guys.”
Purdue (3-1) is second in scoring offense in the Big Ten with 170 points in its first four games, and is second in passing offense, averaging 262 yards a game. Against Marshall, Caleb TerBush solidified his spot as Purdue’s starting quarterback, finishing 27 of 37 with 294 yards and four touchdowns and was intercepted once.
“This is the first game of the season where you go in without a question at quarterback,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said, noting that TerBush had a 73 percent completion rate against Marshall.
Hope said Robert Marve could still factor into the Boilermakers’ offensive game plan, despite the fact that Marve suffered a torn ACL last month, his third knee injury Purdue. Marve told the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier on Tuesday that he plans to dress against Michigan.
But, Hope said, “We’re much more focused on Caleb being the guy … right now, he is the best quarterback for our team going into this Saturday, but don’t count the others out.”
After facing a team that emphasizes its passing game, it didn’t just prepare the Boilermakers to face a Michigan team that has options at wide receiver. It also gave Purdue a chance to strengthen its defense.
“Marshall had almost 100 plays,” Hope said. “Any time you play against a red-hot offense, it provides opportunities for a football team to get better. If we would have minimized some of that offensive production and been more disciplined, we could have minimized their production.”
Purdue just can’t focus on its own offense; its defensive stats aren’t necessarily dazzling. The Boilermakers are eighth in total defense in the Big Ten, surrendering an average of 353.2 yards a game — even in allowing just 105.2 yards on the ground.
Purdue’s focus will mean either containing a Michigan offense that, outside of quarterback Denard Robinson, is struggling to create some substance as of late. Or it could mean stopping an offense that, as a whole, is lying in wait for a breakout game.
“Everything can’t be geared just to stop Denard,” Hope said. “He adds a whole new dimension to the ball game. But if everything’s geared to stop him, you miss stopping the other players.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.