Road to the Foster Farms Bowl
Dec. 27, 2017


Purdue Bowl Central / Foster Farms Bowl


SAN FRANCISCO - It is bowl gameday for the Purdue football team. The Boilermakers take on Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by FOX.

The Boilermakers boast a 6-6 overall record, and they finished tied for third place in the Big Ten Conference West Division with a 4-5 mark.

Following is a look how the Boilermakers got back to the bowl scene for the first time in five years:

OFFENSE

First-year head coach Jeff Brohm arrived at Purdue heralded for his offensive acumen, and his ingenuity enabled Purdue to find success both running and throwing the football. The Boilermakers averaged 390.4 yards of total offense (239.5 passing and 150.9 rushing) and 24.2 points per game.

Junior David Blough and sophomore Elijah Sindelar split time at quarterback before Blough suffered a season-ending injury in early November. Sindelar, who is one of just two Football Bowl Subdivision starting signal-callers majoring in engineering, wound up completing 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,703 yards with 14 touchdowns and merely six interceptions.

Eleven players accumulated double-digit reception totals, led by redshirt freshman Jackson Anthrop (44 catches, 391 yards and five touchdowns) and senior Anthony Mahoungou (34 catches, 570 yards and six touchdowns). In the Boilermakers' had-to-have-it 24-15 victory at Iowa on Nov. 18, Mahoungou had a career-best game with seven receptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Five of the catches for 118 yards and both scores came in a span of six plays on the first two possessions of the third quarter, turning a 9-7 deficit into a 21-9 advantage in a matter of three minutes.

Junior tight end Cole Herdman caught at least one pass in every game for the second straight season, extending his streak to 28 consecutive contests.

Four running backs buoyed the rushing attack: junior Markell Jones (480 yards, 5.2 average), junior D.J. Knox (460 yards, 5.8 average), sophomore Tario Fuller (261 yards, 6.1 average) and sophomore Richie Worship (257 yards, 4.8 average). Jones erupted for a career-best 217 yards - the seventh-most in school history - in the season finale, a 31-24 bowl-clinching win in the annual Old Oaken Bucket game against Indiana.

Junior Kirk Barron, who has started the last 25 games at center, anchored the offensive line, which benefitted from the addition of two transfers - fifth-year senior right tackle David Steinmetz and junior left guard Shane Evans.

Purdue scored on its opening drive five times and won all five games.

DEFENSE

Under new co-coordinators Nick Holt and Anthony Poindexter, the Boilermakers boasted the most-improved defense in the country. In 2016, Purdue allowed a school-record average of 38.2 points per game. That figure essentially was sliced in half this season at 19.3 points per game. In Big Ten Conference games, the makeover was even more incredible: 42.6 to 19.2 points per game (+23.4). The Boilermakers allowed two touchdowns or fewer in eight games, and they gave up only two second-half touchdowns in five road games.

The major reason for the upgrade was rushing defense as Purdue went from allowing 238.4 to 133.3 yards per game, the third-best turnaround nationally.

Seven senior starters were keys to the about-face: tackle Gelen Robinson, ends Danny Ezechukwu and Austin Larkin, linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley and T.J. McCollum, and cornerbacks Da'Wan Hunte and Josh Okonye. McCollum and Okonye were graduate transfers. Robinson earned third team All-Big Ten honors after pacing Purdue with 11.5 tackles for loss. Ezechukwu recovered three fumbles (tied for the fourth-most in the country). Bentley led the way with 89 tackles and returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown to seal the Boilermakers' 31-14 win over Minnesota on Oct. 7. Okonye and Hunte recorded nine and seven pass breakups, respectively.

Sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey put together an outstanding all-around season to the tune of 78 tackles, including 10 for loss and seven sacks, with two pass breakups, one interception, one fumble forced and one fumble recovered.

Another sophomore, safety Navon Mosely, topped the team with two interceptions.

Opponents had 13 fumbles against the Boilermakers, who recovered 10 of them, including six in Purdue territory - four inside the 10-yard line and three inside the 5-yard line.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Purdue had three constants on special teams: made field goals, touchbacks and trick plays.

Junior Spencer Evans, another transfer, and sophomore J.D. Dellinger were perfect on field goal attempts of 40 yards or less, going 16 for 16 combined.

Of Evans' 66 kickoffs, 34 were touchbacks (51.5 percent). Last season, Purdue had just seven touchbacks.

And special teams coordinator Tony Levine dialed up four fake punts, all resulting in first downs. None was bigger than junior punter Joe Schopper's 22-yard pass to sophomore Mike Little in the second quarter against Indiana. It came on fourth-and-3 from the Hoosiers' 43-yard line and led to a touchdown that gave the Boilermakers a 14-7 advantage they would not relinquish.

Schopper averaged 40.2 yards per punt. Of his 67 attempts, 38 were fair caught, 28 came to rest inside the opponent's 20-yard line and 15 traveled 50 or more yards.

Senior linebacker Garrett Hudson, whose interception led to Purdue's first touchdown against Indiana, blocked two punts on the season to tie the school record.


 

 

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