Despite injuries, Purdue still poses potent threat

Colin Becht and Colin Becht

Purdue head coach Danny Hope must have walked under a ladder or broken a mirror.

There must be something to explain the bad luck that has beset the Boilermakers, clogging up their injury list with key skill players.

When Purdue enters Ryan Field this Saturday, it will be without its starting quarterback Robert Marve, starting running back Ralph Bolden and number one wide receiver Keith Smith, each with torn ACLs. Add to that list the Boilermakers’ No. 2 wide receiver Justin Siller who will miss 3-6 weeks due to a sprained foot.

“There’s a lot of similarities between what they’re going through right now and what we went through a couple years ago when we lost C.J. (Bacher) and Tyrell (Sutton) in the same game,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald means that comparison as a warning to his players, given that Northwestern defeated No. 20 Minnesota 24-17 in 2008 without Bacher or Sutton.

“I don’t think any of us are taking Purdue lightly,” junior defensive end Vince Browne said. “They’re a good football team and a storied program.”

The one thing in Purdue’s favor is that the team has gotten an extra week to recover and work in its new players with a bye last week.

“The open week gave us the opportunity to get our new quarterback, Rob Henry, some extra reps and realign some of our skill players,” Hope said. “If we had not had an open week, I would have had some real concerns.”

Henry, a redshirt freshman, seemed likely to be the No. 3 option for the Boilermakers at quarterback but moved to the second team after sophomore Caleb TerBush was declared academically ineligible.

When Marve tore his ACL in Purdue’s 31-20 loss to Toledo two weeks ago, Henry was suddenly thrust into the starting job.

“He’s far enough along to understand the offense,” Hope said. “We don’t have to call a new offense because of Rob Henry.”

Henry also brings tremendous speed to the offense.

“He might be the best athlete on our football team,” Hope said.

Fitzgerald said he has recognized the speed Henry brings to the offense.

“He’s about a 4.4 kid at quarterback. He’s dynamic,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ll play to his strengths. We expect we’ll see some more quarterback run.”

Henry certainly isn’t the only Purdue player who has seen more time this season due to injuries. Running back Dan Dierking will take the bulk of the carries filling in for Bolden, while Al-Terek McBurse also figures to get carries.

Hope said though Dierking may not have been who he planned on using at running back, he is “one of the hardest workers we have on our football team, one of the toughest guys we have on our football team.”

With both of Purdue’s top two wideouts out of action for this week, Henry’s primary targets will be Cortez Smith and Antavian Edison. Edison was one of the players that Fitzgerald said stood out to him most on tape along with fellow wide receiver O.J. Ross.

“The good news is they’ve all played. We’ve seen how they’ve been deployed,” Fitzgerald said.

While going to backups obviously presents a major challenge for Hope, it has increased the difficulty for Fitzgerald in preparing for the game as well.

“It’d be great if Danny would share the practice tape from last week with us, but that won’t happen,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s going to be a big unknown. We’re going to have to do a lot of adjusting on Saturday.”

Defensively, the Boilermakers are led by defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who was named to the Bronko Nagurski Watch List this season and was a media first-team All-Big Ten player a year ago.

“He plays very relentless out there, and that’s what all defensive linemen admire,” senior defensive tackle Corbin Bryant said.

Junior quarterback Dan Persa said he has taken note of Kerrigan and the rest of Purdue’s front seven, which tallied three sacks and three forced fumbles against Toledo.

“Their front seven is one of the best we’re going to see,” Persa said.

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