WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -Maybe a September bye week will help a struggling Purdue defense.
The Boilermakers (1-1), who will host to Nevada (2-1) on Saturday, appeared a step slow in surrendering 512 yards and five touchdowns to Cincinnati in their last game, a 38-20 loss on Sept. 10.
Purdue ranks last in Big Ten scoring defense (31 points per game), last in total defense (455 yards) and last in rushing defense (219 yards).
On Tuesday, fourth-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell disagreed with the theory that the Boilermakers’ defensive team speed was to blame for the loss.
“I didn’t sense that at all,” Hazell said, “We were in position to make four or five critical plays in that (Cincinnati) game, and we didn’t make the plays. But I didn’t sense that their speed was any better than ours.”
Instead, Hazell’s theory centers on Purdue adjusting to a new defensive scheme that may be causing some defenders to hesitate at the point of attack rather than simply reacting and tackling.
“The message this week is no hesitation,” Hazell said. “We’ve got to eliminate hesitation. The other part is just being able to make those plays that have nothing to do with hesitation, like being in position to make those plays.”
Purdue junior linebacker Ja’Whan Bentley, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 8.5 tackles per game, noticed the hesitation element in the Cincinnati game. He said that must be corrected before facing a Nevada team that averages 208.3 rushing yards.
“We struggled tackling, definitely, early on in the Cincinnati game,” Bentley said. “And there were a few deep balls that we didn’t see. Like coach says, it’s about tackling and making plays on the ball, along with recognizing that it’s third down and we have to get off the field.”
Purdue’s defense should receive a boost this week when two starters – end Austin Larkin and cornerback Da’Wan Hunte – return to the lineup after missing the season’s first two games because of ankle injuries.
Notes: Linebacker Jimmy Herman remains questionable with a hamstring injury. … Purdue starting running back Markell Jones, who missed most of the second half against Cincinnati with a shoulder injury, used the bye week to rehab and is expected to start against Nevada.