By CLIFF BRUNT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Eastern Kentucky 7, Kansas State 0.
That was the score at the end of the third quarter of the Colonels’ season opener in Manhattan, Kan. last year. The mere mention of it sent Purdue coach Danny Hope rustling through his papers during his weekly teleconference.
Kansas State scored in the final two minutes to win 10-7, but the fact remained that Eastern Kentucky competed. The nationally-ranked Football Championship Subdivision program will not be intimidated in the season opener for both teams Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. Hope, who played for Eastern Kentucky and was head coach there from 2003-2007, said he won’t be surprised if the Colonels play the Boilermakers tough.
I believe they’ll come here and treat it like a rivalry game, he said. It would be a signature win, obviously, if they could manufacture that. We’ll draw their best game. They’ll be sky high. We’re looking to take the program this year and return it to national prominence. We’re going to be sky high. It’s going to be a heck of a football game.
Eastern Kentucky hasn’t beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team since 1985, but the Colonels have come close. They lost 19-13 at Indiana in 2009 and 23-13 at Louisville in 2010 before last year’s close call at Kansas State.
For Purdue, playing an FCS team like Eastern Kentucky might be dangerous, especially with Notre Dame waiting the next week. Given Hope’s record against perceived lesser teams – the losses to Northern Illinois in 2009 and Toledo – it might not be wise to think ahead to the Irish.
Regardless, Hope expects his team to be ready to play against EKU.
They’re so tired of hitting each other, and they have paid one unbelievable price to be a good football team, not just in the last several months, but since they’ve been here at Purdue, he said. And we have a chance to do very well this year.
Eastern Kentucky’s offense is loaded. Running back Matt Denham ran for 1,570 yards and nine touchdowns last season and is on the preseason watch list for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the FCS.
Dual threat quarterback T.J. Pryor passed for 1,605 yards and 18 touchdowns last season while 6-foot-4 receiver Tyrone Goard caught 39 passes for 627 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Purdue’s offense ought to be pretty good, too.
Quarterbacks Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry all have starting experience, and Hope plans to use them all.
TerBush started every game last season. He passed for 1,905 yards and 13 touchdowns and led the Boilermakers to a win in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Marve is back after being granted a sixth year of eligibility. He was the starter heading into the 2010 season, but he tore the ACL in his left knee against Toledo and didn’t return that season. He came back in 2011 but recovered slowly. He’s the biggest risk-taker of the three and is a capable runner. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Ohio State last season on a quarterback sneak in overtime.
Henry became the starter in 2010 after Marve was injured and finished that season with 996 yards passing and 547 yards rushing. He entered fall camp in 2011 as the starter but tore his right ACL and didn’t return. He has recovered more slowly than hoped, putting him behind TerBush and Marve.
There’s a place for all three guys in our offense throughout the course of the season, Hope said. We have a plan. Again, I don’t need to detail our game plan with the opening game being so close. But I’ve said all along that we have a plan to play all three of those guys. I think it’s going to be a real asset.
The Boilermakers will face a defense that allowed just 341 yards per game and had a plus-15 turnover margin last season.
Defensively, they have good size, better size than what you’d imagine, Hope said. Bigger across the defensive front. They can bring some pressure. They like to bring pressure. They play a lot of three deep. They’ll give you a little bit of room, but they make you earn it the hard way. You have to really execute to manufacture a drive.
Purdue’s defense should lead the way while the quarterback situation straightens out. The team boasts two All-America candidates in defensive tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen.
The Boilermakers will be without linebacker Dwayne Beckford for the season. The team’s No. 2 tackler last year was arrested and dismissed from the program. Antwon Higgs, Joe Gilliam and Sean Robinson will fill the void.
Dwayne wasn’t out there in the spring, and we were getting better as a football team and certainly appreciate his hard work and effort, Hope said. He’s out of the lineup. Those other guys will compete and play well, and we’ll win without Dwayne Beckford as a linebacker on our football team.