By CLIFF BRUNT
One of Danny Hope’s top priorities during the bye week should be finding more ways to get the ball to Antavian Edison.
The man is a big-time playmaker in the passing game, the kind the Boilermakers haven’t had in recent years. If the Boilermakers make the most of his talents, there are no limits to what they can accomplish this year.
In the opener, Edison caught seven passes for 58 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky. He caught six passes for 50 yards and two scores against Notre Dame. Edison’s touchdown catch against the Irish with 2:12 remaining was one of the best plays by a Purdue football player in the past decade.
He came back with five catches for 78 yards and another score against Eastern Michigan.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. In his career, 12 of his 95 catches have gone for touchdowns.
O.J. Ross is good, but he doesn’t quite match Edison’s knack for making the big play. Both have 18 catches this season, but Edison has four touchdowns and Ross hasn’t scored. Ross has career marks of 62 catches and four touchdowns.
Now, if Edison’s ability opens up things for Ross and the offensive line can protect the quarterback, then Purdue really has something. Suddenly, all that short stuff Purdue likes to do becomes easier to execute, Purdue can stretch the field and the Boilermakers offense becomes more capable of supporting its dynamic defense.
Edison should crack the top 20 at Purdue in both receptions and yards by season’s end. He’s already tied for 15th in touchdowns; three more would push him into the top 10.
For a recent reference point, Aaron Valentin was quite a playmaker in 2009, but he wasn’t the red-zone threat Edison has become. As good as Keith Smith was, he was mostly a possession receiver. His role was important, but he was a move-the-chains guy rather than a gamebreaker.
You’d have to go back to Dorien Bryant to find a playmaker of this caliber in the passing game.
Here’s the problem: it’s hard to get the ball to him. Purdue’s offensive line has struggled at times this season. Boilermakers quarterbacks were sacked four times against Notre Dame. Edison is effective down the field, but the Boilermakers rarely go deep and would need the line to hold to take advantage of his gifts in that area. Many of the passes the Boilermakers throw to him are quick hits to get him out into space before the defense can adjust, but even those plays are often thrown out of whack because of protection issues or inaccurate throws.
We know Purdue can run the ball now. The Boilermakers can’t really line it up and go smashmouth, but they can get to the perimeter in a hurry. Think how much more effective the offense could be if defenses had to worry equally about the run and the pass, and both the short and deep passing games.
Edison is a legitimate game changer. He’s the perfect compliment to Akeem Shavers, Akeem Hunt, and the rest of the stable of runners that might eventually include Ralph Bolden. It’s up to the coaching staff and the offensive line to get him loose.
PURDUE’S DEFENSE: The Boilermakers defense is off to one of its best starts in recent years.
Purdue has allowed 42 total points in its first three games, its best start since 2004. That team won its first five games before losing its next four and losing to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
The Boilermakers rank 21st nationally in total defense, allowing just 293 yards per game. That’s second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State. The Boilermakers rank 18th nationally in scoring defense.
OTHER NATIONAL RANKINGS: Landon Feichter is tied for 13th nationally with 0.67 interceptions per game. He has two picks and returned one for a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky.
Kawann Short is tied for 18th nationally with 1.00 sacks per game.
Cody Webster is 15th nationally with 45.08 yards per punt.
As a team, Purdue ranks third in the Big Ten and 23rd nationally with 39.67 points per game.
STILL MAKING MISTAKES: This looks like the best Boilermaker team since Joe Tiller’s heyday, but there’s one problem that continues to pop up: turnovers.
The Boilermakers have thrown five interceptions and have fumbled six times, losing four. Purdue has one more turnover than its opponents this season.
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