Kickoff: Central Michigan at Purdue, noon, Saturday
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WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue is going deep against Central Michigan.
This much we know.
How often and how successful remain key questions Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The Chippewas (1-0) figure to do whatever is necessary to limit big-play backs Raheem Mostert and Akeen Hunt. If that means putting eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, so be it.
“They're going to try to load the box,” coach Darrell Hazell said. “They'll probably try to put the safeties down low.”
The Boilers (1-0) might be powerful enough to blast through that loading, but hitting some deep passes will lighten the challenge.
At least, that's the theory.
“I think we do have to stretch the field a little more vertically,” Hazell said, “but they're big inside. Their two tackles -- Leterrius Walton (6-5, 323 pounds) and Kelby Latta (6-4, 312) -- are very big guys. We've got to get those guys a little tired before we can stretch the field.”
Walton rates among the Mid-American Conference's top defensive linemen. He anchors a veteran defense that isn't about to let Mostert and Hunt (a combined 224 rushing yards in last Saturday's win over Western Michigan) do to them what they did to Western Michigan.
That means quarterback Danny Etling must be far more accurate than he was in the season opener, when he was 19-for-38 for 181 yards, with a long pass of 29 yards to freshman receiver Gregory Phillips.
“We have to complete the ball outside,” Hazell said. “We need to complete it. They want to keep the ball in front of them, so they're going to play off a little bit. We have to hit those intermediate zones, break a tackle and make some big plays.”
That doesn't mean that Etling played poorly. He threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and didn't turn the ball over or take a sack.
“I'd say we'd feel pretty good if he could do that for 12-plus games a year,” Hazell said.
“There were some passes that he left some yardage on the table. We missed probably five passes that should have been more accurate. He understands that. He knows he has to get better at that. But those other stats, that will win games.”
The more repetition Etling gets with his receivers, Hazell said, particularly deep threat DeAngelo Yancey, the more accurate he'll become.
“It's repetition and the more a guy is open, the more comfortable you feel throwing the ball, as well. So it's a kind of double-edged sword.”
Yancey didn't catch a pass last Saturday, and the reason goes well beyond Etling's inaccuracy.
“We need a lot more productivity out of DeAngelo,” Hazell said. “He's got to play stronger though the catch. He's got to play stronger and faster through his routes to beat man-to-man coverage. That's one area he needs to improve on.”
Meanwhile, do-it-all Frankie Williams's Western Michigan performance earned him a spot on the Paul Hornung Award weekly honor roll. In his first game at safety (he had played cornerback his first two seasons), Williams had a 56-yard interception return to set up a Purdue touchdown. He also had two key pass breakups late in the game to secure the victory.
Beyond that, he had punt returns of 27 and 36 yards that led to 10 Boiler points. His 31.5-yard punt return average ranks fourth nationally. He added seven tackles.
As far as Central Michigan, if you see a lot of Michigan State in its play, it's not by accident. Coach Dan Enos is a former Spartan assistant coach. He is trying to duplicate Michigan State's power offense and rugged defense.
Central Michigan, positioned to make a bowl this season with 19 starters from a 6-6 team, rallied from a 16-0 deficit to beat Tennessee-Chattanoogo 20-16 last Saturday.
Tailback Thomas Rawls made instant impact after transferring from Michigan. He rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries, including a 6-yard touchdown. Then there's tailback Saylor Lavallii, who rushed for 807 yards last year to earn All-MAC honors.
The Chippewas will be without heralded receiver Titus Davis, who hurt his knee against Tennessee-Chattanooga. He averaged 18.9 yards a catch last season, the best among every returning receiver. He caught 144 passes for 2,720 yards and 24 TDs in his first three seasons.
They do have All-MAC linebacker Justin Cherocci, who led the team with 11 tackles against Tennessee-Chattanooga. He had a conference-leading 121 tackles last year.
Central Michigan held Tennessee-Chattanooga to 150 passing yards. They ranked No. 13 in pass defense last year, allowing 203.9 yards. Cornerback Tony Annessee had two interceptions last Saturday, and has four in four career games.