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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 6

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 26, ISSUE 6 43 P urdue's defensive players better be ready. Not only when they are on the field — that's obvious — but off it. It's then that they could be summoned, needing to race onto the field from the sideline to match the personnel of the opposing offense. That's the foundation of the Boil- ermakers' matchup defense, a scheme in which Purdue will try to get the best possible personnel on the field to counter the offense. And not by quarter or drive, but by play, a near-constant substitution rate that has players — at least those top 15 or so defenders — on call all the time. "You've got to be ready to go," said first-year defensive coordinator Ross Els, who started implementing the sys- tem in the spring. "At any time, (opponents) could jump into '32' personnel and have no wideouts in the game or go five wide receivers and an empty (backfield), so the guys who are next into the game have to be tuned in to that, no question." If they are — and if they execute — then Els feels it's the Boilermakers' best chance to slow down the opposi- tion, especially in this 21st Century version of football, which often features multiple-receiver sets, fast tempos and faster players. It'll likely mean the Boilermakers are in a lot of nickel, with four down linemen, two linebackers and five defen- sive backs, because offenses these days — as opposed to the two-back formations of 20 years ago — almost al- ways have at least three wide receivers on the field. And frequently they go to four, making Purdue drop another linebacker while picking up a sixth defensive back, its dime defense. In the rare occasions an opponent has two backs and a tight end, "21" personnel as it's called, or some other "heavy" formation, Purdue likely will be in a traditional 4-3. "We're matching personnel," middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley said. "Last year, we pretty much stayed with three linebackers on the field at all times. We rarely, if ever, took a 'backer off the field. This time, there's sit- uations where we'll have two, some we'll have one. Some we'll have three D-linemen on the field, all based on the offensive personnel. I really like that, because we have a DB matched up on a wide receiver instead of a linebacker on a receiver. A linebacker on a receiver is a mismatch. We have those pieces in place. His scheme puts the best players in the best situations." But there are questions: • How does Purdue improve its rush defense, which ranked last in the Big Ten last season (allowing 214.9 yards per game), when it largely will play smaller, with multiple-DB personnel? • Additionally, because the Boilermakers will guard against the pass first at linebacker, how will that affect rush defense? And will it put a greater strain on the front four, which not only has to slow the rush but rush the passer? • Purdue's deepest position, without question, is linebacker, which will now play largely with only two — or maybe one — on the field. Will it work to trade off an experienced linebacker for an inexperienced defensive back? Questions that will need answered. But it's not as if Purdue's defense couldn't stand to try something else. It has struggled, at best, recently, includ- ing in 2015 when it ranked near or at the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly every relevant category. The Boilermakers were 13th in scoring defense (36.5 points per game); 12th in total yardage (458.3); 12th in pass efficiency; 11th in sacks; and 13th in third-down stops. It played well at times, like at No. 2 Michigan State or its turnover-fueled performance vs. Nebraska, but those were followed by poor — terrible really — outings vs. Minnesota and Illinois. "We've shown we can play in spurts, but the consistent Change Is Good Defensive unit will work to match opponents' schemes

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