Boilermakers’ running game explosive

Sophomore Ralph Bolden ran for 234 yards last week against Toledo in his debut at running back. He looks to do more of the same this week against a Duck defense that allowed 164 rushing yards to Boise State.

In only his second game at the helm of the Purdue football team, first-year head coach Danny Hope will bring his Boilermakers across the country to play in the not-so-opponent-friendly Autzen Stadium, a task that can be daunting for coaches of all experience levels. Yet if this Purdue team is able to move the ball with the same success it had in its week-one matchup with Toledo, Autzen fans could be in for an unwelcome surprise.

The powerful Boilermaker offense, led by sophomore running back Ralph Bolden, tallied 535 total yards during their season-opener — nearly 400 yards more than Oregon’s total at Boise State — en route to a 52-31 victory. Bolden rushed for only 28 yards during the entire 2008 season, so his 234-yard breakout performance proved he could shoulder the rushing load.

“Many, many times in practice he took it the full length of the field,” Hope said. “You see a guy doing that over and over again, and pretty soon you realize this guy’s got some speed that can make a difference to the football team.”

“There are a lot of things we are going to need to do to contain him,” Oregon defensive end Will Tukuafu said of Bolden. “But if we play our fundamentals and technique we should be able to contain him.”

Redshirt senior quarterback Joey Elliott also had a career day in his debut as starting quarterback, going 17 of 28 for 220 yards, three touchdowns — his first TD since the 2007 season —and three interceptions, while suffering only one sack.

Elliott’s ability to spread the ball around to different players will be key for the Purdue offense again. While junior wide receiver Keith Smith led the team in receiving with eight receptions for 117 yards and a score, he was one of eight Boilermakers to record a catch in the game. Junior Keith Carlos and freshman Antavian Edison also recorded receiving touchdowns.

“Joey always has a lot of fun. He’s a high-energy guy; (it’s) hard to wear him down. He just keeps grinding away,” Hope said. “I thought he played like a veteran quarterback in a lot of ways.”

The victory was Hope’s first as head coach, and he became only the second head coach at Purdue since 1977 to win his debut game.

The Purdue defense, on the other hand, did not have quite the same success as the offense did last weekend. Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns, while his leading receiver Stephen Williams pulled in 15 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Redshirt senior linebacker Jason Werner did provide a small glimmer of light on the defensive end, recording a career-high 13 tackles in his first game back since 2007. Fellow redshirt senior defensive back Brandon King also finished with double-digit tackles, with 10.

In last year’s contest, both Oregon and Purdue featured versatile running attacks, despite neither team converting a touchdown through the air. Kory Sheets led the Boilermakers with 180 yards on 29 attempts and two touchdowns, while Oregon running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson rushed for 132 and 96 yards, respectively.

With the Oregon running game in some disrepair after the recent season-long suspension of Duck running back LeGarrette Blount, it is tough to tell just what kind of game this will be for the Duck offense. Purdue will still have to work on slowing Oregon tight end Ed Dickson and slot receiver Jeff Maehl, both of whom pulled down seven receptions in last year’s contest.

“Practice has been intense; we’re trying to bounce back from a tough loss,” junior linebacker Casey Matthews said. “That’s our mindset. We lost one, but hey, we got the whole season ahead. We’ve still got 11 games to look forward to, but right now we’re on Purdue.”

Matthews, Tukuafu and senior linebacker Spencer Paysinger will likely be the key to slowing the Purdue running attack. “Me and Pays, we’re looked at as veterans now,” Matthews said. “We have experience in the defense and we have to start communicating, especially when we’re playing in Autzen where it’s going to be loud.”

Matthews also said the Oregon defense has spent time this week focusing on getting off the field on third downs so the offense can have a chance to get into a rhythm.

“I think they’ll be waiting for us,” Hope concluded. “They’re going to be ready to go.”

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