Boilers Have Some Bright Spots In Otherwise Season-Opening Loss

By: Kenny Thompson

A bright spot from Purdue football’s 39-35 season-opening loss to Fresno State was the play of Westfield graduate Dillon Thieneman.

In his first collegiate game, the safety played so well that the Big Ten Conference honored Thieneman as its Freshman of the Week.

Thieneman recorded a team-high 10 solo tackles and his fourth-quarter interception resulted in a go-ahead touchdown. Thieneman is just the third Purdue true freshman to intercept a pass in their debut, joining James Dunnigan in 1999 against UCF and Josh Hayes vs. Eastern Kentucky in 2016.

Thieneman also is the first defensive Boilermaker to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors since cornerback Frankie Williams in 2012.

“I was very, very pleased and excited for him, but I wasn’t surprised,” first-year coach Ryan Walters said Tuesday. “The beautiful thing about football is that it doesn’t matter how old you are. He has deserved his spot on the roster and his spot on the depth chart.”

It didn’t go unnoticed by at least one media member that Thieneman plays 15-20 yards off the line of scrimmage.

“That depth allows him to see the quarterback, allows him to see things kind of unfolding in front of him to be able to put him in position to go make plays,” Walters said.


Football notes

Calling the new Purdue football staff “a great mix of experience and young and hungry to prove themselves,” Football Scoop has rated Ryan Walters’ assistants the fifth most impressive new staff of 2023.

Author Doug Samuels’ praise begins with the addition of offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.

“The ability to grab Graham Harrell from West Virginia could prove to be the most impressive coordinator hire of the entire off season in college football, in my opinion.

“Purdue teams that have been able to win 8 games or more in a season have both been led by offensive-minded head coaches (Joe Tiller and Jeff Brohm), so Purdue going outside of that trend to land one of the most impressive defensive coordinators in college football as their new leader meant that the offensive coordinator hire was absolutely critical.

“In Harrell, the Boilermakers land someone that has called games on big stages, and at a blue-blood program like USC. His philosophy will allow them to maximize the talent on the roster, as there will be some schematic carryover from what Brohm was doing, and will allow them to continue to recruit and develop playmakers on the perimeter and vertical threats, similar to what that they’ve been churning out the last few years.”

But it’s the defense that provides the biggest challenge to this staff. Samuels sees Fresno State, Wisconsin and Ohio State at home, plus Michigan and Nebraska on the road as games that will hinge on the Boilermakers’ defensive talents.

“Walters and (defensive coordinator Kevin) Kane were able to engineer a quick turnaround defensively at Illinois, and whether they’ll be able to do the same with the Black and Gold I see being the biggest challenge ahead for the program.

The good news is that, in addition to Kane, Walters was able to bring in veteran defensive line coach Brick Haley to mentor the defensive front. With experience at LSU and Texas and in the NFL with the Bears on his resume, Haley infuses some incredible experience on the defensive side of the ball.”

Samuels also called former Illinois assistant Cory Patterson as the “most intriguing hire.” Patterson is credited for coaching running back Chase Brown into an All-American last season.

Wisconsin (2nd) and Nebraska (4th) were the other Big Ten staffs ranked by Football Scoop. …

Purdue quarterback Hudson Card ranked 43rd among The Athletic’s Top 100 athletes from the college football transfer portal. Card was the eighth overall quarterback on the list, which was topped by overall No. 1 Sam Hartman of Notre Dame. Big Ten rivals Tanner Mordecai of Wisconsin (7th) and Jeff Sims of Nebraska (36th) were listed ahead of Card.

“Card may be one of the transfer QBs in this cycle who benefits most from a change in scenery,” The Athletic analysis stated. “The 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt junior is ready to fully prove what he can do. He won the starting job at Texas going into 2021 but couldn’t hold on to it.

“Card got back on the field early last season when Quinn Ewers was knocked out of the Alabama game and played well despite an ankle injury, throwing for 899 yards with six touchdowns and one interception during his four-game stretch as starter. He has quickly won over his new team and was voted a team captain heading into coach Ryan Walters’ debut season.”


Great expectations

The return of National Player of the Year Zach Edey will once again keep Purdue in the college basketball spotlight according to The Athletic’s CJ Moore and Sam Vecenie, who rank the Boilermakers fourth in their preseason rankings.

Kansas, Marquette and Duke are slotted ahead of Purdue. The Boilermakers are among four Big Ten Conference teams in The Athletic’s Top 25, joined by Michigan State (6th), Illinois (14th) and Wisconsin (15th).

“This team is built similarly to a year ago with just slightly more depth. Everything once again will revolve around Zach Edey, but it looks like Matt Painter might diversify his offense with some more ball-screen action,” The Athletic duo’s analysis states. “Purdue needs to move Edey around when teams bracket him in the post like Fairleigh Dickinson did. Painter said two years ago that he preferred to be different and run far fewer ball screens than the rest of college basketball.

“The Boilermakers ranked 316th in ball-screen usage last year, but that number could tick up if you want to read into how they played on their foreign tour, which was without Edey. Braden Smith, who looks like he’s added some muscle, worked out of a lot of ball screens in the middle of the floor and usually made the right read — he had 42 assists and only seven turnovers in four games. (In Purdue’s final game on the tour, we counted 29 ball screens. That’s more than we’re used to seeing from Painter’s offense.) Smith, who had seven turnovers in the shocking first-round NCAA Tournament loss to FDU, will also benefit from the addition of a secondary handler in grad transfer Lance Jones.

“The key for Purdue will be making perimeter shots. It’s a lot harder to pull off the kind of defensive plan FDU used if the Boilermakers make the open jumpers that the attention around Edey creates. They need a good year from Fletcher Loyer, who shot just 32.6 percent from 3 as a freshman but has the potential to shoot way better than that number.”

Oddly, The Athletic lists “continuity” among Marquette’s strengths while not listing it among Purdue’s assets. All five starters return and six of the top eight scorers. In today’s transfer portal word, it’s difficult to be more stable than those facts.

To the surprise of absolutely no one in college basketball, Edey was selected preseason National Player of the Year by Blue Ribbon Yearbook.

Not since UCLA’s Bill Walton in 1971-72 and 1972-73 has anyone been a consensus, back-to-back National Player of the Year.

Walton’s Bruins won national championships in both seasons.

Jamie Shaw of lists Purdue among the 10 schools he believes can win the national championship.

“The last top overall seed to get ousted by a 16-seed in round one, Virginia, went on to win it all next year,” Shaw writes. “This team also adds top 100 freshman wing Myles Colvin. Will this be the year Matt Painter shakes his college basketball postseason stigma?”

The other schools on Shaw’s list, in alphabetical order: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Duke, Houston, Kansas, Kentucky, Miami and Michigan State.

Purdue fans are also anticipating a memorable season, snatching up all 9,000 available season tickets for the third consecutive season. Purdue athletic officials state the renewal rate approached 99 percent. Single-game and multi-game ticket packages are still available.