WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Purdue defense entered the 2021 season intending to play fast, physical and aggressive. It was talked about all offseason, and it showed on the field in the team's 30-21 season-opening win against Oregon State on Saturday.
The Boilermakers completely overhauled their defensive coaching staff, but that didn't change the names and faces stepping onto the field and competing every week.
The players are the same, they're just under a different ideology compared to last year, and they worked diligently in preparation for Week 1. Purdue held the Oregon State offense to 138 total yards, seven points and five first downs in the first half.
"Relentless, I don't think new," junior defensive end George Karlaftis said. "It all starts with our strength and conditioning program in the offseason. It was the hardest offseason I've ever been a part of, and it's a testament to our strength coach."
Karlaftis came mere steps away from recording his first quarterback takedown of the year on multiple plays. He finished the game with four total tackles and assisted on a tackle for loss.
Purdue, despite finishing the game with just one sack, pressured the Beavers' starting quarterback Sam Noyer into completing just 10 of his 21 throws.
Against an experienced offensive line that was returning all of its starters from 2020, the Boilermakers were proficient at hurrying the quarterback and stopping the run game.
"I think that kind of prepares us for Big Ten play because we're going to see lines like that, if not better, every single week," Karlaftis said. "Just getting us ready, it shows us that we can hold our own. I feel like our D-line has improved tremendously since last year."
Karlaftis indicated that Purdue was disguising its pass rush by moving players into different positions. He lined up on both sides of the line throughout the game and occasionally came off the edge from a standing position, rather than having his hand in the dirt.
The tenacity up front made it easy for junior linebacker Jalen Graham to have a standout performance. He tallied a team-high six tackles, came away with the Boilermakers' only sack, broke up three passes and forced a fumble.
Oregon State starting quarterback Sam Noyer, after fumbling the football in the first quarter, was intercepted by junior safety Cam Allen in the second. The final play of the first half for the Beaver signal-caller was a kneel to send both teams to the locker room.
Noyer was given one more drive before Oregon State made a quarterback change late in the third quarter while trailing 16-7, looking to mount a comeback while the game was still in reach.
Purdue did give up two different seven-play, 75-yard drives that allowed the Beavers to hang around longer than expected, but it didn't deter the players from their relentless mentality.
"Just keep being aggressive," Karlaftis said. "We know there's going to be a couple big plays every now and then, but just keep being aggressive, keep executing and keep the intensity up."
As the Purdue offense faltered at times to take control of the game, it was the defense that gave it back to them time and time again. Oregon State attempted two fourth-down conversions but was stifled on both attempts.
The first came from its 46-yard line. On a fourth-and-2 play, the Beavers brought in redshirt junior inside linebacker Jack Colletto to run a quarterback plunge. However, he ran the ball right into the waiting arms of Karlaftis for a one-yard gain, giving possession back to the Boilermakers.
In the fourth quarter, Oregon State went for it all on fourth-and-1 by running a play-action throw deep down the field with junior cornerback Cory Trice in coverage. He closed in on a high-sailing ball and used his 6-foot-3 frame to knock the pass to the turf.
Six plays later, juniors Jack Plummer and Payne Durham connected on a five-yard passing touchdown for Purdue, giving the team a 23-14 lead. In total, one takeaway and two fourth-down stops led to 13 points.
"We made some key stops, and we did challenge things," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. "We did go for some interceptions and try to get some sacks. And anytime you stop people on fourth down, that means your defense is going for the win. So, still a long ways to go, but I like the makeup of our guys. I think they want to battle and compete and win and play hard and play together."
- GAME STORY: Junior tight end Payne Durham caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to help lift Purdue over Oregon State. Junior quarterback Jack Plummer threw for 313 yards in his first season-opening start. CLICK HERE
- LIVE BLOG: The Purdue Boilermakers opened their 2021 campaign at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette on Saturday against the Oregon State Beavers. CLICK HERE
- PURDUE 2021 SCHEDULE: Purdue's 2021 college football schedule includes nine Big Ten games and three nonconference matchups. The team will travel to Hartford, Connecticut to take on UConn next week. CLICK HERE