Final Grade: Rushing Defense Missed Key Players, But Had Its Moments
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue’s defense as a whole was very inconsistent over the course of the 2019 season, and the rushing defense may have had the toughest go of it.
As it has been for every other area that has been graded so far, the Purdue rushing defense also took some major blows before the start of the season. Entering the year, the Boilermakers expected to have two NFL-caliber forces — senior linebacker Markus Bailey and senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal — manning the middle of the defense,
That ended up not being the case.
Neal, who suffered a torn ACL last season, just couldn’t recover enough to get back on the field and ended up missing the entire season. If that wasn’t bad enough, leading up to Purdue’s third game of the season, Bailey suffered a torn ACL at practice that all but ended his time as a Boilermaker.
It didn’t take long for Bailey’s absence to be noticed. In the first game following his injury, the Purdue defense allowed an insane 346 rushing yards to TCU.
Without those two not around to shore up the middle, the Purdue run defense had a rough go of it, allowing a whopping 192 yards per game. Opposing runners averaged 4.7 yards per carry and found the end zone 25 times against the Boilermakers.
All of those numbers put Purdue near the bottom of the Big Ten, with only Rutgers and Illinois ranked lower in yards allowed and Rutgers and Nebraska ranked lower in touchdowns allowed.
The rushing defense was up and down for the majority of the year, but the bads were much worse than any of the goods were good. Along with the 346 yards to TCU, Purdue allowed 242 to Illinois in a loss, 251 to Northwestern in a close win and 403 to Wisconsin in a big loss.
It didn’t seem to matter who Purdue played, because opposing running backs seemingly did whatever they wanted on the ground nearly all season. Not only was the average yards per carry bad, the Boilermakers were susceptible to big gains, shown by the longest run they allowed all season, a 79-yarder.
If there was one bright spot of the season for Purdue’s run defense, it was graduate transfer Ben Holt. Holt took over as the main linebacker following Bailey’s injury and did as best he could to fill in. He finished the season with a team leading 114 tackles.
He had one of the best performances for a Purdue linebacker in recent memory, recording 17 tackles against TCU early on in the season. But with him gone next season, along with Bailey, Purdue is going to have to fill those spots with quality players, or it could be more of the same.