Purdue Football: 4 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2013
Purdue's 1-3 start has not necessarily been a surprise this season, but every step up to this point has been.
The entire season has been a roller coaster ride, from Purdue's close call with FCS Indiana State to a competitive game against a BCS-minded Notre Dame team.
And, as a result of this up-and-down year, there have been many players that have surprised Purdue fans this season, both in positive and negative ways.
Some of these players, like running back Brandon Cottom, will need to become more involved with the offense for the Boilermakers to be successful while others, like tight end Justin Sinz, will look to continue their strong showings up to this point.
Russell has continued making a case this season for his inclusion in the “Den of Defensive Ends,” an honor he’s been eyeing since he first got to Purdue.
His stats during his first two seasons mark a striking resemblance to a Purdue legend’s first two seasons: Ryan Kerrigan.
But without Kawann Short, a second-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, by his side this season, the expectations were that Russell would struggle to put up the same type of statistics this season.
But Russell has continued to be on a tear, keeping pace with Ryan Kerrigan during his junior year.
In a starring performance against the Fighting Irish, Knauf was able to nab four catches for 51 yards, including a nifty 18-yard touchdown reception.
However, he hasn’t been able to produce more than one catch in any other game this season.
But Knauf has been a major contributor in other facets of the game and has shown off his versatility, most notably as a runner.
With the depth at receiver this season, Knauf’s emergence as an offensive weapon has been a pleasant surprise.
Richards has stepped up as a leader for the Purdue defensive this season and has had a variety of big plays to his credit already.
Richards provided a big forced fumble in the Notre Dame game that gave the offense a chance to tie the score up late (although they failed to convert).
He has already earned the admiration of his teammates and has been trying to earn the same amount of respect from the new coaching staff.
Ricardo Allen, for one, has sung Richards’ praises to anyone who will listen.
“Not too many people knew about him going into this year,” Boilermakers senior cornerback Ricardo Allen said, according to Nathan Baird of JCOnline. “I feel like he’s a star on people’s playbooks now. Once you go scout Purdue, you scout the secondary, you’re going to scout Taylor Richards.”
Richards has already piled up 24 tackles in only four games this season.
4. Cody Webster
A team whose most dangerous weapon is their punter is surely having a rough season, and that’s exactly where Purdue finds themselves.
Don’t blame Webster, though.
The Purdue punter is just doing his job, as he looks to be the only member of the team to compete for a season-end award, which would be well deserved.
Webster has been fantastic, averaging 45.7 yards per punt (ypp).
He has been an efficient and valuable piece for the Boilermakers since his time began at Purdue, and they have had a putrid offense so far this season, requiring Webster to be on the field more than any Purdue fan could hope for.
But, even so, could anyone have predicted this?
In years past, Webster averaged 43.3 ypp his freshman year, 42.9 ypp his sophomore year and 42.3 ypp last year.
In fact, Webster seemed to be on the downswing (although his junior year’s statistics were more a reflection of his high usage rate, punting the ball 70 times).
Webster has exceeded his preseason expectations, to say the least, and has been enjoying a hot streak all season long.
He is currently 10 in the nation for ypp.
3. Justin Sinz
And Sinz has made the most of his opportunity.
Sinz was pegged as a possible starter before the season started, but in the first two games of the season, he was firmly entrenched behind Holmes for playing time and targets.
Holmes was able to record nine receptions for 69 yards in those first two games. Sinz, on the other hand, only caught three passes for 19 yards.
It was clear that Sinz was going to be an afterthought in the Boilermakers offense.
But then Holmes suffered a wrist injury in practice that was more serious than originally suspected, and Sinz was thrust into a starring role against Notre Dame, snagging six passes from Rob Henry for 45 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
He only had two catches for 16 yards at Wisconsin, which happens to be the same state where Sinz excelled as a football player in high school, but that poor outing was due to a sluggish passing attack more than Sinz’s performance.
The starting position is his to lose, but he has most certainly earned his keep so far.
2. Brandon Cottom
Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell was supposed to bring in a running game that was going to revolutionize Purdue football.
His success in the running game at Kent State has been well-documented, producing two 1,000-yard rushers last season: Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
Cottom was supposed to take over Durham’s role in Hazell’s offense because of his strong resemblance to Durham’s rough-and-tumble running style.
Expectations were high leading up to the season, but it hasn’t quite worked out as planned.
So far this season, Cottom has only touched the ball twice, hauling in two passes for 20 yards.
The 6’2”, 256-pound running back, known for his bruising running style, hasn’t rushed the ball once this season.
One might argue that there just hasn’t been a need for such a big, powerful back with Purdue’s offensive struggles, but Cottom has also shown he is explosive, notching an 87-yard touchdown last season against Eastern Michigan and averaging over nine yards per carry in 2012.
While 1,000 yards would have been a lofty goal to start the season, it certainly seemed within the realm of possibility. Now it looks as if that opportunity will have to be put off until next year, though.
Even though Cottom’s lack of involvement has been a puzzler, he hasn’t even been the biggest surprise in his own backfield.
1. Akeem Hunt
Hunt has been the biggest surprise this season because, quite simply, he was supposed to be the breakout star on this Purdue offense.
With Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden no longer on the team, Hunt was set to be the main running back in Hazell’s aforementioned rushing attack.
It was supposed to be a match made in Heaven, but as of now, Hunt has not even made a dent on the ground.
For the season, the junior has only accumulated 156 yards on 50 attempts for an awful yards per carry average of 3.1.
It’s hard for a team to win when their lead back has only made this type of contribution.
However, Hunt has made up for this lack of production by shining in other facets of the game.
In the Indiana State game, Hunt was able to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown on a beautifully executed reverse and has led the team with 291 kickoff return yards with a remarkable 32.3 average.
And Hunt has also shown off his hands, leading the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (131). He is also tied the team lead for receiving touchdowns (1).
But despite the impressive amount of ways that the Boilers have found to get Hunt involved, his inability to find any running room this season has been a huge surprise.