Purdue’s primary defense will be different than its typical 4-3 scheme for the rest of the season.
The new look uses three down linemen, two traditional linebackers, a “jack” hybrid mix of a defensive end/linebacker and five defensive backs.
Purdue used the look frequently in its 44-7 loss to Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers totaled 435 yards.
“(The new defense) is not a week by week basis,” head coach Darrell Hazell said. “Our staff talked about it last night and we really felt good about it. The defense was battling the whole game (against Nebraska) back-and-forth.”
Hazell said the goal of the scheme change is to force more turnovers and create more negative plays.
The former seemed to work Saturday, as the defense intercepted Nebraska quarterbacks three times after forcing just two turnovers combined against Northern Illinois and Wisconsin.
“You have five defensive backs on the field that are pretty athletic,” Hazell said. “It gives you a chance to get tipped balls and those types of things.”
The new scheme changed the role of two of Purdue’s most talented defensive players in the front seven.
Bruce Gaston shifted from tackle to end, and Ryan Russell moved from end to the jack spot.
Hazell said he thinks the position changes utilize the skills of the duo, whose production hasn’t matched their expectations entering the season.
Gaston and Russell had six and two tackles, respectively, in their first games at their new positions against Nebraska.
“I thought those guys did a good job in those spots for doing it the first time,” Hazell said. “That jack position is going to really help us. Early in the game, it created some issues for Nebraska.”
The secondary experiences a change as well, as Ricardo Allen shifts from cornerback to nickelback in the look.
Allen has experience playing nickelback from when Purdue has used five defensive backs against spread offenses.
“Ricardo Allen has probably been our most productive player as the nickel,” Hazell said. “He’s in there like the linebacker making a lot of great plays for us. That’s a tremendous benefit for us.”
Along with the schematic changes came personnel changes.
In this week’s depth chart, six players are listed as starters or backups on defense that weren’t going into the Nebraska game.
Each of the three defensive line spots has a true freshman at No. 2 with Evan Panfil (left end), Ra’Zahn Howard (nose guard) and Jake Replogle (right end) along with sophomore Chuck Ayres.
True freshman Austin Logan and recently-converted quarterback Rob Henry are listed as the backup safeties.
Hazell said there are not many personnel changes left to be made after the recent wave of moves.
“Personnel-wise, I think we are where we are with who we’re playing right now,” Hazell said.