9/28/19 Minnesota, Derrick Barnes

Then-junior defensive end Derrick Barnes bursts through the Minnesota offensive line in pursuit of the quarterback. Barnes finished the game on Sept. 28 with two tackles and half a sack.

Purdue football acquired a new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in January after an accomplished career.

His greatest achievement came in 2012, when he lead Notre Dame’s defense to a national championship appearance and won the Broyles Award, which honors the best assistant coach in college football. No stranger to success, he went on to coach at Nebraska and Oklahoma, where he helped lead the Sooner linebacking core to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2018.

His most recent accomplishment came at Louisiana Tech, when his team shut out Miami in the 2019 Independence Bowl. His first pre-season press conference proved insightful for Purdue’s defensive outlook this season.

Boilermakers have new weapons

The Boiler defense will have many experienced players returning this fall, but the team will also be welcoming in a few new faces like DaMarcus Mitchell, a linebacker transferring from Southwest Mississippi Community College. Mitchell was an exciting addition to the team, and more than just the coaches are ready to see him shine.

“He brings a lot of toughness and speed to our defense,” said senior linebacker Derrick Barnes.

Junior linebacker Jaylan Alexander also praised Mitchell’s play on the field as “fast and physical.”

His high praise doesn’t stop at the position group. Diaco is also very pleased with his development.

“He’s been fun to watch,” Diaco said. “He’s a tangibly gifted player. He’s animated and fun-loving, and we’re excited that he’s a part of the unit.”

Defense trying to keep it simple

The time off has been helpful in terms of learning the new defense, but it won’t come without its challenges. Tackling has been an issue across college football. But the pandemic hasn’t changed how Diaco and his team will address this and other fundamental aspects of the game.

“It’s one of the hardest things to do,” he said. “We work on some form of tackling every single day.”

Diaco also mentioned that the defense will be balanced between a 3-4 — three defensive lineman and four linebackers — and a 4-3 which features four defensive lineman and three linebackers. Diaco also spoke on the lack of crowd noise affecting the way his team prepares to disguise their defense. He answered with a chuckle.

“No. I don’t see a way you get an edge that way, especially with all we have to work on,” Diaco said.

Defensive backs will dictate the game plan

One thing that will make Purdue stand out from other opponents in the Big Ten will be the defensive leadership. Diaco has said that the secondary, primarily the safeties, will be the vocal leaders.

“Our secondary really drives our defense. When the safeties speak, everybody listens,” he said.

This shift in responsibility has the young linebackers excited to play.

“Now I can play football, “ Alexander said. “We can play however we want to play because we know our DBs got us in the back.”

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