Ryan Walters’ defense has caused several offenses to stumble this season.
The new Purdue head coach had the Illinois defense rated at second in the Football Bowl Subdivision at yards per game. The Illini held 10 opponents to 20 points or less and six opponents to 10 points or less, giving up the least number of points per game in the nation. They even nearly defeated the Big Ten Champion, holding Michigan to just 19 points.
The defense also generated turnovers, intercepting the ball 22 times, the most in the FBS, and recovering eight fumbles.
Purdue Athletic Director Mike Bobinski praised Walters for how he had the defense operating at a high level without the high-level recruits seen with other top defenses.
“I think some people talk about the success that’s happened at Illinois the last couple of years; it has not been because of an influx of just high-level players,” Bobinski said. “It’s taking a group of guys that were there and turning them into one of the best, if not the best in some categories, defenses in the country. That speaks to me very loudly about the ability to identify, develop and put people in the right place.”
Walters, while at Illinois, most often used three defensive linemen and four linebackers, which leads to the scheme often being referred to as a 3-4 defense. But Walters says the defense is more unusual than that, so much so that it needs a different name.
“It’s so unique that there’s really no name for it yet,” Walters said. “So I’ve got to think of a name for it.”
Purdue, for comparison, most often ran a base defense known as a 4-2-5, , which features four defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage, two traditional linebackers in the box, and one safety-linebacker hybrid along the four other defensive backs.
“That’s my job as coach is to adapt to my players,” Walters said when asked if he plans to implement his system from Illinois or adapt it to Purdue’s roster. “Obviously, I’ve got my own philosophies on scheme and alignment, but that’s all for naught if the players aren’t suited to do that.”
The scheme is one of the reasons Bobinski hired Walters, Bobinski said.
“It is his unique design. He keeps the secret recipe like the formula for Coke in his pocket,” Bobinski said. “He doesn’t share it with anybody else. In fact, he mentioned that it's fun to watch other people try to copy it, because it doesn't quite look the same or feel the same."