Let”s play some Big Ten football free association.

Paul Wong
Purdue”s secondary kept Iowa”s offense in check all game last Saturday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

When you hear the name “Purdue,” what comes to mind?

If you”re an average football fan, chances are offense, passing and Drew Brees were among the first things you thought of, and with good reason.

Ever since Joe Tiller took over the reins of Purdue in 1996, the Boilermakers have set the Big Ten on fire with their finely-tuned, fast-paced spread attack. With Brees at the helm the last four years, Purdue was consistently among the Big Ten leaders in total yardage and points per game.

But with Brees having moved on to the San Diego Chargers, redshirt freshman Brandon Hance has assumed the starting quarterback duties. Hance has managed to keep the Boilermakers humming along at a fairly decent clip, thanks in no small part to a bevy of experienced receivers, a veteran tailback and a seasoned offensive line.

As one can see, it”s pretty easy to get caught up talking about Purdue”s offense, which means it”s really easy to overlook what might be Purdue”s real strength this year its defense.

Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack has assembled a defense that may very well be the best in the Big Ten. Paced by a pair of All-Big Ten candidates defensive end Akin Ayodele and safety Stuart Schweigert the Boilermakers” defense has earned respect around the Big Ten, if not the nation.

“A year ago, Purdue was equally as good on defense as on offense, and that”s why they were in the Rose Bowl,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “They have two of the best defensive ends in the country. Their linebackers are the fastest I”ve seen in some time, and that closes down the running game.”

As strong as the defensive line and linebackers are, Purdue”s defense might be toughest in the secondary, and a lot of the credit for that goes to Schweigert.

The sophomore from Saginaw quickly established himself as a star last year, when he picked off five passes and led the Boilermakers with 85 tackles. This year, Schweigert, Ashante Woodyard and company have already intercepted 10 passes as a unit and have saved the Boilermakers repeatedly.

Woodyard”s 86-yard interception return for a touchdown last week against Iowa is just one example of how dangerous Purdue”s defense can be if you give it an inch, the Boilermakers” defense can easily take a mile.

“They have a great defense with almost every starter back from last year,” Michigan tight end Bill Seymour said. “We”re really going to have to study film, and that”s going to be a challenge for us.”

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