Young But Talented
Jan. 1, 2001
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Even Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack can't believe that the Boilermakers plan to start five freshmen on defense in the Rose Bowl against Washington.
"Going into the season, I was very nervous because we were going to rely on some young guys," Spack said. "But I think they're very bright young men."
And they have proven to be very talented, too.
Together, the five helped Purdue improve from seventh to third in the Big Ten in total defense - a move that coach Joe Tiller has cited as the reason Purdue is playing in its first Rose Bowl since 1967.
The defensive leader is junior end Akin Ayodele.
But the freshmen - defensive end Shaun Phillips, defensive tackle Craig Terrell, linebackers Gilbert Gardner and Landon Johnson and safety Stuart Schweigert - clearly have been catalysts.
"Our program was in dire need of speed," Spack said. "That's why we put them on the field pretty quickly. That's been a big thing for us."
Which is why No. 4 Washington expects nothing but solid play by the Boilermakers on Monday.
What offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson has seen on the film isn't a young defense full of holes, but rather a young defense full of promise.
"If you look at the kind of year they've had, and it's not inexperienced," he said. "It's quick and they get to the ball, so when you look over there, you see a darn good college defense."
The Boilermakers aren't the only team playing with a young defense Monday in what has been billed as a showdown between two of the nation's top quarterbacks - Drew Brees and Marques Tuiasosopo.
"You could say our defense has holes, too, because it's inexperienced," Gilbertson said. "But you can't look at it that way with the kind of year they've had."
Carothers was 10th on the Huskies with 27 tackles despite starting just three games. Massey, who started just four games, finished fourth on the team with five passes defensed.
But Purdue's freshmen made an even larger impact.
Johnson, a redshirt freshmen, was second on the team with 62 tackles, fourth with four sacks and tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries. Phillips, another redshirt freshman, led the team with 14 tackles for loss.
All Schweigert, a true freshman, did was lead the Boilermakers with 75 tackles and five interceptions and was named the Big Ten's freshmen of the year.
"I'd dreamed about playing in the Rose Bowl, but I didn't think it would come so soon or that I'd be starting as a true freshman," Schweigert said. "It's amazing, it's awesome."
But the Boilermakers are here, in large part, because of they gambled by playing five freshmen.
It made Spack nervous initially, but not now.
"It's taken a little time for us to get to where we could recruit high-caliber defensive players," Spack said. "Last year's class was real good. I think the more you play, the better you get."
By MICHAEL MAROT