Boilermakers’ QB feeling the heat

Published 5:44 am Thursday, October 9, 2008

Purdue coach Joe Tiller leveled his sharpest criticism yet of quarterback Curtis Painter during Tuesday’s weekly teleconference.

Tiller benched Painter in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 20-6 loss to Penn State, and backup quarterback Joey Elliott led the Boilermakers to their only touchdown. Painter leads the nation’s quarterbacks with 37 consecutive starts, but that string appeared to be in jeopardy after Saturday’s performance.

Though Tiller said Painter still is the starter, he made his unhappiness with his fifth-year senior clear.

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‘‘We need to make throws and they need to be in an area where we can catch the football, not at the ankle level or behind or on a deep throw two yards over the top of his head,’’ Tiller said. ‘‘Our accuracy perhaps is the thing that right now is hurting us the most.’’

Painter, who finished with just 112 yards passing in the loss to Penn State, will face another tough defense when the Boilermakers play at No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in pass defense and rank 14th in the nation.

Painter acknowledged that he’s not throwing the ball well and understands Tiller is unhappy.

‘‘You can take a look at a few games — shots down the field, plays we should have made, that I should have made — that were just a little off,’’ Painter said.

Painter has passed for 1,225 yards and five touchdowns this season and leads the Big Ten’s top-ranked passing offense. But he also struggled in overtime in the loss to Oregon, had an interception returned for a touchdown against Notre Dame, and had one of the worst games of his career against Penn State.

‘‘You try to forget about the past and keep going,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not going to sit here and worry about what happened last game. We’ve got a completely different game this week to prepare for.’’

Painter will have to do better than last year’s effort against Ohio State. He completed 31 of 60 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown against the Buckeyes, but the touchdown came in the final minute of a 23-7 loss. That was just one of nine losses in nine tries for Painter against ranked opponents.

None of Painter’s past struggles matter to Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.

‘‘He’s clearly been noted that he’s going to be their starter and he’s the second leading passer in the history of the school, and they’ve had some passers at Purdue,’’ Tressel said.

Painter’s struggles are a bit surprising, considering his career statistics. He needs just 12 yards on Saturday to become the fourth Big Ten quarterback to pass for at least 10,000 yards in a career. He set the conference record for yards passing in a season with 3,985 as a sophomore, and the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has been mentioned as a possible high NFL draft pick.

Those statistics make it more difficult for Tiller to figure out what’s gone wrong.

‘‘If anything he’s trying harder, and maybe that’s a problem,’’ Tiller said. ‘‘I don’t know, but he’s really trying. He’s studying the game more than he’s ever studied it.

‘‘I don’t think you can put your finger on one thing and say, well, he’s not doing this. He’s doing what’s being asked of him.’’

Painter knows he needs to deal with Tiller’s most significant gripe, accuracy on the deep ball. Ironically, Painter took over for Brandon Kirsch in 2005 because Kirsch struggled to connect on long throws.

‘‘I don’t know that there’s a solution,’’ Painter said. ‘‘Just keep practicing, keep going for them. Sooner or later, you’ll hit those.’’

Tiller wonders how Painter will respond in front of more than 100,000 fans.

‘‘You know, I’ll be curious,’’ Tiller said. ‘‘I’m like you guys. I want to see how he snaps back from this. I think that will give us an indication of where he’s headed in the future and where we’re headed.’’

Painter said the Boilermakers aren’t far from having the kind of potent offense their fans are used to.

‘‘We’ve lost a few games, and we feel like we should have been in them a little bit more than we were,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re doing things well. I think we’re just close. Hopefully we’ll click soon.’’