Humble and Hungry

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The state of Indiana knows how dangerous Markell Jones can be on the football field. In 2014, as a senior at Columbus East High School, Markell set the state single season rushing record with 3,536 rushing yards. In that same season Jones rushed for 60 touchdowns, threw for two touchdowns, recorded 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Not a bad way to follow up a follow up a 2,653 yard, 42 TD, state championship junior season.

After putting up video game numbers in high school, Jones enrolled at Purdue University early, a decision that had Boilermaker fans excited about the 2015 season. The hype was real, in his first three games as a freshman last year Markell averaged 7.2 yards per carry and found the end zone four times. Two games later the Columbus, Indiana native put Purdue on his back, rushing for a career high 157 yards and 2 TDs in a 24-21 loss to the #2 ranked Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing. The Boilermakers finished out the 2015 season with a 2-10 record, but the success of their young core gave them reason to believe that 2016 would be different.

It certainly looked like things were headed in the right direction when Markell ran all over Eastern Kentucky (145 YDS, 1 TD) helping Purdue win their season opener 45-24. Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived. In the second week of the season against Cincinnati, Jones suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the game, Purdue would go on to lose 38-20. The 5’11” 210 pound RB would play through the pain the following week vs Nevada rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown, but his shoulder was paying the price. Purdue beat the Wolf Pack but Markell would see a significant decline in carries in week 4 and eventually sat out for the Boilermakers’ week 5 match-up against the University of Illinois.

“It was unfortunate and sucked this year going through that injury. You never like to go through that but it’s part of the game.”

Purdue went on beat the Fighting Illini in an overtime thriller and reinserted Jones to the lineup the very next week. Knowing what he means to the success of the team, the Purdue coaching staff has continued to limit Markell’s touches. While keeping their feature back healthy is priority number one, it’s had a direct affect on their ability to win football games. Without Jones on the field, Purdue has lost the ability to keep defenses guessing, which has contributed to their current five game losing streak. While it’s an extremely tough time for the program and it’s players, the sophomore tailback is still hopeful.

“My expectations were a little bit higher than they are right now or what they have turned into at this point. I was expecting a little bit more yards and touchdowns but at the end of the day it’s not really about individual goals, you know as a team we really haven’t accomplished what we wanted to accomplish this season. But we still have two more games to send our seniors out with a bang, so I’m looking forward to those two more chances to get things going.”

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Frank Oliver, Journal & Courier via AP

Feed the beast; the same formula that has been working for Northwestern and junior RB Justin Jackson should be applied more often by Purdue with Markell Jones in the backfield. When number 8 gets the ball 20 or more times a game the Boilermakers have a winning record. However, in the 21 games that Markell has played for Purdue he has only reached 20+ carries five times. The true sophomore racked up 605 yards and 7 touchdowns in those five games while averaging over 5.2 yards per carry. Most running backs would get frustrated after hearing those stats, but Markell sees it a little differently.

“You know I think offensively we just haven’t been as effective as we wanted to be in running the football, but that starts with the running backs and the offensive line and just some of the play calling. But you know one of the things that has really been encouraging this season is we have a heck of a wide receiving core led by DeAngelo Yancy and Domo (Domonique Young) before he got injured, unfortunately. But we have a ton of senior leadership in that room especially and then our quarterback has been putting it on them and throwing the heck out of the ball this year. So we really haven’t needed to hand me the ball 22 times a game. So I trust in the system and I trust in everything our coaches are trying to do for us.”

Markell is very humble for his age, and lives with a positive mindset. His team first mentality has helped him focus on improving all aspects of his game.

“I’m not the type of guy who gets upset about how many carries I get or anything like that. I’ve enjoyed this year, I’ve really stepped my game up in the pass protection area and I think that’s just going to help me become a better all-around back. But I enjoy blocking so I haven’t been frustrated or upset with the amount of carries or anything. I’m a team guy so I enjoy the process.”

Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Jones told us his shoulder started feeling better about three weeks ago and he’s back to 100% going into this week’s battle with Wisconsin. The Badgers are ranked 7th in every college football poll thanks to their bruising defense that has only allowed 12.7 points/game this season. This is the third ranked opponent that Purdue will have played in the past five weeks, but an upset wouldn’t be too far out of the question considering how well the Boilermakers have been playing as of late. In their last four games, Purdue’s first half game plan has been on point.  They have outscored their opponents 69-64 and the only time they’ve trailed at halftime was to Northwestern by three points.

So what have the Boilermakers been doing this week to prepare for Wisconsin?

“You know the preparation hasn’t been any different. We continue to prepare like we have the last four weeks with Coach Parker. One of the things we’ve just talked about, which no one is oblivious to the fact that we haven’t been able to finish a lot of games recently. In our past four weeks we’ve been in it with guys up until halftime and then after halftime we come out really flat. So that’s something we try and beat into our guys heads and you know as far as coming out at halftime with blood in your eyes ready to go and finish the game.”

A upset victory of this magnatude would reinvigorate the program that so badly needs it, and add value to the head coaching vacancy at Purdue, if they decide to go that route (We will talk about Purdue’s coaching situation next week). It’s funny how one game has the potential to change the landscape for these two programs in a big way. If Purdue wins they gain momentum for next year and attract future prospects/coaches. A Boilermaker win would also shatter Wisconsin’s dream of making it to the College Football Playoff and keep them from winning the Big Ten West if Nebraska wins out. The Badgers are always well prepared and should expect nothing less than a dog fight in West Lafayette.

“So we’re looking forward to the opportunity to play on ABC against the number seven team in the country and what better way to send out our seniors then with a win against a team of this caliber.”

The Purdue Boilermakers host the Wisconsin Badgers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN. Kickoff is schedule for 12PM ET and can be found on ABC.

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