DeKALB – Three weeks ago it was hard to find anyone outside of West Lafayette, Ind., who knew Purdue sophomore running back Ralph Bolden.
Two weeks into the season, it's hard to find a college football fan who doesn't know about the nation's leading rusher who will provide a tremendous challenge to the Northern Illinois defense Saturday at Purdue.
The numbers are staggering: Bolden has 50 carries, 357 rushing yards and four touchdowns, good for a 7.1 yards a carry average.
"Yeah, numbers-wise I don't put a lot of stock in the numbers – over 2,000 yards, 3,000 yards, 1,100, 1,600," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "I don't put so much stock in the numbers as I do the play. In spring camp, I thought he was one hell of a player. So I'm not surprised at the numbers."
NIU defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said discipline from NIU's front seven is the top priority in stopping Bolden.
"It really comes down to this," Claeys said, "the back has got great vision. His offensive line is good. But when you watch the video, he's gotten big plays because people have gotten out of their gaps. We've got to have gap integrity. Whatever gap you've got, you've got to get in it.
"And then tackling in space, that's probably the hardest thing. He is the best back we've had to face."
The Huskies have allowed only 234 rushing yards this season. Bolden had exactly that total in the season-opener at home against Toledo to go along with two touchdowns.
Sophomore linebacker Pat Schiller said Bolden is a different style of runner from Wisconsin's big backs and Western Illinois' small but stout Dre Gibbs, which makes slowing down Bolden an interesting challenge.
"He's got that good second-level speed to him," Schiller said. "He's able to break away. We haven't really seen a back like him. We've seen bigger backs, kind of more of the bruiser backs, but as far as Bolden, he's able to really hit the hole and hit it strong."
Bolden is also a multi-talented back, catching three passes last week against Oregon for 52 yards and a touchdown.
"Ralph is the biggest threat," Claeys said. "We've got to stop him or we have no chance to win the ballgame."