Many thanks to the fine folks over at Hammer and Rails for coming over to tell us a little about Purdue, as we’re less than two weeks from kickoff in the Music City Bowl!
Purdue was as streaky a team as there was in college football this season... 0-3 to start the year, and then that midseason run capped by the win over Ohio State. What made the change after the poor start?
I think the biggest thing was improved quarterback play. Elijah Sindelar started the season but struggled with there interceptions in the first half of the opener against Northwestern. David Blough then came in and did a little better, but we had dug quite a hole. We tried the QB rotation he next week against Eastern Michigan and both were ineffectual, but then Sindelar was injured in practice before week 3 against Missouri and Blough was named the full-time starter. He only broke the Big Ten record for passing yards with 572 yards in a narrow loss. From their he reclaimed his starting job and Sindelar hasn’t played since.
Another big thing is Purdue cut down on dumb penalties for the most part. Against Northwestern we got a huge 3rd down stop with about 2 minutes left and were poised to get the ball back down 4, but a stupid personal foul gave them a clinching first down. We did the same a week later vs. Eastern Michigan and kept a key drive alive for them.
We’re a team still working through a significant talent deficit left by Darrell Hazell. His recruiting classes were never really above 65 nationally and they make up most of the roster. Even Brohm’s first full class was only 47th. The one he’ll sign next week is our first top 25 class in 15 years, so there is more talent coming, but depth has also been a major concern for two years now.
There were three games against ranked teams on the schedule and Purdue won them by an average of 16 points per game. Then there was the loss to EMU and a blowout against Minnesota. Did the Boilers play to the competition this season?
I would think so. The EMU loss was dismal. It was in the rain, we had critical turnovers, critical penalties, a missed extra point, a missed short field goal, and gave up a 4th and 14 on their winning field goal drive. Just about everything that could go wrong did. Against Boston College and especially against Ohio State we looked excellent. That Ohio State game was one of the best nights in Ross-Ade Stadium in years. The Buckeyes were loaded with talent and ended up winning the Big Ten at 12-1, but absolutely thumping them was a lot of fun.
I think it goes back to inconsistency. At Minnesota we looked like the cold affected us and just couldn’t get anything going on offense. We then unraveled in the second half. It seems like if our offense can get a score in the first two drives we’ll be okay. If we struggle early it can take a while. Still, that 0-3 to start the year was by 8 total points. We lost three games this year (Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri) literally on the game’s final play. We were in every game in the fourth quarter except Minnesota. It feels like we’re really close and with some more depth and talent we can have a big breakout.
For those of us that only saw glimpses, tell us about Rondale Moore and what makes him so special.
Well, yesterday he was named a Consensus All-American, making him only the third true freshman ever to be named as such joining some guys named Herschel Walker and Adrian Peterson. He is a highlight waiting to happen on every play. I remember the first quarter of the season opener against Northwestern. We had heard he was going to be good, but then he had an ugly drop and was lit up on a kickoff return. He followed that with a 32 yard TD catch and an amazing 76-yard jet sweep run that happened right in front of my seats.
That run was incredible. He got the sweep, makes two cuts behind the line of scrimmage, and simply leaves. On the second cut he plants, changes direction 90 degrees, and is at top speed in a blink. He went on to break the Big Ten all-purpose yardage single game record in that game, and it was his first collegiate game.
He has just been an absolute pleasure to watch. It’s been a long time since we have had a guy that opposing fans are like, “Holy crap, just how the hell do we stop that guy?” Not only is he fast with great hands, he’s insanely strong. He went viral with a 600 pound squat over the summer and against Boston College he had a play where he is hit as he catches the ball, but he shakes it off, spins, and leaves for a 70-yard TD. I think he has had a play (rush, reception, or kickoff) of at least 40 yards in 11 of 12 games and it looks like he has had a play of at least 40 yards from scrimmage in 9 of 12 games. Indiana did everything possible to key on him and he finished with 12 catches for 141 yards and 2 scores.
The best thing I can say is that we still have at least two more years of him.
What kind of offense does Jeff Brohm run? There were some Auburn fans who were sniffing around him when there were rumors that Gus Malzahn may be on his way out, so any info that you can give on Brohm is of interest.
Oh no, we’re not doing this again. We already fought off Tennessee last year (allegedly) and Louisville this year. We’ve gone through this crap enough. At least if he is poached after next season we got the much-needed recruiting boost with this year’s class.
Seriously though, Brohm likes a quarterback hat can take downfield shots, but still makes smart decisions. Sindelar has the bigger arm than Blough, but Blough has been excellent with is accuracy and spreads the ball around to multiple receivers. Isaac Zico, Terry Wright, and tight end Brycen Hopkins have been great compliments to Moore this year. Next year is going to be exciting as we’re bringing in a couple of big time receivers on the outside too.
He doesn’t totally abandon the run, however. D.J. Knox has been a solid running back and needs 132 yards to be our first 1,000 yard rushers since 2008. He went for 128 and three scores against Ohio State, breaking two big runs in the fourth quarter. He’s been quiet since then, but both he and Markell Jones are steady on the ground when given some spaces.
Brohm’s offenses thrive on the big play. He’s not afraid to throw deep pretty much at any time and he’ll mix things up in order to get deep looks. Knox and Jones have some modest big play ability too.
What’s the biggest problem for this Purdue team been this season on both sides of the ball?
Offensively we have struggled in poor weather. The common denominator in our three worst games (Eastern Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota) was nasty and/or cold weather. We could never really get on track in any of those games. And they are the only ones where we were held under 20 points.
On defense, we have very little depth on the defensive line and almost no pass rush from them. That will be more pronounced in the bowl game because defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal (son of the long-time NFL fullback) tore his ACL against Indiana and is out. He is by far our best defensive lineman, and the studs we recruited won’t be here until next year. The line does okay to start, but can be worn down. We lost to Wisconsin because the front four was completely gassed by the fourth quarter and Jonathan Taylor then had a field day.
And finally today, what was the excitement level like in West Lafayette when the matchup was announced?
We liked it. It is a relatively close bowl game and we already sold out our allotment of tickets. Last season we played in the Bay Area and even though it was an exciting game, it was in a mostly empty stadium.
Of course, we were distracted by the whole Lousiville thing with Brohm. We mostly rejoiced that we kept him. Yes, he is only 13-12 in two years, but he did it with the leftovers from a team that was 5-39 against FBS competition in the previous four years. We were so bad under Hazell he didn’t offer a 4-star offensive tackle across town at Lafayette Central Catholic even though we desperately needed a tackle at the time. That player ended up at Indiana, was a freshman All-American, and has been a key starter for them for three years.
Brohm did not make this mistake. George Karlaftis is the No. 11 player nationally and a 5-star defensive end (per 247) at West Lafayette HS. Their campus is literally 2 blocks from our football offices. Brohm got to him early and he was the first commitment in our 2019 class. That is your biggest difference right now for Purdue. Brohm has made a night and day turnaround and we can see next year as a major step forward after he achieved a small miracle in just going 6-6 twice with what was left from Hazell. Now we get a shot to prove ourselves against a very talented Auburn team. It is a great shot to gain momentum going into next season.
Of course, completely ruining Ohio State’s season was a nice bonus too.
Auburn vs Purdue in the Music City Bowl on December 28th — War Eagle!