Well, that was bad...but not altogether surprising. I tried to warn everyone not to get too excited just quite yet, and it wasn’t because I was “suffering from a Hazell hangover.”
The truth of the matter is that Purdue is a fundamentally flawed football team that I thought would most likely regress as opposed to progress this season, and that was on full display Saturday.
Guys, the talent on offense is really, really bad and Brohm’s running out of ways to hide it. Smoke and mirrors has a hard time competing against video tape.
Problem 1: Major Injuries
On Saturday Purdue was without:
Tario Fuller: Fuller is the Purdue running back with the strength to get through the line, and the speed to take it to the house. He has played in 3 out of 7 total games, and is still Purdue’s leading rusher in terms of yards and touchdowns.
Jones, Knox, and Worship are all decent running backs, but they all lack the top end speed to outrun a defense. To be fair, Knox almost busted one vs Rutgers, but just didn’t quite have enough to beat the safety. Purdue needs to at least have the threat of scoring explosive touchdowns in the run game, because there are no answers in the passing game right now.
Hermanns has been pretty good and fairly reliable as a redshirt freshman starting at left tackle, and that’s not a small thing. He usually does a decent job against edge rushers and is athletic enough to help in the screen game.
With Hermanns out, Purdue started 2 tackles who boasted a total of 0 D-1 offers coming out of high school. Granted, both have worked hard and are certainly deserving of the scholarship, but the overall talent level leaves much to be desired.
In addition, Swingler starting really cut into Purdue’s depth on the line, forcing Brohm to go with some unusual and untested combinations as the game progressed.
McCollum is Purdue’s elder statesman, and is one of the few players with experience in actually winning football games. He is currently 3rd on the team in tackles, but has essentially played in only 4 games. I can’t say for certain what happens on Rutgers first big run with McCollum in the game. It may have gone down the exact same way, but I like Purdue’s chances of stopping that play much more with McCollum on the field.
Look, on most rosters, losing 3 guys isn’t going to kill your team, but Purdue’s roster is paper thin. Fuller, in particular, was looking like a legit explosive option on a team absolutely bereft of explosive options.
I was expecting regression as the season started to grind because Purdue doesn’t have the depth needed to plug holes as they occur, and on offense, they have occurred at 2 vital positions.
The reality is that Purdue and Rutgers are about even on talent, and with a few key Boilermakers on the sidelines, Rutgers may have even been the more talented team on Saturday.
Misses at WR:
Brohm had a massive rebuilding task this offseason, and I think he did a wonderful job considering the fact that he had to paper over a few dozen holes, but he missed at wide receiver.
Purdue needed 2 starters out of Terry Wright, Issaac Zico and Corey Holmes and to date, Wright is the only wide receiver that has made any sort of negligible impact, and he’s currently nursing a bad shoulder.
The transfer and JuCo misses could have been somewhat mitigated if a freshman was able to step up, but D.J. Edwards and Tyler Hamilton didn’t show enough in camp to avoid the redshirt and KeyRon Catlett hasn’t shown enough to get on the field.
Purdue brought in 6 wide receivers, and is only getting production out of 1. Again, that’s probably not a back breaker on most teams, but Purdue had so little talent coming into the season, that they probably needed to hit on 3 (not saying that any of those guys are permanent misses, just that they haven’t hit yet, and Purdue needs them now).
Wide Receiver is Purdue’s worst position grouping, and it’s probably not even close, which says a good bit, considering the offensive line.
Purdue’s only real hope is that Wright gets health, Zicco gets things figured out, and Holmes starts turning his physical talents into football talent. At this stage in his career, Anthrop should be your 3rd or 4th option, not your best option.
Coach Brohm(s) were generating a good bit of offense through smoke and mirrors, and that gets harder the more tape the opponent has to watch. You saw Rutgers play most of Purdue’s trick plays well, with the exception of the fake flea flicker, which was a nice call, because they were staying on top of the normal flea flicker, because, well, they’ve seen it several times on tape.
Brohm is getting more and more desperate to generate something (anything) on offense, and is having to resort to more risky plays, such as the deep in your own territory fake punt, to try and build some momentum.
Brohm will stay aggressive, but when teams are looking for trick plays, they become harder and harder to run and yield less and less.
Honestly, quarterback is pretty far down the list, because as I mentioned above, the wide receiver position is a smoldering tire fire at the moment. I anticipate Brohm to stick with the current 2 quarterback system, with Sindelar getting the majority of the snaps, but I honestly don’t know if it will matter.
Sindelar is going to be as good as his skill position players let him be, which is....troubling. In my opinion, Sindelar is Purdue’s best option, only because even when he does make mistakes (and he made a big one vs Rutgers) it generally happens when he is attacking down the field, and not on shallow crossing routes that lead to defensive touchdowns.
I would like to quickly dispel the “Eli throws it too hard” narrative going around on the site. Eli throws it hard because the wide receivers get no separation. He’s trying to thread a needle to get the ball where it needs to go. Purdue has a group of receivers that fail to get separation and at the same time, can’t catch the ball in traffic.
If the ball hits you in the hands, you have to catch it, that’s the rule, no excuses.
Blough is still making some terrible throws and making bad decisions, and I just don’t think Brohm trusts him to run the offense for extended periods of time. Blough falls victim to the law of diminishing returns. The longer he plays, the worse the outcome.
Against Rutgers, his two drives in the first half, Blough made several bad throws, putting the ball behind receivers, and either not giving his receivers and chance to make the catch, or he made it impossible to run after the catch. The first down that was overturned by replay, for example, should have never been in doubt, but a terrible throw caused Phillips to essentially stop to catch the ball, instead of being able to catch (hopefully) and job out of bounds for an easy first down.
It was also fairly obvious that Blough either blew the read on the 4th down play that got stuffed, or blew the play call all together. When he returned to the sideline, Brohm lit into him, and that doesn’t usually happen when the play just doesn’t work. It happens when something you do causes the play to fail. I think it’s quite possible that Blough screwed up the 3rd and short and 4th and short play after taking another look.
On the other hand, Blough does provide Purdue with a running threat that Sindelar simply doesn’t bring to the table. Blough can get outside and hurt a defense when he picks his spots well. Blough can move around, buy time, and find receivers even when the pocket collapses, which is why his lack of precision passing and his propensity to make mind boggling dumb decisions at times even more frustrating.
I get why people like Blough, but I completely understand why Brohm is going with Sindelar. If you’re going to rely on your defense to win games, which looks like Purdue’s best path forward, you go with Sindelar.
I would be lying if I said things were going to get any easier. The raw talent just isn’t there on offense right now, and that’s not going to change. Getting Fuller back would be a big step in the right direction, but his high ankle sprain doesn’t appear to be healing.
Purdue’s best bet to win is going to look like the Minnesota game. They’re going to need some breaks, they are going to need the other team to cooperate, and Brohm is going to have to figure out how to generate enough offense, through whatever means available, to win the game.
It is vital that Purdue fans continue to show up and support the team, even as this team struggles. This was always going to be a building season, and the more fan support, the easier it is going to be to build for the future (and keep our head coach).