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Purdue Football 2017, Shades of 1997

Is this comparison too obvious or right on the nose?

NCAA Football: Louisville vs Purdue
Billy Dicken? Is that you?
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the 1997 and 2017 seasons. If you’ve been a Purdue Football fan for any amount of time, like I have, you’ll remember that 1997 season as one of the most magical and enjoyable seasons of Purdue football. It may not compare to the Rose Bowl season, obviously, but short of that it’s probably been the most memorable season of Purdue football in my lifetime.

Both years, 1997 and 2017, saw new coaches come in and make an immediate impact. Joe Tiller of course came in after Purdue went 3-8 in 1996 and Jim Colletto was fired after his sixth and final season (he wound up at Notre Dame in 1997). Tiller guided Purdue to a 9-3 record in 1997 which included a victory over Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.

Jeff Brohm came in after Purdue went an even worse 3-9, only worse because there was one more game played in 2016. So far he has guided the Boilermakers to a 2-1 record, the same record the 1997 team had after their first three games.

Both Brohm and Tiller came in with expectations so low you could almost trip over them. Though Brohm’s first year has a long way to go, and it theoretically could all go south, he’s already provided the same spark, the same fire, the same energy that I remember during the 1997 season. I was lucky enough to go to the Purdue vs. Notre Dame game that season (a drunk Notre Dame fan threw up right behind me). It was a game that no one thought Purdue could win, but win they did. Could the Michigan game on Saturday be this year’s Notre Dame game? Only time will tell, but I think that there are some favorable signs for Jeff Brohm that give me hope that the rest of 2017 will be just as fun and memorable as 1997.

You might remember Billy Dicken as the fifth year senior gunslinger who came in and took over the emerging Basketball on Grass offense that Cowboy Joe brought into the Big Ten. We remember him very fondly as Purdue fans, but what can you honestly tell me about him statistically? I decided to take a look back at that 1997 season for Dicken and see just how he compares to David Blough thus far.

  • Through the first three games of the 1997 Dicken was 66-116 for 782 yards with three touchdowns against three interceptions.
  • Through the first three games of 2017 David Blough is 51-67 for 597 yards with six touchdowns against just two interceptions.

So, yeah, at this point Blough is way ahead of the pace of Dicken in terms of performance. While the high volume of passes put Dicken ahead in terms of numbers of completions, attempts, and yards the accuracy and precision Blough has shown so far give him the higher completion percentage to go along with more touchdowns and fewer interceptions. What’s not to like? Before looking up these stats I’m not sure I would’ve guessed that Blough was doing this well in comparison. Perhaps we just don’t recognize a great start when we see one right in front of our eyes.

As far as running the ball through three games:

  • Purdue ran for a total of 438 yards through the first three games in 1997.
  • Purdue has run for 519 yards so far through the first three games of 2017.

This one is a bit more expected given the wide open nature of the Purdue offense from 1997. You would expect the rushing numbers to be higher for the #Brohmsquad than the 1997 team.

So, taking those numbers combined (plus passes from other QBs including some guy named Drew Breeze Brees) you can see that the offenses are actually pretty close yardage and point wise.

  • Cowboy Joe put up 78 points and 1,317 yards of total offense.
  • The #Brohmsquad has put up 107 points and 1,379 yards of total offense.

That’s right, the 2017 squad has put up more total offense than the 1997 squad. Yet another thing I don’t think I would’ve believed if you would’ve told me. Perhaps the mythical status of the 1997 team has blinded me to its flaws because damn that was a fun team to watch. So is the 2017 version though. Could they one day attain the same type of mythical status?

Purdue played #12 ranked Notre Dame in the second game of the year in 1997 and emerged with one of the biggest upsets of Purdue football history which jump started the rebirth of Purdue football. On Saturday Purdue takes on a 3-0 #8 Michigan team at home in Ross-Ade Stadium. Purdue’s got a chance not just to make a statement to their fans, who are coming back in droves, but to the rest of the college football world, that Purdue isn’t a pushover anymore.

For most of the 2010s Purdue was a team that you could mark down as a win, in sharpie. No longer. Purdue has a chance to do something special Saturday. In a game that will see Purdue use those new lights, and hopefully see a sold out Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue can put the B1G on notice that things aren’t the same in West Lafayette anymore.

To the students on campus right now I just want to tell you to savor this. I was at Purdue from 2004-2010 and saw some great years under Orton including the 2004 campaign that saw College Gameday, ESPN Cold Pizza (the precursor to First Take) come to campus, and of course The Fumble. Even with the heartbreak of those years I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Spending time in Ross-Ade, and camped out first in line for College Gameday with friends and family remain some of my fondest memories from my time at Purdue. Fun fact, if you attended a taping of Cold Pizza they actually did hand out Cold Pizza. I was glad to see the student section had sold out for Saturday’s game because it shows me that despite the terrible state Purdue football has been in the fans are still there, just waiting, ready to come back when the commitment and competence returned. Well, they are back, and so are the fans. On Saturday, win or lose, let’s have a hell of an atmosphere and a hell of a game.

These aren’t your daddy’s Purdue Boilermakers, but then again maybe they are. The comparison to 1997 will continue as the season progresses. Should Purdue pull of the upset on Saturday it will be yet another point of comparison between these two teams. One comparison that is spot on, Purdue football is fun again. Let’s enjoy it.