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Purdue Football: Don’t Put This on the Defense

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Purdue’s offense has been bad in the 4th quarter

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been cruising around the internet (lots of weird stuff online these days) trying to get the overall vibe being put out by Purdue fans after the Wisconsin game. I’m seeing plenty of angst regarding the defense. I’m here to tell you that you can’t put any of this on Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt or the defense. They are bad, but the coaches knew they were going to be bad coming into the season. If you’re looking to assign blame for the Wisconsin loss (and a few other losses this season), you’ve got to look at the offense and Jeff Brohm (sacrilege I know,).

How can I blame the offense?

It all goes back to the to Purdue’s 2018 recruiting class.

After the Boilermakers surprise ‘17-’18 campaign, the Purdue coaches were stuck with a bit of a philosophical dilemma. They had to try and figure out how to replace the majority of their starting defense. This happens in a lot of programs, but I’ve never seen a rebuild quite like this before.

Purdue had to find replacements for the following:

Defensive End: Austin Larkin (starter, 12th in tackles), Danny Ezechukwu (starter, 8th in tackles, 2nd in sacks)

Defensive Tackle: Gelen Robinson (starter, 7th in tackles, 1st in TFL), Eddie Wilson (part time starter, 11th in tackles)

Linebacker: Ja’whaun Bentley (starter, leading tackler), T.J. McCollum (starter, 4th in tackles), Garrett Hudson (part-time starter, 10th in tackles),

Corner back: Josh Okonye (6th in tackles, 1st in pass break-ups), Da’Wan Hunte (starter, 9th in tackles, 2nd in pass break-ups)

Purdue returned only 3 of their top 12 tacklers from last year, which is tough, but what made it impossible is Purdue’s overall lack of experienced depth behind their starters. Purdue’s leading returning tackler from their bench last year was true freshman Derrick Barnes. He had 17 tackles, and most of them came on special teams. The defensive ‘18/’19 and ‘19/20 graduating classes were decimated by attrition. There was little to no experience on the roster to plug into the barren depth chart.

The Purdue coaching staff was faced with a dilemma.

Do they:

A. Fill in holes with JuCo players and Grad Transfers (Short Term Fix)

B. Recruit high school players and tough out a bad year on defense (Long Term Fix)

I expected a little of both. I anticipated Purdue plugging in at least 3 players from outside the program into the defensive line-up this year. I thought, at minimum, you would see a JuCo/Grad Transfer defensive tackle, defensive end, and corner back, because I didn’t see many answers for those positions on the roster.

Interestingly enough, considering what is going on with the coaching situation right now, the Purdue staff decided to go exclusively with the long term fix. They were going to patch together a defense relying on players from the ‘17 recruiting class and whatever Hazell hold overs remained. They had to know it was going to be a disaster, but in the long run, it would allow them to aggressively recruit the ‘18 and ‘19 classes on defense. They weren’t going to lose any of their high school guys because they gave scholarships to JuCo/Grad Transfer guys. They also weren’t going to rush the freshman from the ‘18 class onto the field.

By my unofficial count, Purdue is red shirting the following defensive players from the ‘18 class.

OLB - Ja’Qurius Smith - 3*

DE - Kelvin Stokes - 3*

DE - Jack Sullivan - 3*

DE - Jack Cravaack - 3*

S - Kaden Smith - 3*

S - Corey Trice - 3*

DT - Lawrence Johnson - 3*

DT/DE - Branson Deen - 3*

DT/DE - Willie Lane - 3*

CB - Jordan Rucker -3*

CB/S - Byron Perkins - 3*

CB/S - Elijah Ball - 3*

LB Jaylan Alexander is the only new contributor on a defense that lost 7 of it’s top 10 tacklers from last year.

The coaching staff decided to roll with a defense lacking experience, talent, and depth in the ‘18 season in order to recruit the defense they wanted for the ‘19 and ‘20 season. Subsequently, the ‘18 team was going to have to rely almost entirely on the offense to win football games. That sounded like it was right up Jeff Brohm’s alley and I liked the idea. I was happy with the idea of playing exciting football, but possibly losing a game or two because of a porous defense if it meant winning an extra two or three games down the line when Brohm had his full system in place.

What intrigued me even more about Purdue having to rely on their offense to win games is the freedom it provided Brohm. Purdue had to score big to win games. I thought that would allow him to take a hyper aggressive approach to the offense this year.

Honestly, I’ve been disappointed, especially in the 4th quarter of tight games.

Northwestern

It started in the Northwestern game where things were shaking out about how I thought they would. Purdue was drawing Northwestern into a shoot out. It looked like the last team with the ball was going to win the game. Then the 4th quarter happened. When Purdue needed their offense the most, it failed. Purdue had 2 possessions in the 4th quarter,ran 6 total plays, and netted 5 total yards. What I found most interesting was the talk after the game wasn’t “man Purdue’s offense was brutal in the 4th quarter,” but instead, “Lorenzo Neal’s penalty cost us the game (it didn’t BTW).”

Eastern Michigan

Next, the offense self destructed again in the debacle we know as the Eastern Michigan game. Once again, the offense had every opportunity to win the game in the 4th quarter, but failed to capitalize on an interception that started Purdue off at the EMU 20 yard line. The Boilermakers started at the 20, ran 3 plays, ended up at the 21 and missed the field goal. EMU gladly took our charity and drove it down the defenses throat to win the game.

Losing that game was tough, but it was the passivity of the offense and Brohm that really bothered me. Purdue had 4 drives in the 4th quarter of the EMU game. The 1st drive lasted 2 plays and ended in a Markel Jones fumble. The 2nd drive lasted 3 plays, covered 3 yards, and ended in a punt. The 3rd drive lasted 4 plays and ended with a Purdue touchdown on a 45 yard D.J. Knox run. The 4th drive lasted 3 plays, netted -1 yard, and ended in a missed field goal. Purdue had the ball 4 times in the 4th quarter against EMU and ran less than 5 plays on each drive. The headlines the next day all talked about EMU’s 15 play march down the field to hit the game winning touchdown, but failed to mention how bad Purdue’s offense was in the 4th quarter yet again.

Missouri

The Missouri game was more of the same frustration. My issue really starts in the 3rd quarter when Purdue was down 10, had 2nd and 4 from at the Missouri 31, threw two incomplete passes, and decided that Spencer Evans hitting a 50 yard field goal was more probable that picking up 4 yards on 4th down. Evans missed, and I assumed the game was over, but Purdue’s defense stopped Missouri and got the ball back to the offense. 2 plays later, with a 74 yard pass to Hopkins followed by a 7 yard pass to Moore for the touchdown, the lead was cut to 3.

Missouri took the ball on the next drive and drove it down the field in 12 plays. It looked like the Tigers were going to ice the game but Kenneth Major intercepted a pass at the Purdue 10 yard line, giving the offense a chance to win the game.

The drive ran like clockwork until Purdue reached the Missouri 9 yard line. Blough ran for a yard, threw 2 incomplete passes, and Brohm had to kick a field goal to tie the game and put the game on the back of his defense once again. Again, the happens, but what bothered me was the play calling inside the 10. In my mind, this was 4 down territory all day because the Boilermaker defense was holding on to a thread. Purdue had to take the lead and hope against hope for a stop to win the game. Instead of trying to work their way closer to the goal line with the running game because of the obvious 4 down situation, Brohm called 3 straight passes and kicked the field goal (granted Sparks should have been credited with a touchdown, but I still didn’t like the play calling on the series.)

Missouri got the ball back, drove down the field on the fatigued defense, and hit a chip shot field goal to win the game. Once again, I felt like Purdue’s under-staffed defense did enough to win the game, but the offense couldn’t bring the game home.

Michigan State

I think people forget just how well Purdue’s defense played in this game. Purdue’s offense was bad over the first 3 quarters, but the defense held Michigan State to 16 points, putting the offense in a perfect position to win the game.

Purdue started the 4th quarter with decent field position and worked the ball down to the MSU 44. Faced with a 3rd and 3, Purdue dialed up a pass to Rondale Moore that fell short. Brohm decided to go for it on 4th and 3 and went with another pass to Moore that gained 2 out of the 3 needed yards. I’m glad Brohm went for it in this situation, but I again question the play calling. If Brohm knows he’s going for it on 4th down, passing on 3rd and 3 makes no sense with D.J. Knox in the backfield. I like the odds of picking up 3 yards on 2 carries with Knox. He finishes runs hard and rarely takes losses.

Michigan State started their subsequent drive with excellent field position, but Purdue’s defense once again stood up and forced a 3 and out.

Purdue’s next drive started in a promising fashion, with a 37 yard D.J. Knox run, but the run game was once again abandoned and Blough threw an interception on his 4th straight pass.

The defense again held up, and forced MSU to punt after picking up 2 first downs.

Purdue’s next drive again started in spectacular fashion with a 39 yard pass to Zico that put Purdue into scoring position. Unfortunately, the next 3 plays (1 run 2 passes) only netted 8 yards, and Brohm decided to try and tie the game with a 41 yard field goal. Unfortunately, Evans missed.

MSU finally broke a big play for a touchdown, putting MSU up by 10 with 2 minutes remaining. Blough threw an interception on the 1st play of the next drive ending the game.

Once again, the Purdue offense had every opportunity to win the game in the 4th quarter, but scored 0 points in 4 forth quarter possessions.

Iowa

Purdue had a 5 point lead to protect on their first drive of the 4th quarter after Iowa scored a touchdown on a punishing 12 play, 5 minute drive. Purdue’s offense needed to move the ball and give the defense a break. The first play of the drive was a Blough interception, giving Iowa the ball on Boilermaker 26.

Iowa quickly cashed in with a touchdown on the fading Purdue defense to take a 36-35 point lead.

Purdue’s offense had to put a drive together because the defense was gassed. They attempted 4 straight passing plays, netted 1 first down and punted the ball back to Iowa.

Purdue’s defense once again rises to the occasion, and with the help of two Iowa penalties, not only gets the ball back for the offense, but gets the ball back to the offense at midfield.

Purdue proceeds to lean on the running game to move the ball into position to kick a last second field goal for the win. This drive was the best drive Purdue put together in the 4th quarter all season.

Minnesota

This may be the most disappointing game of the year. The only points they could muster in the 1st half was on a 5 play, 16 yard drive that started at the Minnesota 38 yard line after an interception and ended with a Purdue field goal.

The interesting thing about this game is that defense had Purdue in the game at half time when they probably didn’t deserve to be in the game at all. The offense was abysmal. The offense had the ball for 6 possessions, and only managed to run 25 plays during those 6 possessions, including a 4 play drive that started at the Minnesota 25 and ended at the Minnesota 34 with Purdue down 10-3. That could have been the beginning of the end, but the defense held Minnesota to a field goal.

Purdue went into the locker room down only 13-3, and I was confident that the offense would get their act together and win the game after the defense did their part in the 1st half. That confidence quickly disappeared when David Blough rolled out of the pocket, didn’t put the ball away, got stripped, and watched helplessly as a Golden Gopher scooped the ball and scampered down the field for a score.

I still had a small amount of hope, but that was extinguished on the next Purdue drive. The Boilermakers completed their first pass of the drive for a 1st down, but then misfired on the next 3 passes and punted the ball back to Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers quickly broke off a few big plays and effectively ended the game with a touchdown. Purdue would pick up a few garbage time points against Minnesota’s prevent defense, but they were inconsequential. Against Minnesota, Purdue’s offense was shut out with the exception of a 1st quarter field goal set up by an interception.

Wisconsin

This is the game that bothers me the most. The short handed defense held up all game against the Badgers withering rushing attack. Purdue took an 11 point lead into the 4th quarter, and just needed the offense to hold onto the ball to pick up a huge win. As we all know, that didn’t happen.

The offense started with a 6 play, 9 yard drive that resulted in a punt. Not great, but at the same point, at least it took 2:30 off the clock. The resulting punt, however, was great. Wisconsin fumbled the punt and Purdue picked it up at the Badger 28. The Boilermaker offense was in perfect position to deliver the death blow to a deflated Wisconsin team.

That didn’t happen. Purdue managed to work the ball down to the Badgers 1 yard line, but failed to convert on 2nd and 3rd down on two Markel Jones runs. In my mind, Purdue had 3 plays to get 1 yard. I don’t mind the first Jones run, but I have no idea why you would run him outside the tackle on 3rd down. Jones strength as a runner is getting north/south. If he’s running sideways, he can’t use his power to fall forward. At the same point, I thought for sure that Brohm would go for it on 4th down. A field goal still keeps it a 2 possession game. A touchdown ends the game.

My other issue with this series of plays is personnel. No disrespect to Jones, but D.J. Knox should be Purdue’s short yardage back. At 5’9, 220 Knox is great at getting lost behind the line and slipping through a small crack. I just don’t see a scenario where D.J. Knox gets 3 attempts at the end zone and doesn’t pick up the necessary 1 yard. He’s been the guy all season, but wasn’t on the field for a potentially game ending series. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Purdue failed to win the game with their offense and on the next drive, the defense finally cracked. After a pass interference penalty wiped out a Boilermaker interception, you started to see fatigue set in. Purdue’s D-line in particular looked gassed. Wisconsin put together a 9 play drive to cut the lead to a touchdown.

The next drive for the Purdue offense was absolutely crucial. The Purdue defense was rocked and needed some time on the sidelines to recover. Purdue started off the dive with two D.J. Knox runs to get to 3rd and 4, but Blough couldn’t connect on the 3rd down pass and Purdue gave the ball back to the Badgers after running 3 plays and taking 1:30 off the clock.

Wisconsin drove the ball down the field in 5 plays to tie the game. The defense at this point was totally spent.

Purdue started the next drive with a 35 yard completion to Terry Wright, putting Purdue at the Wisconsin 40. Blough misfired on 3 straight passes and Purdue punted in Wisconsin territory, once again putting the game on the defense.

I thought the game was over. I wasn’t sure Purdue’s defensive tackles were even going to make it back on the field, but they managed to force Wisconsin into a 3 and out after only allowing Taylor 9 yards on 3 carries.

Cool, I thought, now it’s time for the offense to win the game. Purdue started with a 4 yard Knox run, but then Blough inexplicably attempted to run on the next play, and only managed to get a few inches beyond the line of scrimmage. It looked like Purdue might have a shot to pick up a first down, but replay ruled that Terry Wright dropped the potential first down catch. After watching the replay numerous times, I don’t think it would have mattered. Wright was going to be a yard short, and there is no way Purdue is going to go for it on 4th down in that situation.

Overtime was the most frustrating part of the entire game, because I think most Purdue fans saw what was about to happen. Purdue got the ball first and scored, but Wisconsin quickly answered that score with a 3 play drive. At this point, it was clear to me that the defense was done. They had nothing left.

I was proven correct, as Wisconsin only needed running plays to get into the end zone. Purdue’s offense was going to have to win this game because the defense was absolutely cooked.

The offense did their part. Blough dropped a beautiful touchdown pass to Zico on the first play. Coach Brohm had a decision to make. His offense was 3 yards away from winning the game with a two point conversion. His defense was obviously gassed. To me, the choice was obvious. This team was designed to win on offense. He had to try and win the game with his best unit. No one could blame him for going for 2. Instead, he went the conservative route, extending the game and bringing his defense back into play.

Purdue got the ball back, gained 2 yards on 4 plays and had to settle for a clutch 41 yard field goal to give them any chance to win the game.

Once again, the game was put on the back of Purdue’s exhausted and undermanned defense, and the result was predicable. Wisconsin needed two runs by Taylor to win the game.

I’m not sure anyone in the stadium was particularly surprised.

So What? Why Write This?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been looking around the internet and reading some of your comments on other articles, and I’m seeing a bunch of people hating on the defense and Nick Holt.

The defense has done enough for Purdue to be in every game. Purdue gambled by not bringing in any immediate impact players on a defense decimated by graduation. The coaching staff decided to try and win with their offense in the off-season, but that plan hasn’t been carried out on the field. I know most Purdue fans are happy with the team this year, but honestly, I’ve been disappointed.

In my opinion, Coach Brohm and his offense has let Purdue down in several critical games this season. Purdue should be sitting at 7-5 or even 8-4 at the minimum, but instead, need to win on the road at Indiana to secure a Bowl game. It’s not that the offense has been bad, it’s just that the offense has failed in the 4th quarter.

Let’s hope the Indiana game is put away early because I don’t like our chances late.