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Just Pick One: Comparing Quarterbacks

Poor quarterback play has doomed Purdue so far.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Is Jeff Brohm just going to pick one, already?

We have seen Purdue play 15 games under Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers are 7-8. The team itself is demonstrably better than it was under Darrell Hazell, too. Of the eight losses, six have been by 8 points or less. Four (Eastern Michigan, Northwestern 2018, Rutgers, and Nebraska) were by eight points total. It is a very thin margin that has prevented this rebuild from being even better.

Unfortunately, that thin margin this year has separated us from 2-0 and our current 0-2. Yes, the Eastern Michigan game should have never even been as close as it was, but living with a 1 point win is certainly a lot better than living with a 1 point loss. As it stands now, unless Purdue upsets Missouri and Boston College both it could be the difference between a second straight bowl and no bowl.

Perhaps the largest area where Purdue has struggled is at the quarterback position. Brohm is known for getitng his quarterbacks ready and having them be successful. He was brought here because of his offensive prowess. Last season we saw glimpses of it as both Elijah Sindelar and David Blough had their moments of success. Sindelar had near 400 yard performances against Arizona and Northwestern last year (on an injured knee no less). Blough lit up Ohio and played well at Missouri.

So far, we have not seen those glimpses. I admit, I am not an offensive coordinator or a quarterbacks coach, but we need one of these guys to separate himself from the other. We have yet to really see it, as the duo has split time in 10 of 15 games with Blough missing the last four last season due to injury and Sindelar not playing against Nebraska. A decision needs to be made, however. Coach Brohm said as much this week:

“Whoever starts the game we’ll give them an opportunity to showcase what he’s about and the other one will be ready. Whether that’s the second quarter or beyond, I don’t know. I try not to predetermine it exactly and I think both guys will be up and ready.”

So who is it? For the 467th time here, let’s compare the two and see what each has done so far:

Elijah Sindelar

1 start, 26 of 44 for 283 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

For most of the first half against Northwestern Sindelar looked great. He spread the ball around and had the offense moving. There was not much of a running game in the first half outside of Rondale Moore’s huge play, so it was up to the passing game. The early interception was not a good throw, but Sindelar made up for it by throwing a great pass to Moore for the game’s first touchdown.

The interceptions were killer, however. The worst was the third one, which allowed Northwestern to score just before the half and lead 31-17 at the break. In one half Sindelar threw three picks when he threw seven all of last season.

The phrase “downfield passing” has been used as a difference maker between the two, but hte longest pass Sindelar has hit on was the 32 yard TD to Moore. The longest Blough hit on was 23 yards, also to Moore on the final play of the first half against Northwestern.

If you want to go on raw numbers Sindelar has been better, but Sindelar has an efficiency rating of 114.5 to Blough’s 108.6. Sindelar has officially led five scoring drives for 30 points.

David Blough

1 start, 18 of 26 for 122 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

Blough, who struggled with interceptions for much of his career (21 in 2016) has been the safe option so far, but one could argue it is to the detriment of the offense. He has a higher completion percentage (69.2% to 59.1%) this year and last year (65% to 56.8%). That accuracy is good, to a point.

We’re not gaining anything with him, however. Blough led the second half touchdown drive against Northwestern in 6 plays taking 71 yards. He also led a solid 78 yard drive in 14 plays for a second half field goal, but managed only two field goals against Eastern Michigan. That’s four scoring drives to Sindelar’s five, but Sindelar has produced four touchdowns. Of course, one of Sindelar’s was “hand the ball to Moore and have him make an amazing play”. Sindelar is repsonsible for 30 points and Blough 16.

Even in the ground game Blough has been better, but not demonstrably better. Blough has 36 yards rushing on 8 carries while Sindelar has a net loss of a yard on four carries. That adds a slightly different dimension, but not much of one. In terms of our running backs D.J. Knox and Markell Jones seemed to have more room to work on Saturday when Sindelar was in, so perhaps the bigger threat of Sindelar means more room for them.

The truth is that BOTH quarterbacks are underperforming compared to last year. Sindelar averaged nearly 175 yards passing per games last season (skewed because he played four complete games at the end) and Blough averaged 122.6. This year Sindelar is down to 141.5 yards per game and Blough is really down to 61 per game.

The argument I don’t get is that “Blough isn’t a great passer.” He’s a guy who led the Big Ten with 3,352 yards just two seasons ago! He threw the deep ball just fine with DeAngelo Yancey out there, and he had at least three passes of 75 yards or longer in 2016. If anything, I would say that the fear of interceptions from Blough (he had 21 against 25 TDs in 2016) have him handcuffed a bit. When forced to let it rip out of necessity in 2016 (because we were almost always trailing) he often did well. Against Iowa he had 458 yards and 5 touchdowns. Againt Minnesota he had 391 yards and 4 touchdowns. Even against Bowling Green in 2015, his first career start, he threw for 340 yards on 29 of 39 passing.

We have evidence that Blough can air it out, but so far he has been limited. His best game under Brohm was the Ohio game last year where he was 11 of 13 for 235 yards and 3 TDs. There has been a pretty clear reluctance to turn him loose, especially this year.

So who do we go with? As much as I like Blough and appreciate what he has done in the past, my gut is telling me it should be Sindelar. Neither quarterback has done well this year. One could argue that Saturday’s weather made it difficult on both, but Tyler Wiegers had no problem throwing for 312 yards despite being sacked 6 times. To win ballgames this year we’re going to need performances like Wiegers had. So far, neither Blough nor Sindelar has done that.

The Eastern Michigan game definitely put a spotlight on that. While Wiegers confidently led a pair of end-of-half scoring drives, a fourth quarter TD drive, and connected on a long ball neither Blough nor Sindelar had a pass longer than 22 yards. If the running game had not been working so well it would have been worse. Purdue moved the ball on the ground, but when it had to throw it could not convert with either quarterback. Had either QB played as they did last year, it doesn’t matter who, Purdue wins (and yes, there were half a dozen other factors that contributed, but we needed just one to go the other way).

Sindelar has gottent he most production out of the offense and, if not for the interceptions, would likely have finished the Northwestern game. He’s done the best job of getting the offense moving and he showed late last season what he can do. The trick is getting him back to that same level of production. He was well on his way there against Northwestern before the last two interceptions. With 1,160 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only two interceptions in the last four games last year he was great. That’s good enough to still go out and win six games in these last 10. With the extra year of eligibility between the two of them I think Sindelar makes more sense, too, for the future.

The thing is, I can see both guys succeeding. Blough was virtually perfect in the first three drives at Missouri last season. Sindelar had a fantastic bowl against Arizona and he could do that again Saturday night, making all forgiven as long as he leads us to a win.

The question is, how do we get them back there?