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Freshman Watch: Post Minnesota

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yeah, we’re younger and may get younger.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Minnesota at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In football you can only play 11 players at a time. Sure, Texas A&M brags about a 12th man and such, but going beyond 11 normally results in a penalty. With those 11 you want to go with your best and most experienced players if at all possible. Sometimes this means freshmen if they are really good, but in the Big Ten, playing a lot of freshmen usually does not bode well.

That said, at one point in the second half of Saturday’s game at Minnesota Purdue had SEVEN freshmen on the field at the same time:

Jack Plummer - QB

King Doerue - RB

David Bell - WR

TJ Sheffield - WR

Amad Anderson Jr. - WR

Milton Wright - WR

Will Bramel - RT

We could have even gone eight deep, as Eric Miller was getting snaps on the offensive line. Of those eight freshmen, four (Doerue, Bell, Sheffield, and Wright) were true freshmen that a month earlier had not played a single college snap. It is not like this is a unique, one-time-only lineup, either. Plummer is starting at QB going forward. Doerue earned the starting spot at RB with a three TD performance. Bell is now starting after a 100-yard receiving game. Bramel has been starting all year. Anderson has been starting of late too.

Of course, it does make some sense. Purdue current has five recruiting classes represented on the roster. Here are their rankings both Nationally and within the Big Ten, with 2020 added for some more perspective on where we could be headed:

Purdue Recruiting Class Rankings

Class Rivals 247 ESPN
Class Rivals 247 ESPN
2013 (Hope/Hazell) 56 National, 10 B1G 61 National, 13 B1G 50 National, 11 B1G
2014 (Hazell) 71 National, 13 B1G 70 National, 13 B1G 69 National, 14 B1G
2015 (Hazell) 68 National, 14 B1G 67 National, 14 B1G 55 National, 9 B1G
2016 (Hazell) 73 National, 13 B1G 80 National, 14 B1G 61 National, 12 B1G
2017 (Hazell/Brohm) 68 National, 14 B1G 72 National, 14 B1G 59 National, 14 B1G
2018 (Brohm) 49 National, 11 B1G 52 National, 11 B1G 46 National, 10 B1G
2019 (Brohm) 26 National, 5 B1G 25 National, 5 B1G 25 National, 5 B1G
2020 (Brohm) 33 National, 7 B1G 31 National, 7 B1G 32 National, 7 B1G

For fun I also threw in 2013 and 2014 just to illustrate what Brohm had to work with the last two years. We all know that Hazell was a shit recruiter, but it is amazing to see just how bad it was even with ESPN inflating our rankings. The 2016 class, which should be the bulk of our playing roster right now, was rated BEHIND UAB, which had the noticeable handicap of not playing football the previous two seasons. There are 11 players from that class represented on the scholarship chart. Two are currently hurt, one is a kicker that only plays a few plays a game, and four more started the year as reserves (Higgins, Smiley, Fakasiieki, and Anthrop).

Of course, that is an old refrain. I want to look at the current freshmen playing, so here is our most recent scholarship grid:

Purdue Football Scholarship Grid

Player Position ('21-'22) ('22-'23) ('23-'24) ('24-'25) ('25-'26)
Player Position ('21-'22) ('22-'23) ('23-'24) ('24-'25) ('25-'26)
Tyler Coyle S FREE YEAR
Greg Long OL FREE YEAR
J.D. Dellinger K FREE YEAR
Anthony Watts DT FREE YEAR
Simeon Smiley CB FREE YEAR
Semisi Fakasiieiki DE FREE YEAR
Jackson Anthrop WR FREE YEAR
Brennan Thieneman S FREE YEAR
Tyler Witt OL Grad Transfer Grad Transfer
Alexander Horvath RB Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Robert McWilliams LB/DE Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Dedrick Mackey DB Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Mark Stickford OL Junior (RS) Senior (5)
DJ Washington OL Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Aidan O'Connell QB Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Austin Burton QB Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Jaylan Alexander LB Junior Senior
DaMarcus Mitchell LB Junior Senior
Jeff Marks DT Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Jack Plummer QB Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Elijah Ball DB Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Kadin Smith DB Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Jack Cravaack DE Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Eric Miller OT Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Lawrence Johnson DT Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Will Bramel OL Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Jimmy McKenna OL Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
K.J. Stokes DE Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Branson Deen DE Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Jack Sullivan DE Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Cory Trice DB Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Kory Taylor WR Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Payne Durham TE Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
DJ Johnson CB Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
George Karlaftis DE Sophomore Junior Senior
Brooks Cormier P Sophomore Junior Senior
Cam Allen CB Sophomore Junior Senior
King Doerue RB Sophomore Junior Senior
Milton Wright WR Sophomore Junior Senior
Jalen Graham DB Sophomore Junior Senior
David Bell WR Sophomore Junior Senior
TJ Sheffield WR Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Marvin Grant DB Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Da'Joun Hewitt RB Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Mershawn Rice ATH Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Cam Craig OL Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Paul Piferi QB Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Kyle Bilodeau TE Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Dave Monnot III OL Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Spencer Holstege OL Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Dontay Hunter DE Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Nyles Beverly CB Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Khali Saunders LB Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Garrett Miller TE Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Sulaiman Kpaka DL Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Steven Faucheux DT Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Kyle Jornigan OL Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Jacob Wahlberg LB Freshman (RS) Sophomore (RS) Junior (RS) Senior (5)
Chase Triplett LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Gus Hartwig OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Jared Bycznski OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Ben Kreul LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Michael Alaimo QB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Tirek Murphy RB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Josh Kaltenberger OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Collin Sullivan WR Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Antonio Stevens DB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Kydran Jenkins LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Sanoussi Kane DB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Clyde Washington LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Greg Hudgins DE Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Marcellus Moore WR Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Nalin Fox OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Maliq Carr WR Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Bryce Austin DT Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen WR Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Anthony Romphf DB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Ryan Brandt LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Jaelin Alstott-VanDeVanter OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Preston Terrell WR Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Tristan Cox LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Rickey Smith ATH Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Brandon Calloway DB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Zach Richards OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Khordae Sydnor DE Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Deion Burks WR Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Mahamane Moussa OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Ja'Quez Cross ATH Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Drew Biber TE Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Jah'Von Grigsby DB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Yanni Karlaftis LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Marcus Mbow OL Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Brady Allen QB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Dominack Moon LB Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior
Yearly Limit Used (25 Max)
Total Scholarships Left 1 -1 9 32 83
Total Scholarships Used 84 86 76 53 2

I can’t format it to show in red, but 5 of the 11 players listed as seniors are currently out indefinitely. A sixth, Matt McCann, has missed a game. A seventh, Brycen Hopkins, has been banged up. That’s only part of the “why” so many freshmen are playing. The other was represented in the first chart: They are just better. George Karlaftis walked into the football facility as a freshman back in January as a starter because he was just better. Rondale Moore dominated the Big Ten last year because he was just better. With only 20 scholarship guys in the top two classes and six of those 20 out (counting junior Jared Sparks) we have no choice but to play young, but in many cases those playing young are just better.

This week on the depth chart we have 13 freshmen listed on offense, 8 listed on defense, and 3 listed on special teams. Nine of those players are true freshmen. Of course, several were going to see the field this year because it was the best recruiting class in a very long time by a wide margin. Still, I don’t think we anticipated at least nine burning their redshirt. That’s more than Brohm had played in his first two years combined.

Obviously, the hope is that this will pay off. The offensive freshmen showed a lot of promise in making a comeback on Minnesota. It was a game where Purdue was getting blown out, but was suddenly a play away from getting the ball back to a hot offense. The lack of experience makes this week look scary on paper, but maybe we’ll get a surprise. Sure, it is unlikely, but maybe these young guys will play with nothing to lose and not know they are supposed to be intimidated at Penn State. It is probably a 5% chance at best, but it is a chance.

Long term, however, recruiting is clearly trending up. We gave Brohm a huge extension for a variety of reasons. First, look at what he was able to accomplish the first years with the lack of talent on hand. Second, look at the recruiting uptick. If he walks last December there is a very good chance the 2019 class is shattered and so is 2020. We wrote a check to get at least two significantly better recruiting classes signed and sealed. 2019 is on campus and 2020 will sign in December. Combined with an improved 2018 class, these three classes will have to do the heavy lifting, and they already are.

At this point we have to trust the long-term. Brohm is 14-16 through 30 games. Of the 16 losses, 10 were by 8 points or less. Four (Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Nevada) were decided on the game’s final play. Sure, losses like Auburn, TCU, and Minnesota last year were pretty bad, but overall we’re still very, very close. Results on the field are also significantly better than what he walked into (3 wins over ranked teams, a bowl win, two bowl games, he can actually beat Indiana).

And there is no reason to give up on the season this year. Yes, we’re playing a lot of freshmen, but we saw vs. Minnesota how even one game can make a difference. If Brohm can turn this thing around and make a bowl game it would be HUGE for all the freshmen playing. The path is the following: Maryland-Illinois-Nebraska-Northwestern-Indiana. Individually I still think Purdue can win each of those games with Nebraska being the hardest. I am not totally counting us out at Iowa, either, given how well Brohm has done against them. Yes, it is an uphill climb, but there is something to be said about gaining confidence just by getting one win. Maybe Purdue plays Penn State much closer this weekend and it builds to a nice win over Maryland. Who knows what happens then. Sure, the path is extremely narrow because of the Nevada collapse (which was inexcusable), but having this hope certainly beats giving up on the year.

Regardless of what happens, youth this season will be replaced by experience next season. I still think Brohm is The Guy going forward and we’re paying him because we see a long term vision even if the short term looks like a step back.