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
|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
|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)|
|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)|
|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)|
|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.