The first quarter of the season has not gone as planned. Yes, Purdue has a nice home win over an SEC team in Vanderbilt, one that could prove to be a win over a bowl team after the Commodores stop playing the likes of LSU and Georgia, but the rest has been bad. Special teams mistakes, a defensive collapse, and a poor replay review led to a loss at Nevada that probably has fans upset the most right now. Handling what happened on Saturday night is a lot easier if the Boilers had won in Reno as they should have. Any game where the only time you trail all night is after the final play is extremely frustrating.
Of course, Saturday night was bad too. Purdue looked outclassed and the hot takes are flying. Some think Brohm is lost and doesn’t know what he is doing. Some felt he didn’t prepare the team at all. I am more tempered. Purdue has 20 scholarship players that are juniors or seniors and seven were out on Saturday. This includes our two best defenders, our starting quarterback and best offensive lineman, top two running backs, and a starting receiver. It’s hard for any team to overcome that.
As I noted in yesterday’s post on the redshirting freshmen, we’re also playing 21 total freshmen plus 10 walk-ons in various roles. Obviously some are playing more than others, but we’re on the down side of the youth vs. inexperience equation right now. Guys like Rondale Moore and George Karlaftis who come in and look like stars immediately are the exception as opposed to the rule.
I can write off Saturday as the offense doing nothing and the defense wearing down. It was a 13-6 game at halftime despite the offense doing very little, and that is still in the “Hey, If Rondale makes a play this game is tied” territory. The offense continued to do little and the defense wore down as a result. If Elijah Sindelar is in there I think we have a different game. We may not win, but I think he helps the offense move the ball more, keeping the defense off the field, and it is at least close through three quarters instead of a half. TCU had the ball for more than 40 minutes (40:33) compared to 19:27 for Purdue. That’s asking A LOT of the defense. They ran for 346 yards on 58 rushing attempts. Early on they were rushing for 3-4 yards per carry, then the big gaps opened later against a tired defense.
At this point I think the projections of 8-9 wins this year were premature, as again, THIS IS A VERY YOUNG TEAM. There are glaring weaknesses. There is no running game and the potential return of Tario Fuller can only do so much. The offensive line is a work in progress that has done relatively well in the passing game, but is not a run blocking unit at all. We’re averaging 50 yards rushing per game, which is 128thout of 130 teams at the FBS level (suck it, Akron and Texas State!)
Defensively, I have seen some good things and bad things. Against Nevada and TCU fatigue was an issue as we faded late in both, while against Vanderbilt we had a big lead and played prevent most of the rest of the way. Karlaftis is as good as advertised and the return of Neal (hopefully against Minnesota) will help a ton. Losing Bailey is a huge loss, while the defensive line is developing depth and has showed some promise outside of Karlaftis. Jalen Graham, Lawrence Johnson, Marvin Grant, and Cam Allen, Jack Sullivan, are freshmen that have looked good. We’re playing a lot of guys, and that will pay huge dividends next season. With Bailey out the one player in Saturday’s starting 11 that won’t be back next year is Ben Holt.
We’re in a situation right now where things aren’t as good as we had hoped (and we would feel significantly better had the Kenneth Major interception against Nevada been called an interception, ending the game), but it is not as bad as it seems right now. This youth playing right now will pay off in the next two seasons.
As far as this season goes, I am not giving up on getting five more wins and getting back to a bowl game. That is far from impossible. Getting guys like Sindelar, Neal, McCann, and Fuller back will help a ton in that regard, so this bye week helps. The schedule is tough, but only trips to Penn State and Wisconsin look overwhelming. That’s seven games to get five wins.
In this second quarter of the season it is critical to beat Minnesota and Maryland at home around the Penn State game. Minnesota is a very shaky 3-0 and we were embarrassed by the Gophers last season, so righting the ship by beating them in West Lafayette would be big. It is pretty much a must-win for bowl hopes. I don’t expect to win at Penn State, but beating a Maryland team that is clearly mercurial on Homecoming is also key.
That would get Purdue to 3-3 at the midway point. That’s not great, but not awful when the preseason projections had us around that record anyway. In the third quarter of the season you have at Iowa and Brohm is 2-0 against the Hawkeyes. They’re good, but not unbeatable. We have to beat Illinois at home, then we get Nebraska. Who knows what you get in Nebraska, honestly.
In the final three games hopefully we have a measure of breathing room at 5-4 instead of 4-5, but we can absolutely beat Northwestern and Indiana. At this point taking four of five at home and stealing a game at Iowa or Northwestern seems to be the best path to a bowl. If we can just win our five Big Ten home games, even better.
A lot hinges on the Minnesota game and getting healthy this week for it. Beat the Gophers and things will feel a lot better.