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Iowa at Purdue: What We Learned

Purdue wins 24-20 in their home opener. Is the Purdue defense sustainable? Are the WRs this good? We now have a couple answers.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s come from behind and then hold onto the lead victory was a welcomed surprise for a Boilermaker football program that hasn’t done much winning over the last decade. The start of the Big Ten season looked like it wasn’t going to happen for a long time, and teams had just three and a half weeks to prepare for the in conference only slate of games.

Purdue was without All-American and human canon Rondale Moore after his shocking return to the school after initially declaring his intention to sit out the season and prepare for the NFL combine. Purdue was also without their coach Jeff Brohm who came down with Covid-19 and was unable to communicate with the team in any capacity for the game.

His brother Brian Brohm took over head coach and play-calling duties for the first time in his career.

For the first time this season we were able to watch Big Ten football and see what Purdue’s collection of young players look like on the field. Here’s what we learned.

AOC is the starting quarterback... for now

Aidan O’Connell started the 2018-19 as the team’s walk-on fourth string quarterback. After a series of unfortunate injuries and retirements, he finished the season as Purdue’s starting quarterback for the last five games.

An offseason later, and AOC walks into the season as the intended starter beating out sophomore Jack Plummer and transfer Austin Burton for the job.

Despite Jeff Brohm mentioning the likelihood of playing multiple quarterbacks, AOC played every offensive stat, throwing for 3 touchdowns on 50 pass attempts.

AOC showed a command for the offense, has a good arm, and made a couple really nice passes. He has obvious chemistry with David Bell who caught 12 passes and all three of Purdue’s touchdowns.

But AOC wasn’t perfect. He threw an interception on a slant route at the end of the first half where he was late on the throw, and then threw his worst pass of the day, hitting Durham’s back shoulder on a way too hard throw on a short route in the red zone that deflected into the air and ended the scoring threat.

But it’s hard to argue with AOC’s play in fourth quarters. After a couple come from behind wins last season, AOC had his best drive when it mattered most, moving the ball consistently up the field and finally finding Bell wide open in the end zone. For now, the job is squarely his, but Jeff Brohm’s return might leave open the door for Plummer or Burton if the junior struggles.

The WR corps is awesome

Rondale Moore didn’t even play, and it’s clear that Purdue’s wide receiver group is going to be a problem for teams. David Bell led the way again with 12 receptions and all 3 of the TDs, but just as imposing are the bevy of weapons on the field for Brohm’s offense.

Milton Wright left for a good portion of the second quarter before coming back into the game, which makes his 7 catches for 80 yards even more impressive. Wright is a north and south runner with the ball and at 6’3” is a huge target on crossing route. Freshman Maliq Carr is somehow even bigger and nearly came down with the catch of the game but the throw to the right of the end zone by AOC just pulled him out of bounds. It was his first collegiate game and he showed that he already has Big Ten physicality.

Amad Anderson Jr. had just two catches but showed big play burst last year. Payne Durham is a big tight end with lateral quickness and good hands. This passing offense is going to be good.

The secondary is the strength of the defense

Purdue’s front is going to struggle against running offenses, but there was some encouragement in the secondary. Purdue looks big and fast on defense and they prevented Iowa from hitting anything most the night.

George Karlaftis is the best defensive lineman in the conference and his ability to pressure quarterbacks regardless of route time and double teams will absolutely get into the head of opposing quarterbacks. The cornerbacks were physical and able to stick with Iowa’s receivers and the safeties were making hits.

Two forced fumbles really helped Purdue’s defense and they will look to continue to make big plays to get off the field.

Purdue’s offensive line isn’t a dumpster fire

A truly shocking development and the best sign for the season going forward. Despite King Doerue missing the game, Purdue’s run game was effective, especially late in the game, with Zander Horvath going for over 120 yards on more than 20 carries. AOC was only sacked twice on 50 passing attempts.

Last year’s offensive line was... not good. It didn’t seem Brohm pulled in much talent to change things this year, but the young offensive line gelled well and created running lanes and gave AOC a stable pocket to read through his passing options.

A healthy and effective offensive line will allow Purdue to continue to run the ball which is something they couldn’t do last year and give their wr’s the time to get the ball in space where Purdue will do their most damage. This kind of balance all starts with the line and if it continues to play this way, Purdue will be in and winning a lot more games than last year.