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We Still Have Hope in Brohm

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There are some questions, however.

Purdue v Illinois Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

On October 6, 2012 Purdue lost to Michigan at home in a highly anticipated game 44-13 after a 3-1 start to the season. That loss dropped fourth year head coach Danny Hope to 19-23 in his career at Purdue and started a five-game losing streak that all but sealed his fate. The Boilers nearly pulled out of the tailspin with a stunning win at Ohio State, but could not stop a late tying TD drive and fell in overtime. It was a season where, because of off the field issues at Penn State and Ohio State the Boilers would have a great chance to reach the Big Ten championship game. Instead, it limped to a 3-6 start, rallied to win the last three games against bad teams, then got drilled in the Heart of Dallas Bowl by Oklahoma State after Hope was fired.

On November 20, 2020 Purdue lost in extremely controversial fashion to Minnesota 34-31 thanks to a ridiculous offensive pass interference call that took the go ahead touchdown off the board with 45 seconds left. It dropped Purdue to 2-2 on the season and fourth year coach Jeff Brohm fell to… 19-23 at Purdue.

I am not saying Jeff Brohm should be fired. Not in the least, as I still believe in him and the direction he is taking the program. He is getting paid $5.55 million this year and will be owed over $25 million over the next five years, so even if we wanted him gone, he is not going anywhere. Still, I find it interesting that after 42 games Danny Hope was on his way out while Brohm is still developing and building, and I wonder how much of our belief in him comes from him being so much better than his immediate predecessor.

Of course, not all things are equal. When Hope came on board Purdue was coming off of a 4-8 season, but one in which it had lost multiple quarterbacks and fell apart as a result. While recruiting had declined under Joe Tiller, Purdue was still in a much stronger position entering the 2009 season than entering the 2017 season. Just two seasons before Hope came on board Purdue won eight games. In the four seasons before Brohm came to town Purdue won nine games total, five against FBS level competition, and three against the Big Ten. It had a single Big Ten home win during those four years.

The program wasn’t just a house falling apart. It was also infested with mold, had a termite problem, and was actively on fire. In that first year when Brohm went 7-6 and won a bowl game he was viewed as a miracle worker. With a collection of grad transfers, leftover Hazell guys, and a few JuCo guys he immediately threw a scare into a top 15 Louisville team, blew a decent SEC team out on its home field, and won seven games. The next year he took down three ranked teams and had the most electric player in college football in Rondale Moore.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that progress has stalled. Losing Moore and starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar on the same play just four games into last season was a large reason. Let’s also not forget that Lorenzo Neal, Richie Worship, Tario Fuller, Jared Sparks, Markus Bailey, and Viktor Beach were all players with a lot of experience and guys expected to play a lot that missed significant time. Then you had a global pandemic put a hold on practice for months, then cancel the season, then restart the season. For the last 16 games under Brohm the circumstances have been far less than ideal.

Still, it doesn’t help that we’re seeing more success, under the same circumstances, with coaches that came into the conference as the same time. Tom Allen at Indiana is 22-21, currently has the Bucket, and had the Hoosiers in the top 10 last week. PJ Fleck is 25-18 at Minnesota, had an 11 win season last year, and just got his third win in four tries head to head over Brohm (again, under extremely controversial circumstances).

There is also the concern of Brohm’s struggles in close games and his propensity to have that one WTF loss each season. In games decided by 8 points or fewer (so one possession) He is now 8-14:

2017

Louisville – L 35-28 -Purdue had 4th quarter lead, but the final drive ended in interception.

Wisconsin – L 17-9 - A sure touchdown was lost when Race Johnson strained his hamstring returning a blocked punt and Purdue missed a field goal on the following drive.

Rutgers – L 14-12 – Purdue basically broke math in this one (I count this as the 2017 WTF loss).

Nebraska – L 25-24 – The Cornhuskers score late to steal a win as Purdue blows a 24-12 fourth quarter lead.

Indiana – W 31-24 – Purdue recovers an onside kick after a late Indiana touchdown.

Arizona – W 38-35 – Anthony Mahoungou catches a late TD pass and Jacob Thieneman seals it with an interception.

2018

Northwestern - L 31-27 – Purdue has two chances in the fourth quarter to drive for the lead, but fail to go anywhere.

Eastern Michigan - L 20-19 – Everything that could go wrong, did, including Rondale running into Sparks on a sure TD run and Purdue settled for a field goal. This was the first of five losses in two years where Purdue lost on the final snap of the game. Also, this is the 2018 WTF loss.

Missouri – L 40-37 – Purdue loses on a walk off field goal after a go ahead TD to Sparks was taken off the board on review. Purdue would have been leading by 4 instead of tied late, but Missouri was well within striking distance of the end zone, so who knows. This is the second final snap loss.

Iowa – W 38-36 – Purdue blew a double digit 4th quarter lead again, but drove down to have Spencer Evans win it on a late field goal.

Wisconsin – L 47-44 3OT – Another double digit fourth quarter lead blown. Jonathan Taylor runs wild. Third final snap loss.

Indiana – W 28-21 – Just like a year before, Purdue recovers an onside kick after a late Indiana TD.

2019

Nevada – L 34-31 – Yet again, a blown double digit fourth quarter loss. Nevada gets a late TD after replay rules that the game-clinching interception by Kenneth Major was (wrongly) not an interception, then they get a pick and bomb in a field goal for the fourth last snap loss.

Minnesota – L 38-31 – Jack Plummer comes on in the clutch and gets Purdue within a TD, but Purdue couldn’t get one more stop with 4 minutes left.

Iowa - L 26-20 – This was Purdue’s turn to score late but fail to get the onside kick.

Nebraska – W 31-27 – The legend of Aidan O’Connell begins as he leads a late TD drive capped by David Bell for the win. Purdue also gets the ensuing defensive stop.

Northwestern – W 24-22 – O’Connell does it again as J.D. Dellinger hits the game-winner into the teeth of a stiff breeze in the final seconds.

Indiana – L 44-41 2OT – O’Connell almost does it for a third time in four games as Purdue trailed 28-10 with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter, but still ties it and is a dropped pass from a game-winning field goal attempt in regulation. Here is your fifth final snap loss.

2020

Iowa – W 24-20 – The best late game response on here. Dedrick Mackey forces a fumble as Iowa is driving to put it away, O’Connell leads another go ahead drive, and Purdue gets the late defensive stop.

Illinois – W 31-24After leading by 21 in the fourth quarter Purdue survives with a red zone stop and a big first down catch by Bell.

Northwestern – L 27-20 – Just like two years earlier Purdue has two chances to drive for a late score, this time to tie, but falters.

Minnesota – L 34-31 – Even with two missed field goals and the bobbled TD by Moore Purdue did enough to win, but was robbed.

To me, this is a concern. I was curious to see how well Brohm’s predecessors did in close games. Hope had the wild first season where he lost five games by 21 total points. He still finished a respectable 10-11 in games decided by eight points or less, including an impressive 5-2 in 2011. Of course, Hope was also susceptible to the WTF loss like Northern Illinois in 2009, Toledo in 2010, and Rice in 2011. Combined with that shicking 2009 win over Ohio State (2018 much?) and the similarities are even more striking. Hazell was 2-7 in such games (Purdue would lose to Indiana by 2 after he was fired), but his teams were rarely within a score for much of the second halves of games.

I think what is most concerning is that for last season and much of this season so far we have not seen the swashbuckling devil-may-care offense that was Brohm’s calling card in those first two seasons. He has been extremely timid of late. This is a coach that was having punters throw passes to long snappers in his first year. Now it feels like he has tightened up. The ground game with DJ Knox and Markell Jones that provided balance dried up last season and has been there only in fits and spurts this year. It is better this year, but when Purdue had the ball 1st and 10 on the Minnesota down just three with six minutes left on Friday Zander Horvath, who was averaging almost 7 yards and carry and who had demonstrated in the first two games of the year he can be a closer, did not get a single carry. It was the opinion of many that his brother called a better game in the opener against Iowa. Situations like no Horvath late against Minnesota are reasons why. Not establishing the run at all in a tight game against Northwestern is another.

Of course, we are still looking at circumstances. Brohm is vastly better than Hazell and I still think he is better than Hope. Last year’s injuries forced a lot of young guys to play and this year is a wild season where EVERYONE looks completely different week-to-week. I know part of the reason I am a little down on him right now is that blasted call. If we’re rightfully 3-1 right now with promising games against Rutgers and Nebraska coming up I know I would feel a lot better. So would you. That game left a bad taste in all of our mouths, but it also raises the stakes on the next two games. We had a real shot at being 5-1 heading to Bloomington. Now we’re 2-2 and facing a feisty Rutgers team that is a lot better than many expected. Can you see Purdue dropping that game, then falling to Nebraska?

I have long felt that this would be a table-setting year for a real breakout in 2021. I felt that way because Purdue gets most of its starters back next season. Neal and Moore are probably off to the NFL. Grant Hermanns could return now unless he has NFL chances. The same with Derrick Barrnes. Almost everyone else will be back and Brohm’s 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes that were the best we have had in ages will be coming of age. Before COVID hit the schedule looked tough with a really hard non-conference slate and a seemingly daunting trip to Michigan. Getting 6-7 wins while improving for 2021 was the goal. In this bizarre COVD season Purdue should be 3-1, had a decent argument for 4-0, and will be favored in the next two games.

Can Purdue recover from that call and start to turn a corner here in the next two? They feel like critical, must have games not just for this year, but for Brohm going forward. I still have confidence in him. I think it is a slower build than we had hoped after that 7-6 first year, but there is little questions that things are better overall than they have been in quite some time. I feel like 5-3 after the “Champions Week” game is a good mark for this year. The Northwestern loss isn’t bad. We should have beaten Minnesota but Iowa has looked really good the last three games and could have easily been a loss. Getting to 5-3 with only a loss at Indiana (and we’re losing to Indiana. Sorry) in a year of strangeness is progress, but dropping either of the next two will raise my level of concern for Brohm going forward.