*In keeping with the theme of this article I went with a back-up Purdue Pete.
Since the announcement that Big 10 football will, in fact, be back for the fall, I’ve been mulling over what to write. I have the benefit of writing about two other college football teams (Clemson and Kansas State) and that’s given me a two week head start on everyone in terms of in-depth college football coverage. I have one take away from covering both of those teams, and it’s not great for Purdue.
Depth is the name of the game in 2020 college football.
I’ll start with Clemson, a team that has unquestioned depth.
The Tigers were lucky to draw Wake Forest for their opening game, because they had several late scratches. In total, Clemson had 9 players somewhat unexpectedly out for their first game, including their number 1 corner, number 3 corner, number 3 and 4 running backs, both back up centers, and their 5th and 6th defensive tackles. They are also missing one of their starting defensive ends from last year to an extended Covid recovery (although that was expected). It’s unknown how many of these were Covid related, because according to Coach Swinney, Clemson hasn’t had a positive test in two weeks, but it’s unusual for guys to show up on the official pregame depth chart on Thursday and not play on Saturday. Contact tracing, if I were to guess, was the issue.
Clemson, of course, easily overcame the unexpected absences against Wake Forest. They gave up a few more passing yards than they would have, and had to lean heavily on an uber-talented freshman class, but as long as Trevor Lawerence, Travis Etienne, Jackson Carmen (LT) and Amari Rodgers were healthy, Wake was going to lose.
That being said, a team with more talent across the board, like Miami (who has looked solid on offense with Houston transfer D’eriq King at quarterback) or North Carolina, and things could have been much different. Clemson still probably wins, but missing w of their top 3 corners and both starting defensive ends from last season could have posed a major headache on defensive for Brent Venables.
Kansas State, unlike Clemson, couldn’t overcome their injuries and dropped their opener to a dangerous Arkansas State team, also piecing their roster together at the last moment because of “unavailable” players, on a last second touchdown.
The Wildcats weren’t particularly deep to begin with, and when news broke late that All-American kick returner and starting wide receiver Joshua Youngblood was a late scratch, things went from bad to worse.
On top of their best play maker, Youngblood, they were also without the services of his backup Wyykeen Gill, the presumptive favorites to provide a 1-2 punch at the running back (one opted out, the other has been “unavailable” for quite some time) and their pass rushing specialist at defensive end.
Those five players could have made a big difference, but the biggest hole was at right tackle, where the right tackle they announced as a starter on Thursday was “unavailable” to play on Saturday. The right tackle spot turned into a huge issue, with Arkansas State defensive ends fighting over the chance to line up across from the second string offensive tackle on passing downs.
Once the game started, injuries continued to pile up. The starting center went down with an elbow injury on the first drive, causing further chaos on the young offensive line. They lost a starting safety in the first quarter, and because of a Covid opt and a another late scratch, were down to a walk-on converted high school quarterback and special teams stud at safety. Arkansas State terrorized the poor kid all game.
The Wildcats came into the game as a fringe top 25 team with everyone healthy, but dropped their home opener to a Sun Belt team, in-part because of a decimated depth chart.
According to Head Coach Chris Klieman, “The Wildcats took the field against Arkansas State without 35-40 players last week. And around 12 of the active players that entered the game had been out for two weeks before getting the all-clear to return to practice about three days before the game.”
Things haven’t gotten much better for the Wildcats, with Klieman stating last week that, “We haven’t had a good week dealing with COVID already this week, with losing some guys. It’s just going to be a nonstop battle.”
What It Means For Purdue
Purdue needs to prepare for the nonstop battle. The good news is they have some depth on the roster this season with the loaded 2019 class fully weaponized.
Unfortunately for Purdue, their depth isn’t spread equally across their roster. If a wide receiver is a late scratch (including David Bell, but that one would hurt the most) Purdue wouldn’t have to change much with their offense. Loose a couple running backs or tight ends and things become complicated. Thankfully, if there is any season to carry five scholarship quarterbacks, it’s this year, because Purdue should be able to plug an play an experienced starter barring a complete disaster (which, isn’t out of the question with Purdue’s luck with injuries).
Offensive line, as it has been throughout the Brohm era, is the one area Purdue can’t afford to lose anyone. I will be shocked if the offensive line isn’t a problem for the Boilermakers even without their full compliment of players, but if they lose any top line guys, things go from “not good” to “dumpster fire” immediately. Grant Hermanns may be the most valuable player on the roster because I’m not sure who Purdue even tries at left tackle if the 5th year senior, with a career plagued by knee injuries, goes down to injury or misses time due to Covid. The other positions are more fluid because there are more bodies to throw into the mix, but that’s about all Purdue has in terms of depth on the offensive line at this point...bodies.
On defense things are a little better. Switching to a 3 man front instantly gives Purdue more depth at defensive tackle and defensive end. Losing Karlaftis or Neal would be a huge blow, but the talent behind them is serviceable. I’m not worried too much about linebacker, although losing Alexander or Barnes could be problematic. Purdue may have the deepest safety room in the Big10, so that position should be fine, but corner gets thin in a hurry past the first 3 or 4 guys.
I’ll get more in-depth with my analysis once the depth chart starts to shake out. I suppose if any team is prepared to adjust on the fly to injuries, it’s Purdue. Maybe this is the season the Boilermaker injury luck turns around, and they can feast on other teams struggling to piece together a roster.
The only thing I know for certain after covering the first two weeks of college football is things change in a hurry, and everyone needs to be ready to go. It’s all hands on deck in 2020.