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Crossroads

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Saturday’s loss left a lot of questions.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Brohm is not going to be fired after this season, not even if he loses the next 7 games and goes 3-9.

Purdue owes him way too much money and simply does not have the deep pockets to not only complete his buyout, but go out and hire someone new when you probably have to pay north of $3 million a year to get someone competent. I can say with 100% confidence he is going to be Purdue’s coach for the 2022 season opener, and probably through the end of that year, at minimum, barring a major scandal.

That’s 19 more games where he is coach. He has survived longer than his two immediate predecessors. He has lasted longer than Hope because, even though he now has an identical record to Hope when he was let go at 22-27, his 22 wins are mostly significantly better than Hope’s. He is better than Hazell because, well, it would be very difficult to be worse.

All of that said, we are still at a concerning point in his tenure. The momentum of the huge Ohio State game is gone and we are seeing the early “dead coach walking” warning signs like, “he doesn’t update injuries the way I like” and “he continues to not address ‘x’”. His teams keep approaching crossroads games, but they cannot sustain any success behind them. Here are some of the larger ones:

Michigan 2017 – After playing Louisville surprisingly close and blowing out Missouri on the road a top 10 Michigan team came to town. Purdue lost 28-10, but it was close until late in the 3rd quarter. Purdue would beat Minnesota a week later, but lose three straight to Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Nebraska by 11 points total, and both the Rutgers and Nebraska games were bad losses.

Iowa 2017 – This was a positive game, as Purdue went into Iowa City and stunned an 8-win Iowa team 24-15. It started a three game win streak as Purdue beat Indiana to reach a bowl game, then won said bowl game over Arizona. It led to a 7-6 season, Purdue’s first 7-win season in six years, and it was unquestionably a successful year despite being a play or two from being a nine win season thanks to Rutgers and Nebraska. Purdue won seven games over FBS teams in one year after winning only five such games in the previous four years.

Northwestern 2018 – Purdue entered the year with a lot of momentum, and Rondale Moore exploded onto the scene in the game, but despite having the ball twice down 4 in the fourth quarter Purdue could not get it done in a 31-27 loss. The next week was another bad loss to Eastern Michigan (shades of Rutgers and Nebraska the year before), and Purdue was 0-3 after a late loss to Missouri.

Boston College 2018 – Purdue wins 30-13 and beats its first top 25 team in seven years. Once again, a somewhat unexpected result turns things back in a positive direction. The Boilers would win the next three games, including…

Ohio State 2018 – We all remember it. Purdue beats the absolute brakes off of the Buckeyes and the 0-3 start is all but forgotten. You even heard it from Chris Fowler just before the Markus Bailey pick-six, as the broadcaster said Purdue was a contender now in the Big Ten West. And why not? That win moved Purdue to 3-1 in the league and if they could do THAT to Ohio State, what about anyone else? Purdue also received votes in the AP Poll and with one more win probably breaks an 11 year drought outside the top 25.

Michigan State 2018 – The Spartans were 4-3 and starting a backup quarterback. A Purdue win becomes that elusive “next step”, as it would mean a top 25 appearance and definite shot at the West. Purdue would lose 23-13 with a bunch of missed opportunities.

Iowa 2018 – Momentum swings back in Purdue’s way as the last second Spencer Evans field goal gives Purdue a third win over a top 25 team. Ironically, Purdue went 3-0 at home against top 25 teams this season, but 0-4 against non-top 25 teams. Purdue once again receives votes in the AP poll.

Minnesota 2018 – The Gophers had fired their defensive coordinator after they gave up 55 points to lowly Illinois a week earlier. They followed it up with a 41-10 shellacking of Purdue where, once again, a win would have put the Boilers in the top 25. Purdue would have a gut-wrenching 47-44 triple overtime loss a week later to Wisconsin, but recovered to beat Indiana to make a bowl.

Auburn 2018 – Arguably a crossroads game because it was against a strong SEC program and thus a chance to make a statement, but Purdue was shorthanded with several top line players out and the Tigers absolutely blasted the Boilers 63-14. It was one of the only times where Purdue looked completely outclassed in every phase under Brohm.

Nevada 2019 – Honestly, this could prove to be the ultimate turning point of Brohm’s tenure. Purdue led by 17 deep into the second half, then utterly collapsed in a deflating 34-31 loss. The rest of the 2019 season was defined by injuries, as the concussion Elijah Sindelar sustained against Vanderbilt late led directly to the lackluster 34-13 TCU loss. Then Minnesota happened. Purdue finished 4-8, largely due to all the injuries to its top offensive players like Sindelar and Rondale. It probably doesn’t change much if Purdue holds on in Reno because of the injuries later on, but it was still significant.

Iowa 2020 – A new season. A weird season. Purdue plays the Hawkeyes in an empty Ross-Ade Stadium and gets a 24-20 win thanks to the brilliance of David Bell. There was obviously A LOT that was strange about this one, but for the first time under Brohm Purdue won a season opener (even though he did not coach the game due to COVID). Iowa would go on to go 6-2 and arguably be the second best Big Ten team, so this would prove to be a really good win, and at the time, a sign of a turnaround.

Northwestern 2020 – Purdue was 2-0. Once again, it was receiving votes. Once again, it would likely get into the top 25 with a win. Once again, it was a one-possession loss where the Boilers had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead in the 4th quarter. Purdue loses 27-20, leading to…

Minnesota 2020 – The phantom pass interference. This one is out of Purdue’s hands, as it won the game only to have it stolen by the officials. I don’t think there is much question that this loss had a major effect on the final two games, punchless losses to Rutgers and Nebraska. It was a lost season after Minnesota for many reasons, but this game did no favors.

Oregon State 2021 – Purdue had sustained three straight losing seasons to this point, and the previous two each had their asterisk. The 2019 season was the bad injury luck season. The 2020 season was the bizarre COVID year where nothing was anywhere close to normal. The 2021 season was the mulligan and the chance to recapture momentum but the swing game against the Beavers would be critical. Purdue gets the job done with a 30-21 win.

Minnesota 2021 – The latest crossroads game. Purdue entered 3-1 for the first time in nine years. To this point Purdue won the critical Oregon State game and got the expected results in the next three. I said all along that if the Boilers came in at 3-1, Minnesota would be the difference between “win 7-8 games and get a good bowl” and “bowl contention will be on the line the whole year.” Somehow, Purdue broke math again, a lot like the 2017 Rutgers game. Purdue outgained Minnesota by nearly 150 yards, had 16 more first downs, and easily won time of possession. It finished with 13 points exactly for the third straight game. As a result, Purdue is now 3-2 heading into its bye week, and any postseason destination hinges on any bye week fixes.

Today’s game reminded me A LOT of that 2017 Rutgers game. Purdue did everything you’re supposed to in order to win but didn’t win. Minnesota’s passing game consisted of “it’s third and long, throw it deep and hope someone catches it one-on-one.” For the most part, that worked. They had a 44 yard TD pass, a 51 yard pass that set up a field goal, and a 54 yard pass that set up their second TD. Purdue’s defense was excellent most of the day, but essentially gave up 17 points on three plays, accounting for 149 of their 169 passing yards. Against Rutgers in 2017 it gave up all 14 points on two big plays while Rutgers did nothing the rest of the time. Two weeks ago against Notre Dame it gave up 21 on three big plays in a 27-13 loss. in each case, the offense gained a ton of yards, but very few points.

The issue is the offense. It is moving the football, but not scoring. Today Purdue entered Minnesota territory on eight drives. It scored 13 points. Of those points, 10 came in the first three drives. It is maddening to try and find what is going wrong. The running game had been an issue, but King Doerue nearly ran for 100 yards today and it was at least effective. Purdue is over 100 yards rushing if not for four very bad sacks that lost 44 yards. The passing game moved the ball in a steady downpour too. It is not a matter of moving the ball, but finishing. Even one of the most critical plays, the 4th and 5 pass to Broc Thompson for 3 yards, is probably successful if Thompson doesn’t trip due to field conditions.

What makes this so frustrating is that coach Brohm is so very close to breakthroughs. He has now lost 27 games in roughly four years (last year was a half season). Of those 27 losses, 16 have been by 8 points or less, so one possession. I recognize a few of those are skewed a little. Minnesota and Iowa in 2019 fall into that category because of late scores that led to onside kicks, but still. Of those 16 one possession losses, five (Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin in 2018, Nevada and Indiana in 2019) have come on the final snap of the game.

“Close” only does so much though. Close does not equal wins. At some point you have to deliver, and that is where we are with coach Brohm. In my opinion he has got to find a way to win three of the final seven games or next year becomes a full-fledged hot seat year. It is very doable. A 6-6 record is not something to erect statues over, but it would be tangible progress over the past two seasons of limbo. It would also show growth over the course of this season given where we are right now. Northwestern is in the middle of a bad Northwestern year and Purdue absolutely cannot lose that game. Indiana has proven it was hilariously overrated to start the year. We will never have a better chance to beat Wisconsin than this year since they are struggling and we get them at home. Nebraska is wildly inconsistent and beatable. I even think Iowa is beatable because David Bell goes crazy on them and their offense tends to go into a coma for long stretches. We also et them a week after a huge game (TRAP GAME!). I highly doubt we beat Ohio State in Columbus and Michigan State looks like a big challenge. If I had to rate the remaining games in order of “most likely” to “least likely” of wins it would be as follows:

  1. Northwestern
  2. Nebraska
  3. Indiana
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Iowa
  6. Michigan State
  7. Ohio State

Purdue has to find a way to get three more. It won’t do so unless it can find a way to finish offensively. Aidan O’Connell can move the offense, but has committed 6 turnovers in the last 9 quarters of football. Jack Plummer hasn’t turned it over, but has struggled to move the offense consistently. There is no question the defense is playing well enough, except it has only created two turnovers and none since the 4th string got a pick at UConn. It has held four of five opponents to 21 points or less, which should be more than enough for a Jeff Brohm offense because we’re paying him to score points. To be blunt, we’re paying him $5 million a year to figure this out, and I am just some idiot blogger that is basically saying, “okay, figure it out.” And by that, I mean everything: QB derby, playcalling duties, etc. It’s not my job to do it. It’s his.

These next seven games feel absolutely critical. Purdue passed the first crossroads against Oregon State, but didn’t today in a game it very easily could have won against Minnesota. That’s what makes it so frustrating. Purdue was close. It had a ton of chances. Even in the final minute it had a realistic chance to tie before the game clinching interception. It just could not finish the deal. Wisconsin is that next crossroads game now.

Purdue is now 9-16 in games decided by 8 points or less under Brohm. I credit him immensely because he has vastly improved Purdue football from the post-Hazell crater, but he did that a long time ago and Purdue was so bad that even basic competence and .500 football would be significant improvement. I also credit him because the defense was a gigantic concern entering this season and he did address it successfully. It has been good enough to win every game so far.

He needs to find a way to take that next step, which has been pending for some time now.

I still believe in him. We see flashes and it is very clear we’re close, and not the Hazell/Hope “we’re great in practice and very close”.

The clock is ticking though.