It is safe to say that Jeff Brohm is no longer on the hot seat (if he ever really was). He entered this season six games underwater with two straight losing seasons. All momentum was gone from the 2018 Ohio State win and there were many who doubted if there would even be a bowl game. A lot of people, even at this site, felt that even Christmas in Detroit was going to be too much.
Well, four months later things look so much better. Brohm poured liquid nitrogen on his hot seat with a 9-4 season, the first nine-win season for the program since 2003. He is still a game under .500 in his tenure, but in looking at next year’s schedule that probably won’t last long. Yesterday’s win over Tennessee was significant. We saw all year what Purdue could do with transcendent talent in David Bell and George Karlaftis, but what happened against the Volunteers is more of a testament to what coach Brohm has done in West Lafayette to actually build a program. Just three years ago Purdue was shorthanded in a Nashville bowl game against a middling SEC team and got vaporized. Yesterday it was missing even more front line talent, but the depth that he has built came through. Just look at Deion Burks. The freshman had not caught a pass all season and had one single touch, a six yard run, against UConn. He delivered one of the game’s largest plays with a 20+ yard catch to set up Purdue’s TD after a Hendon Hooker fumble.
Purdue not only had backups playing, it had backups of backups playing. For a decent portion of the fourth quarter the receiving corps consisted of a beat up Broc Thompson (who stepped up HUUUUUUUUGGGGGEEEEEEE), Jackson Anthrop playing his usual role, and a cast of little used freshmen and walk-ons. Somehow, it worked. As I was listening to the broadcast driving home at one point they mentioned that Preston Terrell was out getting snaps. He is a true freshman that played very little all season in order to hold on to a redshirt. The last time I heard his name was when he had a 4 TD game I covered against Brownsburg last year. Needless to say, Tennessee is a step up from Brownsburg.
Later on I will try to do a game-by-game breakdown, but this was an incredible year. Purdue didn’t win the Big Ten, but it reminded be a lot of the 2018-19 basketball season in that much of it came out of nowhere too, making everything extremely enjoyable. I thought we could be good with an absolute ceiling regular season of 9-3, but I expected more of a 7-5 year and lower bowl. Going 9-4 with a bowl win like this is simply delightful, and one of the most enjoyable Purdue seasons ever in any sport, really, because of its unexpected joy.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the statistical superlatives:
The Team Itself
First off, the nine wins. That just does not happen often in West Lafayette. Joe Tiller won nine games in 1997, 1998, and 2003. Two of those required bowl wins. Purdue also won at least nine from 1978-80, with 1979 being the program high water mark of 10 wins. Before that you have to go all the way back to the 1966 Rose Bowl season, then 1943 when Purdue should have been named national champions at 9-0 (they beat the team that beat alleged champion Notre Dame). This is only the ninth time ever Purdue has won at least nine games in a season, and the program has been around since the 1880s. Granted, in many of those early years the team didn’t even play nine games, but around 1941 is when teams started playing at least nine games each year, so to do it for only the ninth time in 80 years is impressive.
(Ed Note: There were a couple more 9-win seasons in the mists of history. In 1904 Purdue was 9-3 a year after the infamous Purdue Wreck, but didn’t have another nine-game scheduled season until it went 9-1 in 1931 and was named the Parke-Davis National Champion.)
Then there is how Purdue got to nine wins. Again, you have to go all the way back to 1943 for this next impressive statistic. The Boilers won five games away from Ross-Ade Stadium for the first time since then. In that weird year (for a lot of reasons) Purdue played just three home games, so it won six away from West Lafayette. In 1979 Purdue won three road games and its bowl game, but winning five away from home is impressive.
In those road wins Purdue got its first road shutout (at UConn) since 1981 at Northwestern and first road win over a top five team (Iowa) since 1974 at Notre Dame. The win over Northwestern at Wrigley Field was also the first win in a baseball stadium since beating Boston University in 1947 at Fenway Park (though the 1979 win over Tennessee in the Astrodome counts too, despite it being a multi-use football/baseball stadium).
I don’t know what all these mean in the long run, but I found them all cool. Also, Purdue has an excellent chance of finishing in the final AP Poll top 25 for the first time since 2003.
In terms of team statistics, Purdue threw for 4,620 yards between Aidan O’Connell (3,712), Jack Plummer (864) and Austin Burton (44). That destroyed the team mark of 4,208 yards set in 1998 when Purdue also went 9-4. The 407 completions were 30 more than the previous team record, also set in 1998. We didn’t break the team record for attempts of 594 (this year there were 576 attempts), but basically this was a passing season on par with Drew Brees’ first year when basketball on grass really got going.
Now on to some individual honors.
Imagine if AOC had been the starter all season. That is to take nothing away from Jack Plummer, who was pretty good in the first couple of games and did not throw an interception. O’Connell still only started nine games and did not play a single snap against Oregon State. He still threw for 3,712 yards, putting him fifth on the all-time season list. The season record is 3,985 yards in (14 games) by Curtis Painter in 2006, so if he had been the starter all year AOC would have shattered that mark. It is officially in danger next year now.
AOC did set some single-season records too. His completion percentage of 71.6% beat the old mark of 66% by David Blough in 2018. He is at 68.4% for his career now, which is the career mark and better than Robert Marve’s 63.8% which was the previous record. Plummer also deserves credit, as he leaves Purdue with the second best career completion percentage (minimum 300 attempts) at 64.8%.
In terms of Individual games, AOC had two of the four best passing yardage days in school history in the last five games alone. He had 538 yards against Michigan State and 534 yesterday. Both of those games are better than any single game some guy named Drew Brees had, and trail on Curtis Painter (546 vs. Central Michigan in the 2007 Motor City Bowl) and David Blough vs. Missouri in 2018.
Since O’Connell is the unquestioned starter entering next season he is in line for some career marks too. He sits at 5,729 yards for his career. If he doesn’t complete another pass in his career that is eighth best in school history. A 4,000+ yard season is absolutely on the table, and getting to 10,000 yards moves him into third behind only Brees (11,792) and Blough (11,163). Another 28 TDs (his mark this year) moves him into second in that category with 71, behind only the 90 Brees threw. I suppose he could go for a single season TD record of 47 to tie Brees too. I wouldn’t stop him.
Not bad for a guy who was once 8th on the depth chart.
David Bell played in just 11 games this year, but still caught 93 passes for 1,286 yards. That’s 21 yards short of the single season mark, so it is safe to say that had he not missed the Illinois game or opted out yesterday he would have easily gotten the record. With 232 career receptions he finished 4th all-time, and with 2,946 yards he is fifth. When you consider he did it in roughly 2.5 seasons because of last year’s six game “season” that is incredible, and with three full seasons he would have owned every major receiving record at Purdue. His 21 TDs is also fifth.
Bell had 17 career games over 100 yards, a new record, and he topped 200 twice this year. Only Brian Alford also did this twice. It is safe to say Iowa will be happy to drive him to the draft after he absolutely obliterated the Hawkeyes all three times he played them.
Oh, and about receivers going nuts for 200 yard days. Before this year it had happened only seven times for Purdue, and just once since 2006 (Rondale Moore vs. Vanderbilt in 2019). Purdue did it FOUR times this year alone, with Bell doing it against Iowa (240) and Michigan State (217), Milton Wright (213) against Northwestern, and Broc Thompson (217) yesterday.
The one year (maybe, as he can elect to return for one more season under the COVID rules) transfer had one of the greatest kicking seasons in school history. His game-winner last night was the 24th made field goal of the season for him, which is second only to the 25 Ben Jones hit in 2003. He hit half of those attempts in just three games, as he connected four times each against Michigan State, Northwestern, and Tennessee. He joined Chris Summers in hitting a game-winner as time expired in a bowl game too. In just one season his 24 made field goals is 10th all-time in school history. If he returns and duplicates it next year he would finish third in school history with 48 field goals behind Carson Wiggs (56) and Travis Dorsch (68).
This is more of a career achievement award, but the fan favorite from West Lafayette goes out with quite the career. He finishes in the top 20 in career receptions with 148 (ahead of big brother Danny, no less) and he had close to 1,600 all-purpose yards. He also was the personification of the entire Brohm era. This guy gave EVERYTHING he had to the program and was a leader both on and off the field, all while sacrificing his ego for two seasons because we had some guy named Rondale Moore at his position. I don’t think Jackson will ever play in the NFL, but seeing him on the turf yesterday, beat up and a muddy mess, but still going, is such an example of what it means to be a Purdue guy.
May his example live on.