Normally if a walk-on quarterback sees the field it is due to an absolute disaster of injuries or departures. It is safe to say that today’s quarterback has exceeded all expectations.
Aidan O’Connell - Sr. (5)
Long Grove, IL (Stevenson HS)
6’3”, 200 pounds
2021 Projection: Possible Starter
The last two seasons have been rough, with Purdue going 6-12 in its 18 games. The play of O’Connell has been a bright spot though. In exactly half of those wins he has lead the game-winning drive int he last 5 minutes (Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa). His clutch first down throw to David Bell against Illinois last year also clinched that game. Not bad for a guy that entered the spring of 2019 4th on the depth chart and almost completely unheard of.
O’Connell got his first significant career action against Illinois in 2019, where he came in against Illinois to try and get a stagnant offense going in a game played inside an actual swamp during a downpour. Later against Nebraska, when Jack Plummer broke his ankle, he led the 12 play, 82 yard drive with just over 4 minutes left that won the game on a David Bell rushing TD. He went an impressive 6 for 6 on the drive for 62 of those yards.
AOC would start the next six games for Purdue. He once again led a game-winning drive against Northwestern in his first career start. It was rough, as he was 34 of 50 with 2 TDs and 2 INTs, but he took Purdue down the field 58 yards in 12 plays with 2:30 left to set up J.D. Dellinger’s game-winning field goal with 3 seconds left. By the Indiana game he was really humming. He threw for 408 yards and 3 TDs against one INT against the Hoosiers in the double OT Bucket game loss.
O’Connell was named the starter in the first two games of 2020, and he acquitted himself well. He threw for 282 yards and had three David Bell TDs to beat Iowa in week 1. He then had maybe his best game of his career, going 29 of 35 for 371 yards and 2 TDs in the win over Illinois. For his career now he has just over 2,000 yards passing with 15 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions.
It remains to be seen if he wins the QB derby this coming season. He is not very mobile (-73 rushing yards on 27 attempts and he has been sacked 14 times), but he is accurate and has a great rapport with Bell. At minimum, he is the extremely valuable commodity of being a proven backup QB. I also see him like a baseball closer given his ability to come in and close games in the final 5 minutes.