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Purdue Football 2021: A Season to Trust the Run Game

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It’s time for Coach Brohm to return to his Western Kentucky roots, revive the Brohmfence, and trust the run game.

Purdue v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The news of Sampson James’s transfer from Indiana to Purdue caught my attention. Adding a second highly touted former Hoosier to the roster, was a pleasant, and hopefully impactful, surprise. It also show the downside of the portal (but an upside for Purdue). When I.U. brought in Deland McCullough to coach running backs, and he brought in Stephen Carr from USC (who has experience playing under McCullough), the writing was on the wall for Sampson. Purdue’s depth chart must have looked alluring for the former 4* prospect out of Avon. His best game, thus far, was against the Boilermakers, and hopefully something about the Old Gold and Black puts him in beast mode.

James is an interesting fit for the Boilermakers. In an offense that seems more conducive to smallish, pass receiving backs, Coach Brohm keeps bringing in power backs. At 6’1”, 220 pounds, James joins 5’10”, 215 pound King Doerue, 5’11”, 220 pound Dylan Downing, and 6’3”, 230 pound Zander Horvath as a four pack of hefty young lads toting the rock. I consider all 4 of these guys “body shot” running backs (the boxing kind, not the “cheap tequila in Cabo type). If you’re more into MMA, they’re lead leg kick backs. Much like body shots in boxing and leg kicks in MMA, if you put work into the running game early, it pays off later. The linebackers and safeties flying into the gaps in the first quarter aren’t as eager to fill those same gaps in the 4th quarter after trying to bring down big, hard running backs all game. This goes doubly for Purdue’s offense, which (in theory) should pull linebackers off the field in most defensive schemes, making the guys attempting to tackle the backs smaller. On paper, it looks like a winning strategy.

All this is a moot point, however, if Coach Brohm doesn’t trust the running game. I’ve mentioned this on numerous occasions, but Purdue didn’t buy an air raid offense when they hired Jeff Brohm. They bought a balanced, pro style offense, but they’ve received the air raid the last few seasons.

I think these stats clearly make my point.

W.K.U. 2016 Rushing Stats

Player Att Yds Avg TD
Player Att Yds Avg TD
Anthony Wales 237 1621 6.8 27
Quinton Baker 99 542 5.5 4
Marquez Trigg 71 298 4.2 2
Total 407 2461 5.5 33

Purdue 2019 Rushing Stats

Player Att Yds Avg TD
Player Att Yds Avg TD
King Doerue 130 451 3.5 5
Alexander Horvath 79 377 4.8 2
Total 209 828 4.15 7

I do want to point out that Coach Brohm hasn’t always eschewed the running game at Purdue. His 2017 offense had a nice run/pass balance.

Purdue 2017 Rushing Stats

Player Att Yds Avg TD
Player Att Yds Avg TD
Markell Jones 113 566 5 1
D.J. Knox 90 561 6.2 2
Richie Worship 53 257 4.8 3
Tario Fuller 43 261 6.1 2
Total 299 1645 5.525 8

It’s hard to discern much from the 2020 season, but the 51 pass attempt, 17 rush attempt (for 2 yards) game against Northwestern is a grave insult to Big10 football and the film should be shipped out west and buried deep in an abandoned Uranium mine, and then the mine should be filled with concrete. It would be easy to write that game off as a fluke, but Brohm followed it up with his 47 pass attempt, 17 rush attempt (for -2 yards) debacle against Nebraska. A concrete crypt is too risky for this game film. It needs to be shot into orbit with the baby from Rick and Morty (trying to keep my pop culture references current for y’all). I’m not sure how, or why, it happened, but somewhere along the line, Jeff Brohm lost complete faith in Purdue’s ability to run the ball.

Hope springs anew in 2021 for the Boilermaker rushing attack. They’ve got a solid 3 headed monster in the backfield (not sure about Downing, but he looks the part to make it a 4 headed beast) and an interior offensive line that should be able to move defenses off the line of scrimmage. It all comes down to Jeff Brohm, and his faith in investing early and often in the running game. Even in the era of the pass, good teams still run the football.

You want to slow down a pass rush?

Run The Football

You want to run more plays and keep your defense fresh?

Run The Football

You want to set up easy reads for your quarterback off play action?

Run The Football

You want to be the team that surges ahead in the 4th quarter?

Run The Football

Coach Brohm knows how to get this done. He’s proven his ability to run a balanced offense at Western Kentucky and has shown glimpses of it at Purdue. If he is willing to land body blows early with the run game, the late game collapses we’ve witnessed over the last two seasons will resolve themselves and the Boilermaker offense will be back on the right track.

In a strange way, losing Rondale Moore to the NFL may be the best thing to happen to the Purdue running game. Coach Brohm’s laser focus on getting the ball to Rondale early, often, and repeatedly took away carries from the run game and allowed the defense to key on stopping Rondale. Go back and watch how many times an opposing defense manages to hand him off to the next defender on crossing routes and eventually push him out of bounds after a minimal gain. When you know Rondale is getting the ball, you can put guys where he wants to go instead of trying to chase him across the field (a losing proposition). You didn’t see him get the corner as often last season because there was usually a defender waiting for him at the corner. A run game would have fixed that problem, but I digress, I’m here to talk about 2021.

This is the year to trust the running game. The interior line is the strength of the offensive line, while the tackles are...questionable. Purdue’s big backs should thrive between the tackles, especially when the other team is perpetually in a nickel (2 linebackers 5 defensive backs) or dime (1 linebacker, 6 defensive backs) package to stop the passing game. If Purdue can punish teams for running 5 or 6 man boxes between the tackles, they’ll eventually find fewer 5 or 6 man boxes and more traditional 7 or 8 man boxes. In theory, this makes the passing game easier. If you want to find David Bell in single coverage, you’ve got to run the football and force the opposition to bring their safeties up to stop the run. I guarantee you Bell will be perpetually bracketed by a DB underneath and a safety over the top unless Brohm proves he’s willing to run the ball.

Purdue opens with Oregon State, and I see it as a statement game. The Beavers were 110th in the nation last year in run defense. They gave up an average of 217 yards per game against Pac12 rushing attacks.

Oregon State Vs Run 2020

Team Att Yards Avg TD
Team Att Yards Avg TD
Washington State 30 229 7.63 3
Washington State 51 267 5.23 3
California 38 118 3.1 0
Oregon 34 183 5.3 3
Utah 44 229 5.2 1
Stanford 35 116 3.3 2
Arizona State 42 375 8.9 6
Total 274 1517 5.522857143 18

The Beavers went 2-5 last season. In 4 of their 5 wins, the opponent rushed the ball over 200 yards (with Stanford being the outlier). In their 2 victories, their opponent didn’t break 200 yards, including their upset of #9 Oregon.

To put that into perspective, these are Purdue’s rushing totals in the Brohm era.

Purdue Rushing Totals Under Brohm

Season 200+ 100-200 50-100 0-50 0-
Season 200+ 100-200 50-100 0-50 0-
2017 5 3 3 2 0
2018 3 4 5 1 0
2019 0 5 3 3 1
2020 0 3 1 1 1

This is Brohm’s Win/Loss record at Purdue based on rushing yards.

Brohm Win/Loss Record Per Rushing Quadrant

200+ 100-200 50-100 0-50 0-
200+ 100-200 50-100 0-50 0-
5-2 9-6 4-9 1-6 0-2

Purdue is 14-8 under Brohm when Purdue runs for 100 yards or more. They are 5-17 when they run for less than 100 yards. These stats alone should compel Brohm to run the ball early and often, because the score, not passing yards, is the metric we use to determine the winner of football games. When Brohm has faith in the run game, Purdue does better in the winning department, and he needs to do some winning in 2021.

For me, the game that gave me the most hope in the Brohm era was the 2017 Missouri game. The rushing attack led the way against Ohio the previous week, but there is a big difference between Ohio at home and Missouri on the road. Purdue walked into Columbia, ran the ball 50 times for 205 yards, threw the ball 34 times for 272 yards, and laid a 35-3 beating on the Tigers.

That’s the trust I want to see given to the run game against Oregon State in the opener.

I want Purdue to line up, run the ball down their throats, and send a message to the rest of the Big10. The air raid is gone, and the Brohmfence is back in full effect. Coach Brohm has threatened to run the ball in 2021.

I trust he’ll follow through on those threats, and I trust that wins will follow.