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Purdue Football: Injury Ends OL Daniel Johnson’s Season

Purdue suffered a key loss on the offensive line against Maryland, and will have to shuffle things around to compensate.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s starting right tackle, Daniel Johnson, will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury in the Maryland game.

First and foremost, this is a cruel blow for the graduate transfer from Kent State. He stepped into the starting lineup and acquitted himself well after Cam Craig was forced to retire from football after a back injury in week three. Johnson came to Purdue to perform on the big stage, and it’s unfortunate that his opportunity was cut short. Everyone at Hammer and Rails wishes Daniel a speedy recovery.

Broader Implications

After Cam Craig’s career ending back injury was announced, I tweeted something along the lines of “glad we have Johnson, we need him to stay healthy, most teams will struggle if they’re down to their 3rd option at right tackle.”

I apologize for this tweet. I was clearly tempting fate.

Fortunately for Purdue, they have a reliable third option at right tackle in Eric Miller. The issue, of course, is that the Miller is also Purdue’s starting left tackle. Against Maryland, the Boilermakers were forced to make changes on the fly. They flipped Miller to right tackle and brought in RS Freshman Moussa Mahamane at left tackle. I thought Moussa held up well considering the circumstances, in fact, the coaching staff moved him to right tackle on the goal line and he blew open the hole that Mockobee exploited for the go ahead touchdown.

In terms of talent, Mahamane may have one of the highest upsides of any lineman recruited during the Brohm’s tenure at Purdue (Mbow is also in that conversation). The coaching staff has utilized him as an extra tight end in short yardage plays, and often put him in motion to lead the running back through the hole. There aren’t many offensive linemen athletic enough to handle that job. At the same time, I felt he was a year away from being a major contributor. He’s listed at 6’4”, 285, which (and this is crazy to say) is undersized for a left tackle (or pretty much any P5 offensive lineman). He has amazing feet and handles the speed rush well, but defensive coordinators are going to go after him with their best bull rusher on passing downs. His ability to anchor and avoid getting pushed back into the lap of the quarterback may dictate how Purdue’s season unfolds down the stretch.

I’m less concerned about the run game. I like Mahamane’s athleticism on outside runs and screen passes. He’s also adept at climbing to the second level on zone runs. I anticipate defensive coordinators keeping a man in his gap and making him hold up at the point of attack. Much like in the passing game, his ability to hold up against bigger defensive ends will be crucial for the future success of the run game. I’m optimistic that the run game could see a slight improvement with him on the field resultant of his ability to operate in space.

The other option for the coaching staff is to keep Moussa as their utility lineman, keep Eric Miller at left tackle, and find someone else to play right tackle. Starting left guard Spencer Holstege may be one of the better options if they decide to go this route. He was a tackle in high school and has the size (6’5”, 310) and experience to hold up on the edge. Spencer also makes sense because Sione Finau may be one of Purdue’s best five linemen, and he could step in to left guard without much drop off.

The other option I see is starting right guard Marcus Mbow sliding over to right tackle. Mbow, like Mahamane, is an exceptional athlete, but has the prototypical tackle size at 6’5”, 305. Mbow forced his way onto the field at guard, because he’s one of Purdue’ best five, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his future is at one of the tackle spots. Still, I’m not sure I want to put this on a redshirt freshman who has been practiced at guard all season. He’s doing a great job where he is, and I’m not sure I want to disrupt that momentum. If he is the choice, Finau takes the starting right guard spot.

In Conclusion

I anticipate Moussa Mahamane getting the first opportunity to move into the lineup and hold down the left tackle spot while Miller slides to the right (where he’s played in the past). Ideally, that solves the problem and Purdue moves on with the rest of their season. If left tackle becomes an issue, there are other options, but not without disrupting the interior of the line.

One thing Purdue can’t afford is another injury to the offensive line. The Boilermakers came into the season with eight linemen the coaching staff was comfortable playing. They are down to six, and fresh out of reserve tackles.

More than anything else, I hate this for Daniel Johnson, but that’s the nature of this sport. The season doesn’t stop because you lose both your right tackle. It’s next man up for the Boilermakers.