First off, that was a huge win on Saturday that could (if Purdue takes care of business) have long lasting ramifications for the program. I picked Purdue to win the Big10 West, and beating Minnesota on the road has them perfectly positioned. What’s more, Purdue beat the Gophers left handed. If you showed me O’Connell’s stat line (199 yards, 2 INTs, 0 TDs) I would assume Purdue lost by double digits. Instead Jeff Brohm trusted the run game and managed to grind out a win. It’s only 1 game, but pragmatic Jeff Brohm is my favorite Jeff Brohm.
After 5 games, we’ve got a decent idea of what this offense is capable of achieving. I came into the season saying this offense has the potential to be Brohm’s best, and I see no reason to walk that back after 5 games. This team has everything they need in place. If Purdue can meld the running game they featured against Minnesota with the passing attack they featured against Penn State, I see no reason why Purdue can’t run the table and finish the regular season 10-2.
I thought I would put my teacher hat on (it’s incredibly dusty) and hand out a few grades for the Boilermaker offense through 5 games.
The 3 Headed Monster
Going into the season, questions surrounded Purdue’s skill positions. The departure of David Bell, Jackson Anthrop, Milton Wright, and Alexander Horvath from last season's squad required Purdue to find a new #1, #2, #3, receiver and a new lead back. Purdue has filled, if not upgraded, most of those slots in 2022, and a 3 headed monster has emerged for the Boilermakers.
Charlie Jones may be the biggest surprise in all of college football. I’m an optimist, and when Purdue snagged Jones in the transfer portal I thought “sweet, the kick return game just improved exponentially.” I was not expecting to talk about All-American wide receiver Charlie Jones, but through 5 games, Jones has played to that level. Everyone knew Jones was fast and shifty coming into the season, but I had no idea he was a technical route runner with Velcro hands. He’s put up 588 yards on 47 receptions (12.5 yards a reception) and 7 touchdowns. Almost as impressive, he hasn’t dropped a single pass all season. Purdue needed a receiver to step up, but I’m not sure many Purdue fans had Jones as the guy doing the stepping.
While Charlie Jones is the clear break out star for the Boilermakers, tight end Payne Durham provides Aidan O’Connell a mismatch on every play. If a team wants to play man against Purdue, it has to decide if it wants to cover Durham with size (a linebacker) or speed (a corner or safety). Problem is, Durham is faster than the majority of linebackers, and at 6’5”, 255 he is too physical for defensive backs. His 21 receptions makes him Purdue’s second most targeted receiver and other than Charile Jones, he’s the only Purdue receiver with multiple touchdown receptions (2).
If Jones morphing into a more explosive version of Vinny Sutherland isn’t shocking enough, the emergence of Devin Mockobee at running back has my jaw on the floor. The only place I thought Mockobee would contribute this season is on special teams. Instead, the 6’0”, 195 pound walk-on redshirt freshman out of Boonville High School emerged as the running back Purdue desperately needs. The Florida Atlantic game put his pass catch catching ability on display. Purdue doesn’t win that game without his 4 receptions for 59 yards. Against Minnesota he racked up 112 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. His highlight producing run against the Gophers (y’all know which one I’m talking about) is something I thought I would never see out of a Purdue back again (being slightly dramatic). While running back stable mates Dylan Downing and King Doerue (when he returns from injury) are good at picking up the yards available through Purdue’s blocking. Mockobee has enough wiggle and burst to pick up yards on his own.
The combination of Jones, Durham, and Mockobee, in theory, should allow Purdue to keep defenses guessing. Double Jones and Durham eats up single coverage between the hash marks. Play 2 deep safeties and Mockobee (and company) can grind out yards with a favorable run box. Play straight up and Jones is streaking past your corner and headed for the end zone. A more balanced Purdue offense is a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
Room For Improvement
The 2022 season has been a mixed bag for the senior gunslinger. Don’t get me wrong, he’s played well. It’s hard to complain about a quarterback throwing for 1199 yards, 8 Tds, and 3 Ints through 5 games, despite playing with busted ribs for most of the Syracuse game, sitting out a potential stat padder in Florida Atlantic, and gutting out a win over Minnesota despite dealing with limited practice time and what I’m sure was searing pain, because of the ribs he busted against Syracuse.
While his play has been more than adequate to have Purdue sitting at 5-0 right now, his decision making against Syracuse and Minnesota leaves something to be desired. The pick 6 against Syracuse is hard to excuse. A 6th year senior should always take the sack instead of tossing the ball towards the line of scrimmage and hoping. That play cost Purdue the game in my opinion. I don’t think Syracuse scores enough to win without an assist. Against Minnesota, he threw 2 head scratching interceptions into tight (or double) coverage. He was playing with bad ribs, and full credit for that, but it shouldn’t have negatively effected his brain.
Purdue needs O’Connell to be healthy and sharper in his decision making through the mid and back end of the season, if they want to reach the promised land of the Big10 Championship game.
I’ve spent more time than I would care to spend discussing the shortcomings of the Boilermaker offensive line during the Brohm era. Credit where credit is due, this offensive line has shown marked improvement over previous Purdue lines.
The pass protection is solid thus far. Purdue has only allowed 6 sacks (1.2 a game) despite throwing the ball an absurd number of time against Penn State (59 attempts) and Syracuse (56 attempts). O’Connell isn’t exactly the most elusive quarterback in the nation, but he’s done a good job of moving around enough to avoid sacks when the line does spring the occasional leak.
The running game looks better this season (a low bar to be sure). It’s far from dominant, but there are gaps, and the running backs are hitting them. My biggest question with Purdue’s offense heading into the season was their ability to finish off drives in the red zone. Last season Purdue kicked too many field goals in the red zone, in part, because Purdue’s line struggled to block on short yardage plays. This season the Boilermakers have done an impressive job of finishing drives, and that’s a direct indication of offensive line improvement. In fact, out of 20 red zone attempts this season, Purdue has 9 rushing touchdowns (!), 8 passing touchdowns, and only 2 field goals. I’ll take that all day every day.
I don’t have anything critical to say about the offense at this juncture. They’ve put enough points on the board to win every game. Outside of Maryland, I don’t see any team in the Big10 West that can score enough to beat Purdue, if Purdue doesn’t beat itself (which has been an issue). Out of all the teams in the West, Purdue is the team Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State doesn’t want to see in the Big10 Championship game because of their ability to put points on the scoreboard.