Head Coach Jeff Brohm held his weekly press conference ahead of the big matchup against the Indiana Hoosiers for the Old Oaken Bucket. The Purdue Boilermakers have battled their way to a 7-4 record and look to get to 8 regular season wins and a shot at the B1G Championship Game (with a little help from the Nebraska Cornhuskers) on Saturday.
Q. Jeff, what are you most proud of this team so far?
JEFF BROHM: “Well, I’m very proud of our team because they do work hard, they do everything they can to try to improve each and every week and find a way to win. Some weeks we find a way to look really, really good; other week we find a way to just survive.”
“But that’s part of college football. I think they’re able to take constructive criticism and find ways to improve and stick together. I think they’re a hungry group, so I’m proud of the effort they’ve given us.”
Analysis: This is something that still needs to improve for Purdue to take that next step as a program. Every season under Brohm there seems to be games where they absolutely look unprepared and don’t seem to have the focus they need to compete. Whether that is Eastern Michigan in 2018 or Wisconsin in 2022, the games where Purdue falls totally flat need to be eliminated. That’s the difference between 8 win seasons and 10 win seasons.
Q. Will we see Gus Hartwig the rest of the year? If not, who will snap the ball on Saturday?
JEFF BROHM: “No, unfortunately Gus suffered a substantial injury. Be in a cast on his lower extremity for the next couple weeks and have surgery and be out for an extended period.”
“He was a leader of our offensive line, a great snapper, smart, tough, and in-state recruit that came and want to make a difference. Unfortunately he got rolled up during the game and got injured. So we’ll get him back healthy, but it will take quite a bit of time.”
“I think Josh will probably get the nod at center. He came in and played. He’s our best snapper. He’s just got to continue to improve and get better at the position. And then Spencer will back him up, and also Malachi, a true freshman who has been traveling with us to all the games will be ready to go.”
Analysis: This is unfortunate news for Hartwig. He was playing well this season but there may be a bright spot in this for the development of the offensive line for next season. Hartwig is a great player but he may be a better option for Purdue at guard if another capable center can step up. The fact that true freshman center Malachi Preciado is traveling speaks volumes about how good he can become, sooner rather than later.
With Jalen, did he play some linebacker for you on Saturday, Jalen Graham?
JEFF BROHM: That’s what he plays for us.
Q. Well, he kind of moves around a lot, but he seemed to be in a different position...
JEFF BROHM: “So Jalen is our hybrid outside linebacker nickel position. So with him, we can use him against regular run sets and spread sets and not have to bring in a bigger body to play linebacker to stop the run.”
“Now, with that said, not to give away what we’re doing, but...he’ll move to a spot, whether we think it’s pass or run. So he has done that a few times; you are correct...because the one he picked off was in the middle. Not to give it away, but if we anticipate what we think is being called we will move him around slightly to better suit the call.”
Analysis: I speak about Jalen Graham’s usage against Northwestern and heading into the Indiana game as a spy against athletic quarterbacks in my ‘Matchups to Watch’ article later this week. Graham is an integral part of Purdue being able to defend quarterbacks who can run or make plays with their feet because at his size he can help in the traditional run game but also is athletic enough to defend the pass in space. Graham has the potential to have a solid NFL career if he can show development as a run stopper.
Q. Earlier in the year you struggled dealing with running quarterbacks. I think Florida Atlantic comes to mind; Syracuse a little bit. Where has your defense maybe improved in that area as you face a big challenge on Saturday?
JEFF BROHM: “I thought we made improvements the last two teams without question on defense. We’ve made some adjustments. I think they’ve all been beneficial. This past week we knew they had a wildcat package ready, and I think other than that one time where they did it in a slightly different personnel, we had a call ready and we shut it down.”
“I do think we’re better equipped and prepared for it. If you watch Indiana’s last game they had some runs for their quarterback and some reads in certain sets and it was effective, and then started to get a little stale.”
“Then they started to spread the field more and do it in a different way and hit a couple other big runs. So they have multiple ways to run the quarterback, and when you have that type of athlete in the game and you can complete two passes during the game and you beat Michigan State at Michigan State, you’re obviously doing a lot of things correctly.”
“We have to have a wide variety of calls ready against the different personnel sets they have when it’s a tighter box with a lot of the blockers and when it’s a wider set with a lot more space, because they have the ability to change it and it was effective for them.”
“That’s going to be the challenge for us, is making sure we have a good plan for all those different scenarios, because I do think we have made strides in the subtle ways we’ve seen it.”
Analysis: Trying to force newly installed Hoosier QB Dexter Williams into mistakes via pressure in the pocket and keeping him contained there or using Graham as a spy in the run game will be key to the Boilers success. Having Jalen on the field allows Purdue to switch looks up without needing to sub guys in and out. Williams gives Indiana room for error because he is able to make plays with his legs but having a complete game on film will help Purdue create a game plan, as Brohm points out, to have success.
Q. Sydnor has done some positive things this year. Do you look at those guys as a nice building block for the future defensive lines?
JEFF BROHM: “I think we’ve made strides on the defensive line. We have developed depth. Got more bodies. We’ve taken more recruits as commits at that position. We’ve committed to it and we will always try to do that.”
“But we have definitely made strides there. A lot of guys have played football, so they’re experience level has gone up. We are able to rotate guys in, and Khordae has definitely stood out and done a really good job.”
“I feel good that as we analyze our roster at the end of the year, that’s a position that doesn’t need as much immediate help at all.”
“There are some other position that we feel like we’ll probably have to make sure we address, but the defensive line has developed a good nucleus of quite a few guys. Even though we had injuries, we have been able to sustain pretty productive play at that spot.”
Analysis: In short, give Mark Hagan a raise and another title in addition to him already being the defensive line coach. Coach Hagan has proven himself to be as good of a recruiter as any in Purdue’s history during his two stints in West Lafayette. Elevating him to director of recruiting (at least defensive) would help Purdue a bit more in that department.
It is also nice to have a position that is foundational to a good program (defensive line) and not need to address holes in the offseason. That allows the staff to concentrate on more glaring in the portal (defensive back, linebacker, running back, wide receiver, and quarterback).
The youth at that position is really, really good with Caraway and Sydnor leading the way but guys like Joe Strickland, Cole Brevard, Mo Omonode, JP Deeter, and Greg Hudgins form a young nucleus of players Purdue fans can be excited about. The Boilermakers need to develop one of these guys into a pass rushing force on a consistent basis to take the next step. I trust Hagan to get one of them there.
Q. Among the freshmen this year who didn’t play, any of those guys stand out in the redshirt years as guys you’re especially enthusiastic about moving forward long-term?
JEFF BROHM: “Right now I think Joe Strickland has made a lot of strides and will be a good player for us. Got sick with mono that wiped him out quite a bit and dropped a lot of weight.”
“Brady Allen continues to improve as a good young prospect. Max Klare at tight end has a chance to do a really good job for us. Zion Steptoe has made strides at receiver as well. I’m trying to think. And there is probably more.”
“So it’s important that we continue to develop them. Those are probably the main leaders and there are probably a few others that are getting better that I left out.”
“I think we got a good crew that’s just got to work harder throughout the remainder of the season and make sure they really utilize spring ball to get better.”
Analysis: Eyes were already on the development of Brady Allen, as the focal point of the 2022 recruiting class, but the development of young weapons on offense will be key next season. Steptoe is a play making option at receiver and freshman Max Klare is going to be a good tight end one day at Purdue.
There are a number of other freshman who have developed nicely throughout this season who can’t break into the two deeps because of experienced players ahead of them. JP Deeter is a young defensive tackle who needs to continue adding bulk on the interior but he brings a lot of athleticism and size to that position. The young defensive backs are not quite ready to help but they will be given every opportunity in the spring to take hold of starting positions with Bryce Hampton, Jamari Brown, Cory Trice, and Reece Taylor all potentially leave the program (barring an extra year for some).
INJURY UPDATE HEADING INTO INDIANA:
According to Head Coach Jeff Brohm the following updates were provided:
RB Devin Mockobee: Concussion Protocol
DT Branson Deen: Likely out
C Gus Hartwig: Out for Season
LB Kieran Douglas: Probable
WR Broc Thomspon: Unknown but unlikely
RB King Doerue: This was always week to week with what Brohm described earlier in the year as ‘something King will always have to deal with.’ That injury or issue isn’t known but having Doerue available if Mockobee isn’t able to go will be a big help.