No need for a warm up paragraph this week. We all see the issue.
The Awful Half
Once again, I was taken in by the potential of Purdue’s offense and failed to recognize its reality. “I thought Hudson Card would scramble around and make plays. I thought Deion Burks would find an opening and take it the distance. I thought Devin Mockobee would have a solid game punishing Nebraska’s 3-3-5 stack linebackers.”
None of that happened.
Purdue’s offense is bad.
Now, it’s a question of figuring out how to fix it for next season.
Hudson Card is an easy fall guy, but I’m not ready to toss the talented Texan out just yet. His 16-32, 100 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interception performance looks much worse on paper than it did in the game.
Before you throw whatever device you’re reading this on against a wall, let me explain.
Note: Hammer and Rails is not liable for any media devices destroyed in fits of rage because of Hammer and Rails content.
Card delivered several perfect passes that bounced off Boilermaker hands. It’s hard to even evaluate Card at this point. He’s clearly not good enough to overcome Purdue’s deficits on the offensive line and at receiver, but I’m not sure anyone else is, either. What can Card do when he’s delivering perfect passes that doink off hands? No quarterback looks good when their receivers can’t catch.
At this point, Card is playing for next season. His play necessitates an actual quarterback competition in the off-season. The question Purdue needs answered over the next several weeks revolves around the need to bring in a portal quarterback this off-season. Unless Card manages to cut down on turn-overs and uses his legs more down the stretch, I wouldn’t be adverse to bringing in a grad transfer senior to compete with Card. It’s more than possible that Card still wins the job. Like I said, it’s impossible to judge him based on the surrounding talent level, but that goes both ways. I’m not sure he’s as bad as he looked on Saturday, but I’m not sure how much better he is than what we saw on Saturday.
The same goes for signal caller Graham Harrell.
I think he’s better than what we saw on Saturday. He' dialed up several 1st downs to open receivers that clanked off frozen hands. Card refused to run for first downs. The offense didn’t work, but I’m not sure how many offensive coordinators look great when the line struggles to block and the receivers struggle to catch. That makes calling plays a bit difficult.
I think Harrell gets a second season at Purdue regardless of the ending of this season. He’s recruiting well (see Marcos Davila) and there enough reasons outside of his play calling to justify his return. It does put him squarely on the hot seat in 2024. If the offense doesn’t look substantially better, he’s gone after next season.
Personally, I think he’ll be better, but that’s just “vibes” on my part. I don’t have solid evidence to back up my hypothesis. Let’s see what this looks like with a physical receiver like the injured Jahmal Erdine on the outside. Let’s see what the offensive line looks like after a full season of evaluations. I expect it to look much different next season, even in terms of returning players.
The offense looks awful. It’s possible the Graham Harrell is awful. I don’t think we have enough evidence, considering the confounding factors, to fire him after one season, but it’s hard to deny the product is terrible.
The Good Half
Purdue hired one of the best young defensive minds in the game to coach their team. Subsequently, the defense is significantly improved and continues to improve as the otherwise frustrating season unravels.
Purdue is 17th in the nation in team sacks and 23rd in tackles for loss. The defense was flying around the field on Saturday. Nebraska quarterback Heinrich Haarberg is going to spend some time in the cold tub early this week because Purdue stuffed him in the run game. Full credit to Haarberg, I have no idea how he got back up after Kydran Jenkins lit him up along the sideline, that hit was like watching a car crash. Purdue finished the game with 3 sacks and 9 tackles for loss and limited the mobile Haarberg to 19 carries for 22 yards and forced two fumbles.
Earlier in the season, mobile quarterbacks killed Purdue. On Saturday, the defense shut down one of the most mobile quarterbacks on the schedule. You don’t get an award for that, but if you’re looking for improvement on defense, it’s right in front of you.
Kydran Jenkins was an absolute menace from his outside linebacker position, recording 8 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. His 7 sacks on the season are good for 10th nationally and his 11.5 tackles for loss are good for 11th nationally. Kydran should be either first of second All-Big 10 at this rate.
Jenkins should be back next season.
Not to be outdone, Nic Scourton terrorized the Cornhuskers from the opposite side of the line, putting up 10 tackles, 1⁄2 a sack, and 3 tackles for loss. Joining Jenkins on the national lead board, Nic’s 10 tackles for loss currently have him 26th nationally in TFLs. Scourton, at minimum, is playing at an honorable mention All-Big 10 level, but could finish strong and grab a spot on the third team.
Scourton should be back next season.
In theory, Purdue could return two All-Conference outside linebackers on a defense that features outside linebackers. This scheme was supposed to create sacks and tackle for loss, and it has accomplished that goal.
Last but certainly not least in terms of reasons to be excited about the Purdue defense is Yanni Karlaftis. I’ll admit, I was starting to get concerned about Yanni. The talent looked good, but the durability and production looked terrible. Turns out all he needed was a consistent snaps at middle linebacker. Yanni picked up another 8 tackles, including 1⁄2 a sack and 1⁄2 a tackle for loss. In the last 4 games he’s put up 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks and cemented himself as the middle linebacker moving forward.
Yanni should be back next season.
Throw in defensive line vets like Cole Brevard, Mo Omonode, Jeffrey M’Bah, and Joe Anderson potentially returning, as well as youngsters like Joe Strickland J.P. Dieter potentially coming on-line and helping out and suddenly, Purdue’s front 7 is starting to look real good.
The secondary is still a work in progress, but I’m starting to see how the pieces fit together. It all starts with star free safety Dillion Thieneman. He was all over the field on Saturday, with 12 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a crucial forced fumble that could have changed the game with a little help from the Boilermaker offense. His 77 total tackles are the most by any freshman, and 22nd most in the nation. He should be the Freshman of the Year in the Big 10, Freshman All-American, and First-Team All-Big 10. Not too bad for a 3* recruit.
Thieneman should be back next season.
I’m not sure if Markevious Brown is a #1 corner on a good defense, but I’m certain he's a #2 corner on a good defense. He believes he’s a good, and that’s important for a corner. He doesn’t shy away from big match-ups and even though he occasionally gets burned, he’s always back at it again on the next series. If nothing else, he’s got the short memory and unshakable confidence of a #1 corner.
What makes him particularly valuable is his ability in run support. Listed at 5’11”, 180, he throws his body around and isn’t afraid to take on a running back on the perimeter. He’s a solid tackler who gets into the legs of ball carriers and gets them on the ground. Despite Nebraska only completing 6 passes, Brown had 5 tackles from his corner spot.
Brown should be back next season.
With a few key portal additions, this Purdue defense could be nasty in 2024.
While it looks bad on the scoreboard, Purdue’s defense dominated the majority of the game against Nebraska. It appears that Coach Walters is building something special on his side of the ball. He still needs to find his second corner, potentially a #1 corner, but if Kane returns at safety and one of the 4* safety recruits like Thieneman comes in, the secondary could see significant improvement. Depth remains an issue, but if the current recruiting class is any indication, this defense won’t struggle to find quality depth in the secondary in the near future.
On the other hand, the offense was almost ungradable. The primary goal for Graham Harrell and the offense over the next several games is to figure out what they have in Hudson Card and plan for the future accordingly. If he doesn’t improve, searching for competition in the portal might be necessary. He wasn’t as bad as the stats indicated on Saturday, but he wasn’t good either. The only question is whether his off-season competition comes from someone already on the roster (or about to join it) or an established veteran from the portal.
The receivers must improve. Fortunately, it’s a position that’s easy to upgrade, both through the portal and in recruiting. Purdue has 4* receiver Keandre Henry committed for 2024, FAU transfer Jahmal Edrine is back from his torn ACL, and young players like Tibbs, Branch, and Shackelford should be ready to contribute. Add in the potential of an impact transfer receiver, and any Purdue receiver returning in 2024 will face a fight for their job.
Finally, I’m hopeful that the offensive line continues to improve. All things considered, Coach Johnson has done a remarkable job holding this unit together. Starting the season without Hartwig and then losing both starting tackles, Marcus Mbow and Mahamane Moussa, to injury is the worst-case scenario for this team, but they’re not awful.
The problem is that it’s still a complete rebuild heading into next season. The most important offensive line play may be happening on Purdue’s practice field. I don’t anticipate any of the listed offensive line starters from the Michigan game returning next season. If Mbow and Mahamane can return in time for the start of the next season, I’m not sure if either will necessarily play tackle. Everything remains wide open heading into the off-season. Quality offensive linemen are in high demand in the portal. It’s tough to acquire more than one quality lineman for a team like Purdue. The Boilermakers need to secure a reliable tackle in the portal and then develop some of their interior linemen, possibly by moving Mbow and/or Mahamane inside to play guard. All options will be on the table heading into next season.
I don’t know if Graham Harrell is the answer at offensive coordinator. I don’t know if Hudson Card is the answer at quarterback. I hope to see more from both as the season winds down. Needless to say, until Purdue has their offensive coordinator and quarterback situation resolved, nothing else matters. In order to get a proper evaluation, Purdue needs to improve the talent around Card and the resources at Harrell’s disposal. The talent should be better next season, and it would make things much easier for Ryan Walters if both turn out to be the solution.