West Lafayette, IN – Entering his second season at the helm of the Purdue Boilermakers, head coach Jeff Brohm has the challenge of meeting raised expectations. When Brohm took over for Purdue in 2017, many didn’t have Purdue winning even a handful of games. This was expected to be a rebuild of the program from top to bottom. The talent level that he inherited was below average compared to most of the Big Ten. With the exception of a few positions, most wouldn’t even be starting at other schools in the conference. Brohm inherited a team that had only won 9 games in 48 attempts. Four of those nine came against non-division one level opponents. This was going to be a process that took a few recruiting classes to fully right the ship and bring Purdue football back to some sort of relevance.
Here we are one year later and the turnaround has been nothing short of incredible. Coming of a 7-6 campaign where Jeff Brohm and company won four conference games (Darrell Hazell only won three in three and a half years), the bucket came home after a 4 year hiatus and thrilling victory in the Foster’s Farms Bowl over the Arizona Wildcats. The 2017 Boilers, who had a lot of the same talent as the 2016 team suddenly had a bounce in their step. All it took was a little confidence in themselves and some scheming on behalf of the coaching staff to put them in a position to succeed.
The defense made astronomical improvements and the offense was able to finally find some rhythm and find the end zone. 2018 will be more of a challenge than 2017 because of that incredible season. The defense lost seven of their eleven starters. Five of those seven are from the front seven which include the defensive line and linebackers. It is unrealistic, at this moment, to think that they can repeat the same success but that is what defensive coordinator Nick Holt is tasked with. In an interview on the recent Big Ten Football and Beyond, Holt talked about the challenges he is facing this year and said “We might be a little more simpler early, not trying to scheme people and just getting lined up and being good technicians and playing hard but you know were going to do what we do.” In 2016 the Boilers allowed 35 touchdowns on the ground alone and in 2017 they reduced that to just 10. Purdue is facing the second hardest schedule in the country and will face some high powered offenses early in the season. Holt and his defense have to be ready week one against a strong team in the Northwestern Wildcats.
The offensive side the ball sees a lot less in terms of attrition. The only lost two of their eleven starters from a team that put up over 20 points a game. The big question that Jeff Brohm has to answer first is, who will be the starting quarterback? Both David Blough and Elijah Sindelar are coming off surgery. Blough recovering from an ankle injury and Sindelar a torn ACL, though he played the last three and half games with it including the bowl victory. Both had moments last season where they received praise and moments where they left you scratching your head asking why they made that play? Each provide something a little different. Blough is the more mobile of the two quarterbacks while Sindelar has the bigger arm to stretch the field. When both were healthy last season Brohm rode the hot hand until one made a mistake and would put the other in. It is a system that I would expect to see again this season. We are four days away from the season opener on Thursday night and while I’m sure the team knows who the starter will be, I would be surprised if the public is informed before Thursday. Leave a little element of surprise for Northwestern even if both are expected to see the field at some point.
With nine returning starters there aren’t many holes to fill on the offensive side of the football. However, one of the holes is at Wide Receiver, where Anthony Mahoungou graduated, it will be filled with promising incoming freshman Rondale Moore. While Moore doesn’t have the height of Mahoungou, Moore is the fastest player on the team. Brohm will find a way to get him the ball and let him make plays in space whether that is through screens, hand offs in the backfield or routes down field where he out runs the coverage. It is also very possible to see him in the return game that averaged only 17 yards per return on kickoffs.
The Boilermakers have all the momentum in the world. They have won their last three games including the bowl game. They currently have the number four recruiting class in the Big ten for 2019 and number one in the West Division. With some big name programs coming to Purdue and the success of last season, attendance is reaching numbers they haven’t seen in over a decade. The question remains though, can Brohm repeat what he did last season against a tough schedule with a younger and more inexperienced team? Or will the team take a step back due to the challenges in front of them and look to build towards what could be a promising 2019 season? The Northwestern game on August 30th will be a very early sign of how things will go. Northwestern has the nation’s longest active winning streak and they soundly beat the Boilers last year in Evanston. A loss certainly doesn’t mean the season is over before it started but would certainly put a damper on all the excitement currently around the program. If Purdue should find a way to win on Thursday though, this train will be full steam ahead.
Nick Konkel is the Purdue Boilermakers beat writer for Indiana Sports Report. You can follow him on Twitter @NickKonkelISR and Indiana Sports Report @IndySportsRep