Schuttin' from the hip: We cringed in the offseason, but Jeff Brohm's gamble is paying off for Purdue
Each week, Saturday Tradition managing editor Dustin Schutte offers his spin on what matters most in the B1G.
Jeff Brohm’s 3 DC decision has Purdue in the B1G West race
We laughed. We cringed. A lot of us put Jeff Brohm on the hot seat entering his 5th season at Purdue after announcing there would be 3 defensive coordinators on staff.
The decision to appoint the co-defensive coordinator title to Brad Lambert, Ron English and Mark Hagen was head-scratching. The concern was magnified when Brohm said at B1G Media Days he’d be more involved on that side of the football.
“My God, he’s got three defensive coordinators and doesn’t trust any of them,” is the immediate thought that ran through my head at Lucas Oil Stadium in July. It felt like a desperation heave from Purdue’s own 1-yard line with time expiring.
Brohm’s decision to pass out the defensive coordinator title like trick-or-treat candy (apologies for the dated reference) has resulted in Purdue’s 6-3 record and a tie atop the B1G West standings at 4-2. The Boilermakers have slayed two dragons — No. 2 Iowa on Oct. 16 and No. 3 Michigan State on Nov. 6.
For the first time, Purdue earned a spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, coming in at No. 19. The Boilers are bowl eligible and have a shot to hit the 8- or 9-win mark, the highest total of the Brohm era.
There’s no question the offense has been important lately. Aidan O’Connell’s consistent play helped Purdue seal wins over Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan State. David Bell has been phenomenal, recording a pair of 200-yard performances in the last 4 games. A few calls out of Brohm’s bag of tricks have paid off.
It’s been the defense, though, that has showed up throughout the season.
George Karlaftis is being mentioned in conversations among some of the best defensive ends in the country. Even though his numbers aren’t overwhelming — 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles — he’s drawing double- and triple-teams from offensive lines.
Jaylan Alexander and Jalen Graham are excelling at linebacker. Cam Allen is tied atop the B1G in interceptions, picking off 4 passes. Simply put, the Boilers have playmakers at each level defensively.
This season, the Boilermakers are allowing just 18.6 points per game, improving 11 points from 2020 and 12 points from 2019. After ranking 12th or worse in the B1G in pass defense each of Brohm’s first 4 seasons, Purdue now sits at No. 3.
The progress is undeniable.
Because of it, Purdue is turning a corner. It went from back-to-back losing seasons in 2019 and 2020 to clinching a bowl berth Week 11. In Brohm’s previous two trips to the postseason, the Boilermakers needed to win the Old Oaken Bucket to secure a bid.
There’s still a chance — albeit a longshot — Purdue wins the West, too.
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Remaining on the schedule are No. 4 Ohio State, Northwestern and Indiana. In order for Purdue to make the trip down the road to Indianapolis, it would essentially need to essentially win all 3 games. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin would have to lose at least once, and one will with the Gophers and Badgers going head-to-head in the season finale.
The path isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. Brohm’s decision to put a heavy emphasis on the defensive side of the ball is why Purdue is in the conversation in November and why the head coach is on the verge of his most successful season in West Lafayette.
Just a few months ago, we all got a good laugh about Brohm hiring 3 co-defensive coordinators. It looks like he’s getting the last one, though.
The Michigan-Michigan State debacle
At some point, we have to move on. The College Football Playoff selection committee moved Michigan ahead of Michigan State in the rankings Tuesday night, placing the Wolverines at No. 6 and the Spartans at No. 7.
I’m disregarding the advice from Elsa. I will not “let it go” just yet.
Rather than listening to committee chair Gary Barta attempt to defend that criminal activity, I would have rather he walk into my house and smack me across the face with a rolled-up newspaper. That would’ve been less insulting.
Instead, he babbled for a few minutes about Michigan being the “more complete team,” and detailed the healthy discussion regarding the placement of the teams. You know what could’ve ended the conversation? A look back at the final score that’s less than 2 weeks old.
Michigan State 37, Michigan 33, for those who’ve forgotten.
By placing Michigan ahead of Michigan State — both 8-1 with a road loss — the committee is essentially calling every college football fan, reporter and analyst stupid. Essentially, that 13-person group believes the formulas and metrics used to determine the rankings far exceed common sense. A head-to-head result is too simplistic, too barbaric to be involved in this equation.
Rather than admit to making a mistake, they’d rather stand by idiocy. Quite frankly, it’s tarnishing the most unique sport in the country.
How soon can we get that 12-team format implemented? This nonsense has to end.
Tuck comin’ after Harbaugh
Mel Tucker knew exactly what he was saying. Disguised as a response to a question about Simeon Barrow’s targeting ejection against Purdue, the Michigan State head coach fired a shot across the bow of Jim Harbaugh and Michigan.
Asked for his reaction and response to the penalty that got Barrow tossed from last week’s game in West Lafayette and will keep the defensive tackle sidelined for the first half against Maryland, this was what Tucker had to say:
“I don’t like to talk about bad calls. That’s not part of our culture. We don’t like to make excuses about anything. I think that makes your program soft. I think it gives your coaches and your players a way out. So, I really don’t like to even talk about it that much.”
If you take it at face value, it seems like a pretty harmless comment. That is, until you remember what Harbaugh said after last week’s loss in East Lansing.
Harbaugh said the strip-sack caused by David Ojabo and recovered by Aidan Hutchinson in the end zone “never should have been” overturned. He also griped about other calls throughout the game, including a “clear pass interference.”
So, yeah, shots fired.
Tucker has had no trouble expressing his disdain for Michigan. He refers to the Wolverines as “The team down the road.” He went on College GameDay and said, “Yeah, I don’t like Michigan.” Now, he’s taking shots at the “soft” program. There’s no doubt Tucker has done an excellent job turning this into a 24/7 rivalry.
It carries a little more weight when you’re 2-0 against your rival, too.
No. 6 Michigan vs. Penn State: This might come down to whether Michigan can crack Penn State’s red-zone defense. Teams have had success moving the ball on the Nittany Lions between the 20s but are turned away when in scoring position. If the Wolverines can’t reach paydirt when in the red zone, a few explosive plays from Sean Clifford to Jahan Dotson in the passing attack could be enough for Penn State to pull of the (minor) upset.
Northwestern vs. No. 18 Wisconsin: Unfortunately for Northwestern, this game has the potential to look a lot like Wisconsin’s 52-3 win over Rutgers last week. The Wildcats have no ability to stop the run and Braelon Allen is running angry right now, hitting the century mark in each of his past 5 games. To make matters worse, Northwestern hasn’t exceeded 14 points in any of its last 3 B1G games.
Rutgers vs. Indiana: Defensive “slugfest” is probably hyping this one up too much. Both offenses have been stagnant all year, so this Rutgers-Indiana matchup is likely going to come down to a handful of plays. The 3 biggest keys in this game will be special teams, turnovers and explosive plays. The team that finds more success in those areas is going to put a tally in the win column.
No. 19 Purdue vs. No. 4 Ohio State: Purdue has played “giant slayer” to Iowa and Michigan State, could it pull off a third upset of the season? The biggest difference between Ohio State and the Hawkeyes and Spartans is the strength in the trenches on both sides of the football. The Buckeyes are going to pose problems up front, which usually results in a win in the B1G. Keep an eye out for plenty of trick plays, though. Jeff Brohm is going to open up the playbook.
Minnesota vs. No. 20 Iowa: Tanner Morgan or Alex Padilla? The quarterback who makes the fewest mistakes is going to be the one holding Floyd of Rosedale in Iowa City. It might sound simplistic, but both defenses are playing really well and this is going to be a low-scoring affair. Morgan’s 2 interceptions cost Minnesota a game against Illinois. Iowa’s poor quarterback play hurt it against Purdue and Wisconsin. It’s the biggest factor Saturday.
Maryland vs. No. 7 Michigan State: Do you like points? Expect to see a lot. Maryland and Michigan State rank at the bottom of the B1G in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. The Spartans are better against the run, but the Terrapins have no real interest in establishing a presence on the ground. This is going to be a shootout in East Lansing. Someone’s defense is going to have to make a play. If not, it might come down to the team that has the ball last.
Maryland vs. No. 7 Michigan State (over 60.5)
Break out the calculator and combine the scoring averages of Maryland (27.6) and Michigan State (34). It comes out to 61.6. That’s just the starting point for why this game will easily hit the over.
Michigan State’s defense is allowing 22.7 points per game on the year, while Maryland’s is surrendering 30.4. The Terrapins are 13th in the B1G in pass defense and the Spartans are 14th. Both Payton Thorne and Taulia Tagovailoa can throw the ball.
This has all the makings of a shootout. Hammer the over.