5 reasons Purdue could be better than we thought
Purdue came into the season hoping to bounce back from a 4-win campaign in 2019.
And there was reason to think it could bounce, but how high was the question. After a week, and a 24-20 victory over Iowa, there’s reason to think Purdue could exceed expectations.
Here are 5 reasons Purdue could be better than we thought:
1. Purdue won despite being shorthanded
The Boilermakers had the odds stacked against them in Week 1. Not only were they a 3.5-point underdog, but they also were without their head coach, their special teams coordinator, their All-America wide receiver and their projected starting running back.
Nonetheless, the Boilermakers rallied, and that has to bode well for the rest of the season.
Jeff Brohm returns from his 10 days of COVID-related isolation — he’s more than ready to get out of the house — for practice on Wednesday. His presence should give Purdue an emotional lift for Saturday’s game at Illinois, not that they should need one. The Boilermakers aren’t in position, as a program, to overlook anyone, particularly a team that beat them soundly in Ross-Ade Stadium last season.
Perhaps Rondale Moore returns to finally pair with budding fellow star wide receiver David Bell — the two played together for 4 games last season, but that was before Bell, then a freshman, had developed into a go-to threat. They make an intriguing combination that has Purdue fans salivating. But Moore’s absence is unexplained; Purdue released a note Friday saying that Moore would be out for the opener but not saying why. There is no known timetable for his return.
For running back King Doerue, it’s a hamstring, and his return is undetermined. Special teams coordinator Marty Biagi will be back too after his COVID absence.
All serve to make Purdue better.
2. The defense rises
All offseason, Purdue’s rebuilt defense, behind the new scheme implemented by coordinator Bob Diaco, was a mystery. Would Purdue embrace the system, which features 3-4 looks, quickly? Would it play to Purdue’s known personnel, like defensive linemen George Karlaftis and Lorenzo Neal? Would Purdue have enough linebackers? Would the secondary, a sore spot for years, finally take a step forward.
In Game 1, the answers came back overwhelmingly positive. Sure, Purdue allowed yardage — Iowa tallied 460 yards — but the Boilermakers defense got stops at the right times, like turning over the Hawkeyes on their second-to-last possession to set up the go-ahead touchdown. Then getting the stop in the last minute, when Iowa attempted its last-gasp rally.
Purdue tackled. With a wonky offseason, it has to be a concern for every program, but the Boilermakers proved they were capable, with only a handful of misses. That kind of efficiency, combined with increased physical play out of the secondary, helped Purdue limit big plays by the Hawkeyes, who managed only 4 plays of 20-plus yards.
3. The ‘It’ factor
Whatever “it” is, Aidan O’Connell might have it.
Although he was sporadic in the second and third quarters, the junior quarterback found his groove in the fourth — it’s been a quarter that he’s tended to dominate — and rallied the Boilermakers to a 24-20 win by hitting Bell in the back of the end zone with just over 2 minutes left. It was his 3rd game-winning drive in the last 5 games.
It’s a crazy rise for the former walk-on, going from a relative nobody — he was fourth on the depth chart at the start of 2019 training camp — to an emergency starter to the full-fledged BMOC. And if he continues to find ways to win, he won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
4. Special teams look special
Lost in all the positives from Saturday’s win was the performance of punter Brooks Cormier. The sophomore, whose inconsistency made him only a part-timer as a freshman last year, looked the part vs. Iowa. The 6-5, 220-pounder landed 2 of his 5 punts in the Iowa red zone. Another, and perhaps the most impressive, traveled 58 yards from out of his own end zone.
Senior place-kicker J.D. Dellinger hit his only field goal, and it was a critical one, when Purdue was trying to rally in the second half. He’ll be solid.
Outside of a 25-yard punt return by Iowa, Purdue’s coverage was solid, as it largely has been in the Brohm Era. But its return game didn’t amount to much; perhaps that can be remedied once Moore returns, assuming of course that he does.
Purdue’s special teams have been a mixed bag under Brohm, who now has his 4th coordinator in 4 seasons. And now, Biagi will be allowed to coach again from the sideline.
5. A strong start
Purdue had started each of Brohm’s first 3 seasons with a loss. It was particularly distressing 2 years ago, when the Boilermakers were coming off a bowl win and facing Northwestern on a Thursday night. Purdue fell flat. It did last season too, losing in the last minute at Nevada.
Being 1-0 now helps to change the outlook as the Boilermakers head to Illinois, where they’re double-digit favorites, before a showdown at Wisconsin.