As injuries pile up, Brohm needs to find answers for Purdue
Now that Purdue has suffered its first loss of the season, other losses are starting to pile up.
The personnel losses are increasing — Purdue added 4 more to the injury list after Saturday’s 27-13 loss to Notre Dame — to the point where the Boilermakers’ depth, which wasn’t a strength even at the start of the season, will face an even bigger stress test now, starting with the first of back-to-back Big Ten home games Saturday vs. Illinois.
The pressure has probably never been on Jeff Brohm and Co. more than now, when the Boilermakers need to make sure the momentum of the first 2 weeks, with solid wins over Oregon State and UConn, isn’t undone by a single loss and its aftermath. In his 5th year at the head of the program, Brohm is seeking to get back to the postseason after a 2-year absence. And these next 2 games — Illinois and Minnesota don’t care much about Purdue’s health — will be a huge determining factor in whether Purdue positions itself to go bowling again.
Brohm will have to find some answers.
The biggest potential loss is junior David Bell, among the best — if not the best — wide receivers in the Big Ten. Bell was injured late vs. Notre Dame, when he absorbed a gigantic hit from ND safety Kyle Hamilton that left him dazed on the field. He left via cart, with Brohm saying Monday that Bell is in the concussion protocol. It won’t be known until later in the week, perhaps even as late as Saturday morning, whether Bell can return to face the Fighting Illini. But adding to the issue is that Bell’s backup, Mershawn Rice, who has battled injuries throughout his career, is out “an extended period of time” following a foot injury against Notre Dame.
And outside of Bell and slot man Jackson Anthrop, Purdue hasn’t been as sharp as it would like at receiver. Veteran outside starter Milton Wright has been inconsistent, with a couple more drops vs. the Fighting Irish, although he also made an incredible one-handed grab in the end zone for a touchdown. Transfer Broc Thompson has shown flashes, although in only a limited role. Purdue might have to fast-track underclassman Abdur Rahmaan Yassen to the field this weekend if Bell joins Rice on the sideline.
Purdue is already without its starting running back, Zander Horvath, who is out at least another 3 weeks and probably longer with a broken leg. And cornerback Cory Trice, who missed the ND game, is sidelined another 2-4 weeks. Backup DT DJ Washington is out for foreseeable future with undisclosed injuries and backup TE Jack Cravaack is out for the season due to a bad knee.
Illinois might be the perfect opponent at the perfect time for the Boilermakers, considering that the Fighting Illini haven’t shown much since their season-opening night game vs. Nebraska. They’re almost equally beat up, and probably weren’t as talented as Purdue to begin with. But a year ago, Purdue needed heroics from Bell to beat the Illini — he made a one-handed grab down the sideline late, allowing the Boilermakers to run out the clock — and it might not have his services to bail them out this time.
The pressure is more on Purdue than Illinois, which is rebuilding under 1st-year coach Brett Bielema.
The Boilermakers looked the part in the first 2 weeks, making critical plays on offense, defense and special teams vs. Oregon State, then just working over a completely overmatched UConn squad in Week 2. But it won’t mean much to the bottom line if injuries cause a regression. Purdue saw it 2 seasons ago, when quarterback Elijah Sindelar and receiver Rondale Moore — by some really bad football misfortune — were injured on the same play vs. Minnesota, ending their seasons way, way too early. Purdue never recovered.
It can’t afford the same kind of outcome now, not with so much on the line this season.