Keeping Jeff Brohm in West Lafayette was more important than any result on Friday.
The Boilermakers already got the biggest offseason win that they could’ve hoped for when their second-year coach turned down his dream job at Louisville to stick around at Purdue. The fact that he put Purdue in position to sign its top-rated recruiting class in 15 years was icing on that cake.
Then consider Friday was the bitter aftertaste.
It was, for lack of a better word, humbling to watch Purdue struggle like it did against Auburn. In Brohm’s first game since he announced he was staying at Purdue, he got dunked on by Gus Malzahn. It was Malzahn’s offense that was fun, balanced and historically prolific, while it was Brohm’s offense that was out-manned and overwhelmed in Nashville.
It was a beatdown of epic proportions that certainly nobody could’ve seen coming (especially someone like myself who predicted Purdue to win). Let’s be honest. Auburn could’ve hit 100 had it kept its foot on the gas.
Many will chalk it up as a throw-away game for Purdue. As in, “ah, oh well. Auburn was clearly the better team and we’ll just forget about it and turn the page to next year.”
I’m not advocating for that. In fact, I think Friday should’ve served as an important reminder for Purdue as it closes Year 2 of the Brohm era.
This team has its coach, but it still has a long way to go to rise above mediocrity.
Right now, that’s what Purdue still is. Do the Boilermakers have one of the country’s better coaches and one of the most exciting players in the country? Absolutely. Did the Boilermakers have dominant, impressive performances against ranked foes like Ohio State and Boston College? Yep. Nobody can take that away.
While all of that was true, the demerits on Purdue’s 2018 season were both ugly and unpredictable. There was the home loss to Eastern Michigan, the 31-point loss to Minnesota and Friday’s snoozer of a loss to 7-win Auburn.
This team is still a long ways from consistency/top-25 status/B1G West titles or whatever the goal is for Purdue with Brohm.
I get that Purdue was without Cornel Jones (team-leader in tackles for loss) and Lorenzo Neal (team-leader in forced fumbles). Would they have helped? For sure. Would they have even scratched the surface of erasing a 49-point loss? No chance.
Purdue was undisciplined defensively. It looked like roughly half the defense somehow thought that Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham — who isn’t exactly known for his running — was keeping it on the game’s first third down. Instead, Stidham executed a little rock-back fake and easy touchdown throw to Boobie Whitlow for a 66-yard touchdown pass.
You could point to a number of Auburn’s long touchdowns as a reason why the Boilermakers’ inability to tackle in space is still limiting their upside.
And let’s not pretend like it would’ve made a difference had Purdue known what was coming. The speed on defense was lacking in a major way. I’m pretty sure Darius Slayton just scored another touchdown while I was typing that sentence. He probably could’ve if he wanted to.
That’s coaching. That’s recruiting. That’s everything.
Brohm’s turnaround made us forget that plenty of people on the 2018 team were playing defense on the group that went 1-8 against Power 5 teams just 2 years ago.
And to be clear, it wasn’t just the defense that deserved blame, though the 63-point outburst by Auburn would probably suggest that. The offense is still too dependent on Moore. As great as he is, it’s probably not ideal to have 1 guy catch half the passes. Purdue still doesn’t have the skill-players weapons around Moore to be consistent.
That includes the quarterback position. That’s not to say David Blough wasn’t a tremendous face of the program. Lord knows he had plenty of moments when it all clicked. But Purdue needs an upgrade at the position if it wants to become a yearly B1G West contender. He didn’t have 43 career interceptions by accident.
So what does that mean? Should we calm the Purdue hype train? Perhaps a bit.
The encouraging thing is that Brohm’s recruiting is at a level that Purdue fans should be excited about. If U.S. Army All-American receiver David Bell signs with Purdue when he announces his decision next week (the 247sports Crystal Ball has the Boilermakers as 91 percent favorites to land him), maybe he’ll create the B1G’s best receiving duo alongside Moore.
Add in 4-star signee Milton Wright, and perhaps Purdue will have a 3-headed monster on the outside that gives defensive coordinators headaches for the next few years.
That, however, isn’t a guarantee. That’s the hope.
Reality smacked Purdue in the face on Friday. It was ugly, but it was important.
Purdue won’t pretend that the Music City Bowl was a mirage at the end of an otherwise flawless season. It was a reminder.
This thing will take more time, and Friday was another hurdle on Purdue’s uphill climb to national relevancy.