Brohm's 5 biggest mistakes as Purdue sinks under .500
In the fourth year of the Jeff Brohm Era, Purdue was thought to be on the verge of a big step forward.
But it hasn’t happened yet. Through the first six weeks of the season — Purdue’s most challenging game, at Wisconsin in Week 3, was canceled due to COVID-related issues in the Badgers’ program — the Boilermakers are 2-3 and on a 3-game losing streak.
Purdue might not be far off, as the three losses are all by only one score and the Boilermakers had chances to win in the final minutes of each. However, those opportunities were squandered, frequently by self-inflicted mistakes, a trend that’s troubling for Brohm and Co.
The following is a look at 5 mistakes that have Purdue where it is, rather than where it wants to be:
The right hire?
Bob Diaco is a lightning rod. Everyone has an opinion on the first-year Purdue co-defensive coordinator, from his former players at places like Notre Dame and Cincinnati, where he enjoyed successful stints, to the fans at Nebraska, where he did not. Brohm was willing to take a chance on the eccentric DC, bringing him in after dismissing former co-coordinator Nick Holt after 2019. Perhaps Purdue needed a change. Holt’s units had slid backward in the seasons since his and Brohm’s first year at Purdue in 2017, leaving the defense feeling stale.
Diaco brought a lot of promise — he’s been a solid DC nearly everywhere but in Lincoln, although his head coaching stint at UConn left much to be desired — but he also represented a significant change in scheme. Purdue flipped to more of a three-man front, although Diaco calls it variable, much different than what the Boilermakers have historically run.
So far, it has not worked out. Statistically, Purdue is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, allowing 28.4 points (sixth) and 406 yards (eighth) per game. Those numbers might be fine, but others are downright ugly: Purdue has only 4 sacks this season, worst in the Big Ten, and it’s forced only 7 turnovers.
The defense seems to be regressing, too, from the 20 points given up in a Week 1 win over Iowa; to 24 vs. Illinois; to 27, 34 and 37 in losses to Northwestern, Minnesota and Rutgers.
Against Rutgers, the Boilermakers couldn’t get off the field in the fourth quarter, when the Scarlet Knights had the ball for all but 4 snaps in their comeback victory. Was that all on the defense? No. But a defense that’s not getting enough third-down stops and isn’t creating turnovers holds much of the blame.
Purdue made a second, less-glamourous hire during the offseason, bringing in Marty Biagi as the special teams coordinator, Brohm’s fourth coordinator in his four seasons at Purdue.
No one has lived up to the quality of Tony Levine, Brohm’s first special teams coordinator, who left to own and operate Chick-Fil-A franchises in the Houston area. Since the Levine season, when Purdue was not only efficient but also electric — successfully executing several fake punts — special teams has been rather ho-hum, and that’s probably being generous. Although Purdue’s coverage has been (mostly) fine the last two-and-a-half seasons, it’s return game has been almost non-existent.
And Purdue has compounded the issues this season: The Boilermakers gave up a game-changing 100-yard kickoff return in the loss to Rutgers on Saturday. A week before, veteran J.D. Dellinger missed 2 field goals, the one to tie late in the fourth quarter coming after a below-average snap. Punting has been an adventure, and not the good kind. More like the I’ve-been-lost-in-the-woods-for-three-weeks variety.
After literally years, why can Purdue not find solutions to these problems?
The QB question
The old football cliché is that when a team has two quarterbacks, it doesn’t have any.
Purdue had hoped — and still does — that’s not the case; instead, that it can win with either Aidan O’Connell or Jack Plummer, or even No. 3 Austin Burton, a UCLA transfer.
But can it?
O’Connell won the starting job, then proceeded to beat Iowa and Illinois, but was injured toward the end of the Illini game and was only so-so vs. Northwestern. He’s now shut down with the injury, which Brohm has said might require surgery. Plummer was outstanding in a loss at Minnesota and had his moments vs. Rutgers.
But is either QB the Big Man On Campus? And if neither is, why hasn’t Brohm, an offensive guru and former NFL quarterback, been able to find and develop a signal-caller?
A couple years ago, Brohm said he wanted to run upwards of 50 trick plays per season. Sounded cool. But it hasn’t happened. In fact, Brohm’s tendency to go toward the gadgets has decreased this season, to the point where it’s a rarity to see one on a Saturday.
Does Purdue have the weapons now that makes Brohm feel more comfortable playing the game straight? That’s possible. Or is he just tighter in close situations, and Purdue is in a lot of them, not wanting to risk a costly mistake? Also possible.
Maybe Brohm should have freaked out in the postgame press conference after a side judge blew a call that very likely cost his team a victory.
His players might have wanted him to.
The call was egregious. The side judge called offensive pass interference against Payne Durham, a questionable call at best, negating a go-ahead touchdown.
Brohm freaked out at the official on the sideline, but played it cool in the press conference afterward, not saying anything that might have gotten him a warning or more from the Big Ten. But maybe a freak-out was warranted, if only to show his team that he was fighting even after the final whistle.