Christmas wish list for Purdue
Purdue has plenty to ask for during this Christmas season.
And, after a 2-4 season, it better hope to receive more than a lump of coal.
Following is a half-dozen of the biggest wishes for Jeff Brohm and Co.
A defensive identity
Purdue needs a new defensive coordinator after Brohm dismissed Bob Diaco after only 6 games, probably one of the shortest non-interim tenures in the history of Big Ten football. But not only does the scheme need an upgrade — the 3-4 never suited the Boilermakers — but the defense needs an identity, too.
At least with former DC Nick Holt, the defense had personality, even if it became leakier as his tenure matured. Purdue was aggressive, taking on the same attitude as the always-fiery, chew-rocks-for-breakfast Holt. He looked like a terror on the sidelines and his defenses — at least when they had talent and were healthy — frequently played with the same demeanor.
Last season, Purdue lacked the fire.
Needless to say, this is the biggest hire in the Brohm Era, as the head coach readies to enter his fifth season at Purdue needing an above .500 season, at minimum, to show that the program is headed on an upward trajectory.
So yes, hire for scheme, but also bring in a leader who is going to energize the defense.
A No. 1 quarterback
Purdue can win with either Aidan O’Connell or Jack Plummer at quarterback, as each turned in solid seasons while making three starts in 2020.
But there’s a sense too that the Boilermakers need to settle on one or the other. Maybe that would have been O’Connell had the junior not been injured in the second game of the season; he suffered a foot injury, which Brohm has said will need offseason surgery, but still started vs. Northwestern the next week. Plummer came in to start the final three games, and was a tick better statistically, but didn’t do enough to secure the gig.
Hopefully Purdue — and everyone else — will be able to have a spring season, because the Boilermakers have plenty of questions that need answers. Chief among them is who is QB1. And will that player grab hold of the job, keep it, stay healthy and lead Purdue to wins in 2021?
Just a sack.
Purdue’s pass rush was abysmal this season, with only 5 sacks total in 6 games. It was ugly.
The Boilermakers need playmakers in their front — scheme will help — who can get after a quarterback, jostle him, sack him and potentially create turnovers. George Karlaftis is one. The sophomore defensive end, however, suffered through a miserable 2020, first with an ankle injury then with COVID. He basically played only 1.5 games healthy, yet still had a team-high 2 sacks.
In 2019, Purdue’s ends — Karlaftis and Derrick Barnes — combined for 17 sacks. It was reminiscent of the good ole days, between 1997 and 2010, when Purdue defenders became known as the “Den of Defensive Ends,” with players from Rosevelt Colvin to Ryan Kerrigan.
Feels so long ago.
Purdue played 2020 tight.
After it won its first two games, the Boilermakers didn’t go try to win games as much as they tried not to lose them, and that’s a dangerous way to play.
The Boilermakers need a dose of confidence, and that comes from the top. When Brohm was freewheeling as the play-caller, putting immense pressure on the defense, the Boilermakers looked confident, and looked like they couldn’t be slowed. And that was when Purdue had far less offensive talent. Purdue needs that swagger again, even if it has more talented, athletic, highly-regarded players.
A ball-hawking secondary
Not only did Purdue release Diaco, but it decided not to bring back cornerbacks coach Greg Brown either.
Clearly, Brohm wants to upgrade the defense, and particularly so at the corner position. Purdue’s cornerbacks didn’t have a single interception this season, and the Boilermakers had only 3 total,2 by safety Cam Allen and 1 by Barnes.
Purdue seemed to have some ability at the position, particularly junior-to-be Cory Trice, who had 2 interceptions in one game in 2019. And safety, with Allen and Marvin Grant, who will be a sophomore next year, is promising. But those players have to come together, then make plays, and it’s not happened.
Asking for a punter as a Christmas gift is sort of like asking for socks.
But it is where Purdue is. The Boilermakers struggled to boot it consistently enough this season. The scholarship option, Brooks Cormier, has a big-league leg, so perhaps he is the most likely to seize control of the position. But he’s got to show it more regularly.
Warm weather a year from now
Assuming next season has at least a bit of normalcy — as in teams play complete schedules; there’s a full slate of bowl games, etc. — then Purdue needs to end its year at a warm-weather bowl.
That probably means 7 or more wins. It should be doable, given that Brohm is in Year 5, with a vast majority of the players on the roster being recruited by him.