Jeff Brohm's goal for Purdue in 2021? Attack
Purdue needs a personality match.
Not just of the individuals involved on the Boilermakers this season — although that chemistry is important, too — but of the units within Jeff Brohm’s fifth Purdue team.
It couldn’t find a match in 2020. And because of it, the Boilermakers sunk to a record of only 2-4 and are riding a current 4-game losing streak that has Brohm needing a quick fix this season.
Step 1: Help the Boilermakers regain a dominant personality trait, rather than the Frankenstein-like mashup that they were last season.
Yes, one could debate whether Brohm, Purdue’s offensive play-caller, ever jived with defensive play-caller Bob Diaco on an individual level, but that’s of little relevance now; Diaco is gone, having been fired after only 6 games in gold and black.
But what’s not debatable is that Purdue’s offense and defense had few common characteristics, and that incongruity led the Boilermakers’ downfall. Brohm wants an aggressive, go-for-broke offense, one that will take shots down the field as often as possible. He’ll try to get defenses off-balance, create advantages, then attempt to hit on as many big plays as possible. There’s risk, but often reward, especially if a team has weapons on the outside that can make defenses pay.
But its defense under Diaco was too frequently happy to sit back, taking few risks while it trying to bend but not break. It wasn’t aggressive — only 5 sacks in 6 games, a total indicative of the Boilermakers’ inactivity behind the line of scrimmage — and it sat back in coverages and progressively got worse as the season went on.
Purdue had a split-personality disorder: How can a team that wants to push the envelope on offense also be so content to be conservative on defense?
It can’t. At least not with any success.
In an effort to fix it during the offseason, Brohm turned over the defensive staff. Veteran defensive coordinator Brad Lambert, last of Marshall, was brought in to replace Diaco, and three other assistants followed. Purdue gave three of the assistants “co-coordinator” titles, but ultimately it’ll be Lambert’s defense, as he’s charged with game-day play-calling. He’s likely to run a more traditional 4-3, but the scheme itself isn’t as important as the style.
Lambert has vowed to put the Boilermakers’ best players in position to make plays. D-end George Karlaftis, to be sure, is glad to hear that, because not only was he injured and sick last season but too often he was hidden in a scheme that didn’t make sense. The new assistant has also indicated he’ll attack more frequently.
More importantly, however, is the approach of the head coach. In past seasons, Brohm has been largely hands-off on the defensive side, letting Nick Holt run that side of the ball in his first 3 seasons in West Lafayette before turning to Diaco in 2020. But the defense has slipped every season since 2017 and the past 2 coordinators have been let go.
It’s time for a different tactic. Brohm says he’ll be more hands-on, taking a bigger interest in the defense during game prep and practices. But he also wants a change in mindset, so that the defense’s approach to the game matches the offense’s.
“We want to be aggressive in our approach,” Brohm said during his Big Ten Media Days appearance in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon. “We want to play offense on the defensive side this year as much as we can, allow our guys to take chances and make plays and have fun doing it.”
What’ll be the result? Well, we’ll see. Maybe Purdue wins games 51-45 this season, perhaps the result of an offense that takes advantage of a defense giving it an extra possession or two.
If that’s the way Purdue wins in 2021, then so be it. The bottom line is that the Boilermakers — and Brohm — need victories, and a cohesive approach should help them get it done.