Plummer or O'Connell against Iowa? Let the Purdue QB debate rage on ...
Purdue’s quarterbacks have been a mystery this season.
Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell have both started, with each turning in highlight-worthy moments, but neither has played consistently enough to lock down the position. And so Jeff Brohm has left us — and probably most importantly, Iowa’s coaching staff — to wonder about who will start for the Boilermakers against the No. 2 Hawkeyes on Saturday.
Will it be O’Connell, who rallied Purdue to a win over Illinois off the bench a couple weeks ago but then led the Boilermakers to only 13 points in a loss to Minnesota a week later? Or will it be Plummer, who was solid in Purdue’s 2-0 start but then withered with conservative play against Notre Dame and in the first half vs. the Illini?
Either way, Purdue needs better production from the position, particularly in the red zone. The Boilermakers rank among the worst in the Big Ten in touchdown percentage from inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line, converting only 47.6 percent. And Saturday, Purdue’s QB1 will face a salty Iowa defense, which is No. 1 in the league in points allowed (13.0) and second in total yardage (274.2), including third in passing yardage (183.7).
But the biggest reason why the Hawkeyes are winning — they’re 6-0 and positioning themselves for a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff — is their defense’s ability to turn teams over. They’ve got 16 interceptions and 4 recovered fumbles this season, and are an incredible plus-15 in turnover margin, 9 better than the Big Ten’s second-best teams.
So that’s what Purdue’s quarterback will face. Who will it be? Brohm will likely keep that a secret until pre-game Saturday. But who should it be? Let’s debate. I’ll argue for O’Connell; fellow Saturday Tradition writer Dustin Schutte will make the case for Plummer.
The argument for O’Connell
When a Jeff Brohm offense is clicking, it’s able to push the ball down the field, creating deep pressure on the defense that helps to open up soft spots underneath.
That’s why O’Connell was named the starter for the Minnesota game, because the senior quarterback is better able to stretch the field. And that doesn’t change this week, even if Purdue is playing one of the best defenses in the country. Yes, O’Connell has been turnover prone in his 3 games (1 start) with 5 interceptions, and yes, Iowa has turned quarterbacks over with 16 picks. But going conservative isn’t a recipe for success, unless the goal is to lose 13-10.
Instead, Brohm needs to continue to push the ball, take chances and put pressure on the Hawkeyes. O’Connell can do so. Let’s not forget that it was O’Connell who beat Iowa in the opener last season, when he threw the ball 50 times, passed for 282 yards with 3 touchdowns and — gasp! — 2 interceptions. In each of the Boilermakers’ 3 victories against Kirk Ferentz over the last 4 seasons, Brohm has found matchups in the Iowa secondary to exploit. Last season, it was O’Connell to David Bell (13 receptions for 121 yards, 3 TDs); in 2018, it was David Blough to Terry Wright (6 receptions, 146 yards, 3 TDs); and in 2017, it was Elijah Sindelar to Anthony Mahoungou (7 receptions, 135 yards, 2 TDs).
In those games, Purdue won because it was willing to continue taking shots against the Hawkeyes until it found their weakness. And with O’Connell, the Boilermakers can go on the attack again on Saturday. It’s the path not only to playing close, but to winning.
— Kyle Charters
The argument for Plummer
The argument for O’Connell is certainly understandable. He gives Purdue better opportunities to stretch the field and create more explosive plays. Ideally, that’s what Brohm wants to see from his offense after scoring just 13 points in each of the last 3 contests.
O’Connell’s problem, however, is the high-risk, high-reward characteristic. Iowa has feasted on that approach through the first 6 games. The Hawkeyes have been harassing big-play quarterbacks this season, most notably Michael Penix Jr. and Taulia Tagovailoa, to the tune of 16 interceptions.
O’Connell has thrown 5 interceptions with just 4 touchdowns this season. At one point, he had thrown 4 interceptions on 4 drives in games against Notre Dame and Illinois. That’s how Iowa has made its living.
Plummer is the safer play for the Boilermakers. Maybe it’s a bit more of a dink-and-dunk offense, but he’s completing 69.5% of his passes and has 7 touchdowns without an interception this season. In a game against a defense that has forced 20 turnovers in just 6 games, that’s a big deal.
Plus, if Plummer is able to find some success with the short-to-intermediate passing attack, it might open something down the field later in the game.
It’s not as flashy, but Plummer has a better shot to keep Purdue within striking distance of the Hawkeyes. If you’re the Boilermakers and you have a shot to win heading into the 4th quarter, what more could you ask for against the No. 2 team in the country?
— Dustin Schutte