Purdue football: 3 things to like, 3 not to like after comeback win at Maryland
Perhaps it has not always been pretty for Purdue these last 2 weeks, but the Boilermakers twice escaped the road with Big Ten victories.
The latest was a 31-29 victory Saturday at Maryland, as Purdue overcame 3 3rd-quarter turnovers and a 4th-quarter deficit to improve to 4-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten. With it, the Boilermakers have earned league wins in back-to-back weeks as road underdogs — they were 9.5-point ‘dogs at Minnesota and 3.5 at Maryland — for the 1st time since 2006.
Now, Purdue must be seen as a favorite, perhaps one of at least a few, in the Big Ten West.
Let’s take a look at 3 things to like and 3 not to like after the Boilermakers’ win:
3 things to like …
In his 2nd game back after missing a start due to injury, Aidan O’Connell looked closer to his typical self. Maybe not 100 percent, but closer to 90, and not the 75 or so that he played at in beating Minnesota a week ago.
The 6th-year senior passed for 360 yards and a couple touchdowns, with an interception and a fumble. But O’Connell was clutch when he needed to be, like on a 2nd down late in the game when he found tight end Payne Durham for a 56-yard gain that set up a touchdown. The pass showed both the good and bad of O’Connell as he nurses himself back from an undisclosed injury. He found the open receiver, but the pass was a bit low, as he hasn’t quite regained his typical timing and accuracy. Durham still hauled it in, picking up the crucial 1st down then racing for a bunch more yards after the catch.
O’Connell accounted for 2 of Purdue’s 3 turnovers in the 3rd quarter, when he fumbled while being sacked on the Boilermakers’ 1st possession after halftime, then tossed the pick on a throw slightly behind receiver Charlie Jones.
But for the 5th time in his career, O’Connell rallied the Boilermakers to a 4th-quarter comeback victory, which sets a program record. Purdue trailed 23-17 in the 4th before O’Connell found Durham for a 4-yard touchdown that gave the Boilermakers the lead. Then, they tacked on the late TD that proved to be the difference.
Jeff Brohm’s difficult — and correct — decisions
Jeff Brohm hasn’t always made the correct calls in end-of-half or end-of-game situations.
The Boilermakers played conservatively at the end of the 1st half Saturday and it was costly, as Maryland scored on a busted coverage to tie. After the loss to Penn State in the opener, Brohm admitted he should have tried to run the ball more frequently to eat up the clock. The Syracuse loss was stricken by late unsportsmanlike penalties, including one on Brohm himself.
But faced with difficult — and atypical — clock management decisions late in the game, Brohm made the correct calls. After Durham’s big catch down to the Maryland 2 with 2:13 left, the Boilermakers wisely started to stall. After a Maryland timeout, O’Connell lunged forward for a gain of 1 but fell down before the Terrapins could intentionally allow him to score. After Maryland called its final timeout at 2:08, O’Connell again took a dive.
Brohm had a decision to make: Purdue could try to score on 3rd down, get the extra point and go up eight. Or it could risk another kneel down, take the clock down to 40 or so seconds, then attempt to score on 4th down, either a TD or field goal. The 6th-year coach decided to hand the ball to Devin Mockobee, who took the ball in for the score and 8-point lead.
Even though Maryland marched down the field for a touchdown — but missed on the 2-point conversion — the call was right: In scoring, Brohm both made a move to try to win the game while also mitigating his chances to lose in regulation.
Cam Allen’s timing
Purdue safety Cam Allen has a knack for the big play.
Against Minnesota, he had a couple of interceptions, one off a ricochet in the end zone and another to seal the game in the closing moments, with the last giving him 10 picks in his Purdue career. But Saturday at Maryland, he made the special teams’ play of the day when he blocked a Maryland extra point in the 4th quarter.
On the play, Allen seemed to time up the snap nearly perfectly, taking off from his left wing position as the ball begins to move. It was so well synced that, at 1st glance, Allen appears to be off-sides, but his jump off the snap helped him get through the line and knock down the attempt, keeping the margin at 6.
— cobra. (@cobrastats) October 8, 2022
3 things not to like …
Much like the end of the 1st half vs. Penn State in the opener, when the Nittany Lions turned a bad Purdue turnover into a long pass play for a touchdown, the Boilermakers suffered a breakdown vs. the Terrapins.
Cornerback Cory Trice, who otherwise seemed to have a solid game, got mixed up in coverage, losing his man and allowing a 68-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17 with 14 seconds left until halftime. It was the 4th time this season that Purdue had allowed a TD in the final minute of the 1st or 2nd half — the Boilermakers would do it a 5th time at the end of the game, but got the win-saving 2-point conversion stop — a mind-numbing trend that needs reversed.
Turnovers, turnovers and turnovers
It’s remarkable to consider, but Purdue has won consecutive road games in the Big Ten despite having turned the ball over a total of 6 times vs. Minnesota and Maryland.
Three of them came in the 3rd quarter against the Terrapins, a series of giveaways that made it seem nearly impossible that the Boilermakers would get it together offensively. But each of the turnovers had come after Purdue moved the ball: O’Connell fumbled after Purdue had moved the ball to the Maryland 22; his interception came at the UM 26; and the Tyrone Tracy fumble at Purdue’s 40.
It seems impossible that the Boilermakers will be able to avoid losses if they continue to turn the ball over at such a high frequency, even against Nebraska next Saturday night in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Runners stall out
After back-to-back games with a 100-yard rusher — first Dylan Downing, then Mockobee — the Boilermakers couldn’t get the ground game going again.
Purdue was held to 13 yards on 34 carries (although if the sack yardage is removed, the rushing ups to 44 yards). Still, that’s only a little more than a yard per tote.
Maybe the Boilermakers’ shuffled offensive line accounted for a bit of the downturn. Purdue was without backup right tackle Daniel Johnson, who was playing because Cam Craig called it a career 3 games into this season due to a recurring back injury, so Eric Miller shifted from left to right tackle. Right guard Mahamane Moussa shifted to left tackle, leaving his usual spot for Sione Finau.
Not as many holes came open in the running game and O’Connell was pressured more frequently, being sacked 5 times. But perhaps not all of those were the fault of the line. Yes, it got beaten on the edges a few times, although one was a miss by tight end Durham. But also O’Connell probably held the ball too long on a couple plays.