Purdue football: 5 predictions for the second half of the season
Purdue’s positioned itself for a big second half of the season, picking up 4 wins in its first 6 games, including a monumental victory against then-No. 2 Iowa.
The Boilermakers now need only 2 more wins to get back to the postseason after a 2-year absence, but perhaps they have their eyes set on even more, like playing at a warm-weather site on New Year’s Day. But what does the next month-and-a-half hold? Let’s make some predictions about what is upcoming for the Boilermakers.
Purdue will ‘upset’ Wisconsin at home
It’s a rare day that a ranked home team is an underdog to an unranked visiting team, but that’s where the Boilermakers find themselves this weekend. Purdue, which entered the AP Top 25 Sunday at No. 25 for the first time since the 2007 season, is a 3-point dog to Wisconsin, which is 3-3 but is riding a 2-game winning streak.
Well, the Boilermakers don’t have history on their side vs. the Badgers, as they’ve lost every game to Wisconsin (14 straight) since 2003. Purdue hasn’t won a home game vs. UW since 1997, in Joe Tiller’s first season in West Lafayette. The average margin of loss in the 14-game losing streak is nearly 21 points per game.
So, it’s not been a good matchup.
But this might be Purdue’s best chance to exorcise the demons — many point to the 2004 home game, when Kyle Orton’s fumble was potentially not only a turning point in a loss to the Badgers but a turning point for the Purdue program — against Wisconsin. Although the Badgers have a salty defense, allowing a Big Ten-best 225.8 yards per game, their offense has been mired in mediocrity all season.
When the teams play at 3 p.m. Saturday, Purdue’s defense, perhaps the surprise unit of the Big Ten this season, considering the Boilermakers are giving up only 14 points per game (the fifth-best mark in the country), will hold down a touchdown-challenged UW squad. And Purdue will score its long-awaited victory against Wisconsin.
O’Connell will give Purdue QB stability
It’s been years, more than a decade really, since Purdue can claim to have quarterback stability.
Sure, David Blough spent a season as the Boilermakers’ sole QB in 2016, but otherwise he battled with Elijah Sindelar for QB1. Before that it was Danny Elting vs. Austin Appleby. And before that, Robert Marve was forced to compete with Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry.
The last couple seasons, it’s been Aidan O’Connell vs. Jack Plummer. But now, with O’Connell coming off the best game of his career — after he threw for 375 yards and 2 touchdowns vs. the Hawkeyes, he was named the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback of the Week — he has a chance to lock down the position as Purdue’s clear No. 1 for the second half of the year.
To do so, he’ll need to continue to efficiently run the Boilermakers offense, particularly in the red zone, get the ball to super star David Bell and limit his turnovers. And, of course, win football games.
Defense proves it’s not fluke
Purdue’s defense was so bad last season that Jeff Brohm nuked his defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach, then saw the other two defensive assistants depart, as well.
And he took that opportunity to rebuild a staff that he felt would have the chemistry to put together a unit that could play with the aggressive, physical style that he desired. It’s worked better than anyone could have hoped. Co-defensive coordinator Brad Lambert, along with co-DC Mark Hagen and Ron English and assistant James Adams, have the Boilermakers playing as good as anyone in the Big Ten right now.
The Boilermakers are giving up only 14 points and 292.3 yards per game, both the second-best marks in the Big Ten. Before Saturday’s win at Iowa, the one big negative had been that Purdue wasn’t turning opponents over, but it changed that, generating four interceptions vs. the Hawkeyes.
Given a boost by the play and confidence of George Karlaftis, it doesn’t seem like the Boilermakers will slip any time soon.
A big boost
Purdue has battled through a myriad of injuries this season, including to No. 1 cornerback Cory Trice, who is out for the season, and Bell and tight end Payne Durham, who have each missed a full game and at least a part of another.
But perhaps the biggest missing piece for Purdue is running back Zander Horvath. The senior broke his leg early in the Week 2 UConn victory, sending him to the sidelines and shrinking an already thin Purdue running back corps. The Boilermakers have managed to get by without him, giving a bulk of the carries to backup King Doerue but even going so far as to put backup QBs Plummer and Austin Burton into the game as ball-carriers.
But Horvath will return at some point. Probably not against Wisconsin and perhaps not the following week at Nebraska. But maybe he’s well enough in November, and that would be a huge, huge boost to the Boilermakers, who are missing the strong, physical between-the-tackles runner.
Purdue will go bowling
Before the Iowa victory, it was difficult to see a path to 6 victories.
Had it lost to Iowa, as expected, Purdue would have needed to win 3 of its final 6 games. Throw out Ohio State — it’ll be a monumental task to win at Ohio Stadium — then the ratio becomes 3 of 5. Maybe Wisconsin, at Nebraska, vs. Northwestern (in Wrigley Field) and Indiana are toss-ups, or at least close to it, but winning 3 becomes a challenge. Perhaps Purdue could upset top-10 Michigan State at home to give a little more cushion.
But now, after the Iowa win, Purdue’s sitting much more comfortably: A) The Boilermakers need only 2 more wins to get to 6. And B) Purdue seems to be better than anticipated, considering it dominated the Hawkeyes so thoroughly. Maybe Purdue will have an edge more frequently in the second half than anticipate.
Purdue could — and now should — get to 6 wins and get back to the postseason. Maybe it could get to 7, which would represent a major step forward for a program that had been mired in inconsistent play the last 2 seasons.