Purdue football: Brohm's Boilermakers look to stay undefeated vs. top-3 opponents
Even though Purdue is a significant underdog in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, the Boilermakers should have Michigan’s attention.
The Boilermakers have developed a well-deserved reputation during the Jeff Brohm era for having success as an underdog, especially against opponents ranked in the top-3 nationally and occasionally away from the friendly environment of their home field at Ross-Ade Stadium. Facing Michigan in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium fits. The Wolverines are ranked No. 2 in latest CFP poll, the 2nd-to-last before the 4-team national Playoff field is announced Sunday.
The trend isn’t only recent, however. Historically, Purdue has been fantastic when little is expected. As an unranked team, the Boilermakers have 9 victories all-time vs. teams ranked in the top 2; no other programs have more than 4.
Perhaps needless to say, the West Division champ Boilermakers (8-4) are comfortable being a 16.5-point underdog to the East-winner Wolverines (12-0). In the past 2 years, Purdue is 6-3 as an underdog away from Ross-Ade, beating Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee (in Nashville’s Music City Bowl) last season then Minnesota, Maryland and Illinois this year. And not only that, Jeff Brohm’s Boilermakers are 3-0 vs. teams ranked in the top 3 during his 6-year tenure at Purdue, having beaten No. 2 Ohio State in 2018, then No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Michigan State last season. The Boilermakers will try to stay undefeated in such games when they play UM at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Before then, let’s take a look back at Purdue’s 3 biggest upsets during the Brohm era:
Purdue 49, No. 2 Ohio State 20
Oct. 20, 2018 • Ross-Ade Stadium
On a magical night in Ross-Ade Stadium, with cancer fighter and Purdue fan Tyler Trent watching from a suite, the Boilermakers dominated the Buckeyes, racing to a 49-20 win and ending Ohio State’s 12-game winning streak.
Purdue, a 12-point home ‘dog, found ways to exploit the Buckeyes’ defense, particularly by getting the ball to dynamic playmaker Rondale Moore and allowing their best player to run circles around OSU’s secondary. It helped too that Purdue had a trusted veteran quarterback in David Blough, a close friend of Trent’s, to organize the Boilermakers’ attack. He was fantastic, with 378 yards and 3 touchdowns, while running back DJ Knox rushed for 128 yards and 3 scores. Linebacker Markus Bailey, a Columbus, Ohio, native, helped seal the win with a pick-6. But it was Moore who was the star on the field, as the wide receiver had 170 yards on 12 receptions with 2 scores.
Trent was the star off the field. The Purdue student, who had fought cancer for years, was entering the final stages of his long battle when he attended the game, after promising during an ESPN “College GameDay” feature that his Boilermakers would win.
Purdue 24, No. 2 Iowa 7
Oct. 16, 2021 • Kinnick Stadium
When Purdue readied for its road trip to No. 2 Iowa midway through the 2021 season, it didn’t have a ton of momentum.
None at all really. The Boilermakers had lost 2 of their previous 3, and had scored exactly 13 points in each of the games, salvaging only a narrow home win over Illinois. They headed to take on the Hawkeyes in Iowa City as an 11.5-point underdog.
But by ’21, Brohm had already developed a reputation against Iowa, having beaten the Hawkeyes in 3 of the previous 4 years, including twice as an underdog. And in the victories, Brohm was able to scheme a matchup advantage in the passing game, first with Anthony Mahoungou burning the Iowa secondary in 2017, then Terry Wright in ’19 and David Bell in ’20. Bell was ready for Round 2 in 2021. And he was primed for a gigantic day, as the All-America wide receiver went for 240 yards on 11 receptions with a touchdown. The Boilermakers’ defense was outstanding as well, as it held the Hawkeyes to 271 yards while picking off 4 passes.
Purdue 40, No. 3 Michigan State 29
Nov. 6, 2021 • Ross-Ade Stadium
Three weeks later, Purdue seemed ready to knock off another top-5 opponent, as No. 3 Michigan State came to Ross-Ade.
The 40-29 final, in a game Michigan State was favored by 2.5 points, marked the 1st time Purdue had beaten 2 AP top-5 teams in the same season since 1960, when it knocked off No. 3 Ohio State and No. 1 Minnesota. The offense was on fire vs. the Spartans, as it rolled up nearly 600 yards. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 536 yards, the 3rd-highest total in Purdue history, with 3 touchdowns, with 217 yards (on 11 catches) and a score going to Bell.
Like a few weeks earlier, the defense also had key stops, including a pair of interceptions, one of them by Dedrick Mackey on the goal line in the 4th quarter. The upset, and the Iowa one before it, were part of an incredible end-of-the-season run by the Boilermakers, who finished with 6 wins in their final 8 games, including an overtime upset victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.