Purdue finished its regular season Saturday with a 44-7 dismantling of rival Indiana, taking back the Old Oaken Bucket and keeping it in West Lafayette for at least the next year.

The win capped a stretch in which the Boilermakers were victorious in 4 of 5 weeks, giving them 8 wins, including 2 against top-5 opponents. It was then, when Purdue beat then-No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State, that the Boilermakers’ season started to turn toward the positive and gave them a bit of national exposure, too.

Let’s recap and grade out the Boilermakers’ 2021 season:

Passing offense

Aidan O’Connell turned out to be the elixir that solved many of the Boilermakers’ early-season offensive woes. The former walk-on quarterback who started the season as Purdue’s backup flourished once inserted into the starting role. In his last 5 games, during which the Boilermakers went 4-1, O’Connell threw for 15 touchdowns without an interception while passing for 1,860 yards on a better than 75 percent completion clip. It was one of the best stretches of quarterback play by a Boilermaker in the school’s history, perhaps matching the run by Kyle Orton at the start of the 2004 season, when he was considered the Heisman frontrunner.

O’Connell, of course, had help, particularly in All-America wide receiver David Bell, who is a Biletnikoff Award finalist after a regular season in which he had 93 receptions for 1,286 yards and 6 touchdowns. But others helped: Milton Wright overcame a slow start to become the Robin to Bell’s Batman and had a team-high 7 touchdowns. And Jackson Anthrop developed into a utility player for the Boilermakers. His 5 scores all came in the 2nd half of the season.

And the offensive line, a sore subject at the start of the season, was much better by the end, perhaps even a strength in pass protection.

The Boilermakers did start the season well, with Jack Plummer leading them to back-to-back wins in Weeks 1 and 2, including a season-opening victory vs. Oregon State that turned out to be better than expected on the résumé given the Beavers had a solid season. But Plummer struggled against Notre Dame and then Illinois, leading to the change at QB. The switch didn’t have immediate payoffs, as Purdue labored through a stretch of 5 games in which it scored only 13 points in 4.

The Boilermakers finished the season with the nation’s No. 7 passing offense (and 2nd in the Big Ten), as it threw for an average of 345.6 yards per game.

Grade: A-

Rushing offense

The Boilermakers’ rushing offense wasn’t designed to be great.

But it was designed to give them something.

Did it?

Well, perhaps. The Boilermakers finished last in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging only 75 yards per game, which was about 35 yards less than the 2nd-worst team. But Jeff Brohm wasn’t necessarily looking for balance, either, only the threat of balance. And Purdue at least had that on occasion, especially in the 2nd half of the year.

Then, once Zander Horvath returned from injury — he broke a leg in Week 2 — and Anthrop was placed in the backfield as a change-of-pace scat back, Purdue at least had options to pair with steady King Doerue, who held down the starting spot. Doerue finished with a couple of TDs in addition to 488 yards. Horvath had 262 and 3 TDs.

Only twice all season did the Boilermakers go for more than 100 yards in a game, but that wasn’t Purdue’s intent as an offense, either. Instead, it wanted to be able to run in short yardage and in the red zone, and the Boilermakers were improved in the 2nd half of the season after a fairly dismal first 5 games.

Grade: D-


Purdue was better at the end than it was at the start, which is a good indication that the Boilermakers were coached well. In the last 5 games, O’Connell and Co. put up 28, 40, 31, 32 and 44 points, raising their season average in scoring to 26, the 9th-ranked team in the Big Ten.

In that stretch, the passing game in particular proved too much for defenses to handle, even Ohio State’s D (although the Buckeyes’ offense more than made up for it in a decisive win over Purdue). O’Connell will go to the bowl game on fire, having thrown 222 straight passes without an interception, his last coming against Wisconsin on Oct. 23.

This is what a Brohm-led offense is supposed to look like, one that is playing quickly and zipping the ball around the field and taking shots when necessary. O’Connell has it working.

Grade: B+

Passing defense

Statistically, the Boilermakers’ passing defense was excellent this season, ranking No. 4 in the Big Ten while giving up just fewer than 200 yards per game.

It helped, too, that Purdue had big turnover moments, like 4-interception games against Iowa and Nebraska, helping the Boilermakers to 2 of their biggest wins on the season. In total, Purdue had 12 picks, with safety Cam Allen leading the way with 4 and cornerback Dedrick Mackey having 3. Purdue also played most of its season without No. 1 corner Cory Trice, who first sprained an ankle in a game then injured a knee in practice only days before his anticipated return.

Purdue didn’t generate a ton of sacks — only 20, which tied for 9th in the Big Ten. But that total wasn’t completely indicative of a defense that was much more aggressive and active in the backfield than it was a year ago. The Boilermakers, behind defensive end George Karlaftis, frequently affected the QB in the pocket, forcing early throws and other mistakes. Karlaftis finished the season with a team-high 5 sacks (tied with Kydran Jenkins) but had about 3 or 4 times that in quarterback hurries.

Grade: A-

Rushing defense

The Boilermakers finished 11th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up 154 yards per game.

But it wasn’t as if Purdue was gouged on a regular basis — far from it. Ohio State was the only team that truly hurt the Boilermakers on the ground; otherwise, they were steady, allowing yards but rarely being burned by a big play, and that’s what they were looking for.

In wins over Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana, Purdue forced the game into the quarterbacks’ hands after being able to grab a lead in the 3rd quarter, then slow down the opponents’ running game. It worked to great success.

Grade: C+


Brohm made all the right moves in the offseason on his defensive staff, hiring Brad Lambert as a co-coordinator and play-caller, plus adding veteran position coaches Mark Hagen and Ron English and a younger coach in James Adams. The chemistry between the foursome — Lambert, Hagen and English share co-coordinator titles — has been excellent, and they’ve given Brohm what he wanted: a defense that would be aggressive to match the personality of the offense.

Sure, Purdue was flawed, but its sum was frequently better than its pieces. Lambert built a defense centered around its strengths — mainly Karlaftis, but also a solid defensive front 4 and a secondary that had play-making ability, although it had not yet shown it — and tried to hide its weaknesses. And Karlaftis and Co. embraced the approach, a key to making the whole thing work.

Purdue arguably won games with its defense this season, a shocking development, to the point where students brought the “Defensive Lives Here” sign over from Mackey Arena to put in Ross-Ade Stadium.

Grade: B+

Special teams

New kicker Mitchell Fineran had some midseason hiccups, but overall he turned in a solid Year 1 campaign for the Boilermakers, hitting on 20 of 25 field-goal attempts. All 5 of his misses, though, came within a makeable distance of only 30 to 39 yards, so he could stand to be even more consistent.

But punting continued to be an iffy proposition for the Boilermakers. Newcomer Jack Ansell was okay, averaging almost 38 yards per attempt. Only once did a bad punt truly smoke the Boilermakers, when Ansell hit a short one in his first attempt at Ohio State. The Buckeyes took advantage by pouncing on the short field to take an early lead.

Purdue has not done much in the return game in recent seasons, but this year was particularly unremarkable. The Boilermakers’ long kickoff return was only 22 yards and its best punt return only 15. At least Purdue’s coverage was frequently solid, aside from giving up a 67-yarder on a kick return.

Grade: B-


Brohm deserves a ton of credit for the Boilermakers’ 8-win season.

Entering Year 5 at Purdue, there were a ton of questions for Brohm about the direction of the program, considering it was coming off back-to-back sub-.500 years. And then when Purdue lost to Minnesota, dropping it to 3-2 before the bye, many had to wonder whether the Boilermakers were doomed for a 2nd-half collapse.

Instead, Purdue found answers. It scored 2 top-5 victories over Iowa and Michigan State and picked up 8 wins overall, its best regular-season mark since the 2006 season. It’ll have a chance to pick up No. 9, a rarity at Purdue, with a bowl game victory.

Grade: A


Most predicted Purdue could win 6 games, maybe 7, and get back to a bowl game.

Few, if any, had the Boilermakers picking up 8, including wins in 4 of their final 5 weeks.

It has been an excellent season for Purdue, and one that isn’t yet finished.

Grade: A