Purdue is coming off its most impressive victory in years, having beaten up then-No. 2 Iowa Saturday to finish the first half of the season with a 4-2 record.

It’s not been an entirely smooth first 6 games, yet the Boilermakers might be coming together at the right time.

Let’s put a heat check on the Boilers, looking at which position groups are thriving and which are not.


This much is true: Jeff Brohm is willing to use all of them.

The 5th-year coach made the very unusual step of executing a 3-QB game plan in the Boilermakers’ upset victory at then-No. 2 Iowa on Saturday. It worked; although Aidan O’Connell took a bulk of the snaps and is Purdue’s primary passer, backups Jack Plummer and Austin Burton had moments as change-of-pace running options.

Purdue seems settled on O’Connell as the starting quarterback now, after Plummer had been QB1 for the first 4 games. O’Connell is showing that Brohm made the right choice in the switch, because the senior has shown to be a better, more accurate downfield passer. Earlier in the season, he had an atypical string of interceptions, including 4 in a row that ended drives vs. Notre Dame and Illinois, but has only 1 in his 2 starts, and is coming off a 375-yard, 2-TD performance in the win over the Hawkeyes.

It helps too that Brohm is comfortable with backup quarterbacks, willing to use them in short-yardage and in the red zone. They’ve primarily been runners in such situations, but they can throw the ball, too. Plummer has 7 passing touchdowns and no interceptions this season.

Purdue, which has the Big Ten’s second-best passing offense (at 334 yards per game), does need consistency out of O’Connell, and he’ll get a chance to show it during the second half of the year.

Status: Warm

Running backs

When Zander Horvath was hurt early in the Week 2 win at UConn, few predicted that the loss would have the kind of impact that it has. But Horvath, a big, physical runner who is effective between the tackles and is an above-average pass-catcher, has proven to be hard to replace.

King Doerue, who is battling an illness (not COVID) that has him available on a week-to-week basis, has done his best to try to fill in and has 269 yards in 5 games this season. And he’s reliable, in that Purdue can count on him to be where he needs to be, particularly in picking up blitzers in the passing game. But Purdue doesn’t have much more experience after him, with Dylan Downing, a walk-on former transfer from UNLV, and true freshman Ja’Quez Cross.

So, it stands to reason that Purdue’s running game wouldn’t be very effective, and it’s not. The Boilermakers rank last in the Big Ten in rushing, at only 88 yards per game. Perhaps the return of Horvath, who will be out at least another week rehabbing a broken leg, will help.

Status: Cool

Tight ends

Purdue’s had a ton of productivity out of its tight ends, and that’s despite them being in and out of the lineup due to injuries.

The No. 1, Payne Durham, has the second-most receptions for the Boilermakers this season, with 23, and that’s in only 5 starts; he missed 1.5 games because of a concussion. But when he’s been in, the big target has been a weapon in the red zone, where Purdue has struggled this year, with 3 touchdown receptions. Backup Garrett Miller might even be a better athlete, and has 7 catches, but he too has been nicked up at times. He might be out vs. Wisconsin on Saturday.

Status: Warm

Wide receivers

David Bell is a stud.

What more can you say about the junior wide receiver, one of the best in the country who needs to get more national recognition. Bell has 38 catches for 679 yards and 4 touchdowns this season, despite not playing in one-and-a-half games (sitting out the second half of the UConn blowout and missing the Illinois game in concussion protocol).

He alone keeps defenses up at night, unable to sleep while trying to figure out how to slow him down.

But Purdue has other weapons, too. After a few drops in the first couple weeks of the season, Milton Wright has recovered to become a consistent threat. And at times, he can make the ridiculous catch too, like the one-handed TD at Notre Dame. Slot man TJ Sheffield had a breakout game vs. Iowa, with 8 receptions for 48 yards and a TD, and he nearly had a second one but fumbled the ball into the pylon on his dive for the end zone.

Purdue is deep at receiver. Or, at least it was deep. Super senior Jackson Anthrop has been steady, but Purdue has lost 2 receivers — Mershawn Rice and Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen — to season-ending injuries.

Status: Hot

Offensive line

Purdue’s had a bunch of injuries, at one point losing its top receiver, top running back and top cornerback, along with the preseason injury to its expected starting middle linebacker, but the bug hasn’t inflicted the offensive line. And that’s been huge for the Boilermakers, who have 6 experienced linemen but not much depth.

Purdue has rode the same starting 5 all season, and after early-season hiccups, it might be starting to gel at the right time. The group turned in its best performance of the year at Iowa, keeping O’Connell upright for all but one snap and opening running lanes in the red zone.

And left tackle Greg Long splashed beer on his face during the game, a football guy move if there ever was one.

Purdue must stay healthy — offseason injuries sapped it of expected depth — and continue to get better.

Status: Warm

Defensive line

Everyone expected George Karlaftis to be a menace this season, and he has been, even more than the statistics show. The junior D-end has 3 sacks, but multiple other quarterback pressures, and has seemingly played a part in every single big stop this season for the Boilermakers.

What was unknown before the season was how the rest of the line would perform. But it’s been great, particularly the starters on the inside, Branson Deen and Lawrence Johnson. Deen might be a shade undersized, but quickness and athleticism has allowed him to be disruptive and it’s been a great pairing with the space-eating Johnson. Purdue has depth there, too, particularly IU transfer Damarjhe Lewis.

The hybrid LEO position has been the one spot Purdue has sought more consistency. Returning starter DeMarcus Mitchell had a slow start, because of injuries and illness during training camp. He’s had his moments but hasn’t had the kind of impact that many had hoped. That’s the bad. The Good? Underclassman Kydran Jenkins has seized increased opportunities, like against Iowa, when he had 6 tackles, 2.5 for loss and a sack in his most extensive action of the season.

Status: Hot


The Boilermakers might not have the names in their linebacker corps of some other programs, but the group is flying around and making plays, which is all a team can ask.

Against Iowa, former walk-on Kieren Douglas had an interception on Iowa’s first drive, setting a defensive tone that lasted the rest of the 60 minutes. Athletic outside ‘backer Jalen Graham, who has shown himself to be the unit’s best play-maker, nearly had a pick-6, but dropped a sure-fire interception. And middle linebacker Jaylan Alexander had a team-high 10 tackles vs. the Hawkeyes, including 1 for a loss.

Alexander leads Purdue in tackles this season, with 38, while Graham leads in pass breakups, with 5. And the linebackers have had a lot to do with the Boilermakers’ improved rush defense — in combination with those guys up front — which is giving up 114 yards per game, the 5th-best mark in the Big Ten.

Status: Warm


Yet another group that has exceeded preseason expectations, the Boilermaker secondary has been solid and sometimes better than that.

Safeties Cam Allen and Marvin Grant have a nose for the football, a trait that’s seemingly been missed the last several years in the Purdue secondary. Allen has a team-high 3 picks, including 2 late ones vs. the Hawkeyes. Purdue’s played only 3 cornerbacks this season, with veteran Dedrick Mackey joining newcomer Jamari Brown the last several games. Brown has been more than adequate in replacing Cory Trice, who is arguably the Boilermakers’ second-best defensive player. Trice first had an ankle injury suffered against the Huskies, but as soon as he was set to return, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

But the Boilermakers rank second in the league in pass D, giving up only 178.5 yards per game.

Status: Warm


Newcomer Mitchell Fineran has been great in his first season in West Lafayette, hitting 10 of his 12 field goal attempts. Purdue would rather the former Samford kicker not be needed as often, but that’s not his fault. He’s been steady when called upon.

Purdue has — again — had to piece together its punting, but it’s piecing it together with more success this season than last, averaging 39.4 yards per punt despite using 3 punters.

Status: Lukewarm