Purdue football: The good, the bad and the ugly through 3 games
With a 1-2 record, Purdue isn’t where it expected to be at this point of the season.
Many figured the Boilermakers to be at least 2-1, if not 3-0 had it gotten a mild home upset of Penn State in a prime-time opener, with sights set on a run toward the Big Ten West crown. The latter might still be in play, if for no other reason than no one has shown itself to be the division favorite, but the former hasn’t come to fruition.
Purdue’s looked great at moments, leading both Penn State and Syracuse in the final minutes and, of course, blowing out Indiana State. But for one reason or another — and it was penalties vs. the Orange — the Boilermakers have been unable to finish.
As Purdue prepares for FAU on Homecoming Saturday, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the first 3 games this season:
AOC and Chuck
The combination of quarterback Aidan O’Connell and wide receiver Charlie Jones has been better than anyone could have imagined.
The duo, who played football together as youths in the Chicagoland area, are proving to be one of the best combos in the Big Ten, if not the entire nation. And it helps that they look like they’ve been playing major college football together for years, not just 3 games. The numbers speak for themselves: O’Connell has thrown for 1,000 yards (4th-most nationally) in 3 starts, hitting on better than 64 percent of his attempts with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. Nearly half of the yards have gone to Jones, who ranks No. 1 in the country with 32 receptions for 474 yards and 5 scores.
Jones, a transfer from Iowa who had only 21 catches last season for the Hawkeyes, has turned into a go-to big-play threat in what will be his only year in West Lafayette. Even with Syracuse angling to try to take him away, and having to briefly leave the game due to an injury, Jones still helped Purdue to a second-half rally against the Orange, finishing with 11 receptions for 188 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown.
The O’Connell-Jones connection has made many of the big plays on offense.
Luckily for the Boilermakers, the secondary has been able to come up with some big ones on defense, too. Purdue had pick-6s against Penn State and Indiana State, when Christopher Jefferson and Cam Allen took back long interception returns for scores. Purdue also got an early goal-line interception by Jamari Brown, thwarting one of ISU’s biggest scoring opportunities in the Boilermakers’ shutout.
Purdue had 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery wiped out by penalties or replay review. Each was questionable, with the Boilermakers supposedly committing defensive pass interference on the 2 would-be picks, then the replay official reversing a Syracuse fumble by saying QB Garrett Shrader’s arm was coming forward in a passing motion.
Certainly the defense has had faults, twice giving up late touchdowns that have changed outcomes, but getting big plays, even scoring ones, bodes well for the rest of the season.
Run, run, stop
Purdue still can’t run the football.
It isn’t shocking, but it is frustrating.
The Boilermakers rank 101st in the country (of 131) in rushing offense, having gained 354 yards on 88 attempts for a respectable average of 4 yards per chance. But the yardage is buoyed by the 232 yards Purdue gained against FCS opponent Indiana State in Purdue’s 56-0 victory in Week 2.
In the other 2 games, Purdue has only 122 yards on 33 attempts. When trying to eat up clock in the fourth quarter against Penn State, Brohm decided that running the ball might be too challenging, so instead he called passing plays on 13 of 14 downs with less than 7 minutes to go. The plan nearly worked — another first down likely would have sealed a W — but it didn’t, and Purdue’s inability to burn out the clock gave the Nittany Lions the needed time for a comeback victory.
Maybe walk-on Devin Mockobee, who has given the Boilermakers some needed burst in the backfield, will continue to get more and more carries.
The Boilermakers have finished in last place in the Big Ten in rushing offense in 3 consecutive years. It seems very likely that Purdue will make it 4.
The injury bug
Purdue started the fall by losing 2 key players — reserve tight end Garrett Miller and defensive tackle Damarjhe Lewis — to season-ending injuries during training camp.
The injury list has only grown since. Linebacker/nickel/safety Jalen Graham, arguably Purdue’s best defensive player, has missed the last 2 games with a lower-leg injury and is expected to miss at least another week. Running back King Doerue has a calf injury, limiting him vs. Indiana State and sidelining him against Syracuse. Wide receiver Broc Thompson, the star of the Music City Bowl and an expected starter, hasn’t been able to overcome the multiple off-season surgeries to his knees and shins, and decided to shut down for at least a week. He’s doubtful for FAU. Others have also missed time, including linebacker Semisi Fakasiieiki, wide receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen and defensive tackle Mo Omonode.
Although Purdue feels it should be able to overcome, and it’s probably right, the injuries are still sapping the Boilermakers of one of their biggest strengths: depth. Perhaps by the Minnesota game in 2 weeks, Purdue can get healthy again.
Purdue has been penalized 25 times through the first 3 games this season, amassing 243 yards.
It’s been ugly, to say the least, particularly the finish against Syracuse on Saturday.
Yes, Purdue was penalized with questionable calls — and whistles that might have helped the Boilermakers were swallowed — but the Boilermakers couldn’t keep their cool, either. After scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 51 seconds left, their second straight score after trailing 25-15, the Boilermakers picked up 4 unsportsmanlike calls before the game’s finish. The first 2 were killers, allowing the ‘Cuse to start its final drive from the 50 rather than likely the 25.
Brohm has made it a point of emphasis since the loss, saying Monday during his weekly press conference that the Boilermakers went back on Sunday and looked at every penalty they’d committed during the first 3 games. Some of them might involve a modification in coaching technique, like Purdue’s physical corners potentially playing too physical (and getting called for it), but others involved simply keeping their mouth shut and not getting involved in extracurriculars that have resulted in crippling unsportsmanlike penalties.
Lack of killer instinct
Aside from against the over-matched opponent in Indiana State, the Boilermakers have lacked the ability to put opponents away.
Purdue could have iced the game with a first down in the fourth quarter vs. Penn State. On multiple occasions, the Boilermakers could have stretched their 9-3 lead at Syracuse but couldn’t put their foot down. A late-1st-half score or early 2nd to push the lead to 2 possessions might have made a huge difference in the outcome. Instead during that period, Purdue punted 3 straight times — the half ended another drive — to end drives that totaled 25 yards.
If Purdue is to compete, or win, the West, it’ll need to learn to put teams away, either in the final minutes or well before.