Purdue: Improving the offense becomes the focus during short week
On Monday, two days after Purdue’s first loss of the season, it was the offense that was in focus for the Boilermakers.
Reasonable, considering Purdue turned in a pedestrian performance against Northwestern, failing twice to capitalize on opportunities to tie the game late in a 27-20 loss.
At the start of his weekly press conference, Jeff Brohm was asked a series of questions about the status of the Boilermakers’ offense:
• How was QB Aidan O’Connell’s performance?
“Decent,” Brohm said.
• How can you improve the running game?
“Stay committed,” Brohm said.
• When will Rondale Moore play?
“When he’s healthy.”
The media’s first five questions Monday centered around the offense. Then, after one inquiry about the injury status of star defensive end George Karlaftis, so did the next three. It’s a focus.
Granted, Northwestern’s defense is one of the best in the Big Ten, a unit that until Purdue broke through hadn’t given up even a point in the second half this season. But the Boilermakers’ offensive inconsistencies go beyond Saturday. They had been lurking for the first two games as well, but the Wildcats brought them to the forefront.
Through three games, the 2-1 Boilermakers are 11th in the Big Ten in scoring (25 points per game), ninth in yards (369.0) and dead last in rushing (63.7), more than 10 yards per game less than 13th-place Michigan State and almost 32 fewer than No. 12 Indiana. Purdue has converted only 15 of 44 third downs, a 34.1 percentage rate that is 11th in the league.
For a program that thought it would be hitting on all offensive cylinders — or at least most of them — it’s not been enough in Brohm’s fourth season in West Lafayette.
More was expected, considering it’s on the offensive side that Brohm built his résumé, as a quarterbacks coach, then coordinator and play-caller, and as a head coach. The package has been uncharacteristically slow to come together in 2020.
Wide receiver David Bell has been outstanding, with 31 receptions, 321 yards and 4 touchdowns through three games. But without Moore, the help has been sporadic. Fellow sophomore Milton Wright has 16 receptions and a couple touchdowns, but no other receiver has more than 5 catches.
Against Northwestern, Purdue struggled to go anywhere with the ball other than toward Bell, who largely was being held in check by NU cornerback Greg Newsome II. In fact, the Boilermakers tried four different players at the outside receiver spot opposite Bell: Wright, Amad Anderson Jr., true freshman Adbur-Rahmaan Yaseen and veteran Jared Sparks. None grabbed the opportunity until Wright’s fourth-quarter touchdown helped give the Boilermakers a chance.
Passing wasn’t the only problem, either.
Purdue’s running game was silent, with only 2 yards, leading Brohm to wonder if he had abandoned it too quickly. Zander Horvath has been the Boilermakers’ only productive back, but after back-to-back 100-yard games, he had only 21 vs. the ‘Cats. He finally did get spelled once, as King Doerue, who was making his season debut, got 1 carry, but it came bizarrely on a critical third-down that he didn’t convert. Doeroe’s carry is the only one this season by a Purdue running back other than Horvath, who has 53 attempts.
A return of Moore would clearly help in all aspects, but with every passing week, the former All-American’s status becomes more murky. Brohm alluded to the health of Moore during the presser Monday — the wide receiver missed much of last year with a hamstring injury and hasn’t appeared yet this season — and said he’s done everything that’s asked.
“He’s worked hard to get back on the field,” Brohm said. “So we’re hopeful that will happen here soon.”
But who knows? After last week, when there was some speculation that Moore might debut, he was announced out by Purdue about 3 hours before kickoff, with no reason given. It’ll probably be another game-day announcement this week, as the Boilermakers travel to play in primetime at Minnesota on Friday.
Maybe the Gophers will be the elixir that helps Purdue solve its offensive woes. Minnesota is 12th in the Big Ten in yards allowed, giving up 447.3 per game, including last in rushing, allowing 238.3 per outing.
If Purdue can’t find answers in Minneapolis, it might not find them at all.