Purdue football: There's no way Boilermakers can end another Playoff dream, right?
At this point, Purdue has nothing to lose.
The Boilermakers have already achieved their primary goal this season — far sooner than just about anybody outside Purdue’s football complex figured possible — by winning 6 games and becoming bowl eligible, ending their 2-year postseason drought. And Purdue has done so while turning the College Football World on its head, nuking the playoff hopes (or at least severely hindering them) for Iowa and Michigan State.
Next comes No. 6 Ohio State Saturday in Columbus, the biggest challenge of them all.
But why the hell not, right?
The crazy thing about Purdue’s victories over then-No. 2 Iowa and then-No.3 CFP/No. 5 AP Michigan State is that there was nothing fluky about them. The Boilermakers didn’t accidentally win; there wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime blunder that gave Purdue a gift or a bizarre penalty that took away a touchdown; the results didn’t come down to the random bounce of an oblong ball (although the Boilermakers did have to recover an on-sides kick late vs. Nebraska, sealing the victory sandwiched between the top-5 wins).
Not flukes at all. Heck, the games weren’t even close.
Rather, Purdue dominated, beating Iowa by 17 and MSU by 11.
It turned Iowa over 4 times, making the Hawkeyes’ offense look so pedestrian that it’s still trying to recover. It blitzed Michigan State’s defense to the tune of nearly 600 yards.
Certainly, the Boilermakers got incredible individual performances: In the 2 victories, quarterback Aidan O’Connell combined for 911 yards while completing 70 of 94 passes (74.5 percent) with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions, the best 2-game stretch vs. top-5 opponents in NCAA football history. His primary target, All-America wide receiver David Bell, caught 22 passes (11 in each game) for 457 yards and 2 scores. Defensive end George Karlaftis forced and recovered a fumble and had a sack.
And coach Jeff Brohm pulled the right strings. His offense was creative and aggressive and was particularly successful in finding weaknesses in the Hawkeyes’ and Spartans’ secondaries. His defense, put in the hands of the new defensive staff led by co-coordinator and play-caller Brad Lambert, empowered its players to execute while also giving them the freedom to make plays.
It all worked.
Now comes the Buckeyes, who have already absorbed one home loss this season, when Oregon visited Columbus and knocked off OSU, and can’t afford another one. Ohio State has won 24 consecutive Big Ten games, with the last loss coming at Purdue in 2018, when David Blough, Rondale Moore and Markus Bailey hammered the Buckeyes in Ross-Ade Stadium while cancer fighter Tyler Trent watched from the club seats.
A repeat performance — this one in the ‘Shoe — won’t be an easy task. Purdue has a bunch working against it:
- Purdue is a 20.5-point underdog at Ohio State. That’s the fourth straight game the Boilermakers have been the underdog — +10.5 at Iowa, +3 vs. Wisconsin, +7.5 at Nebraska and +2.5 vs. Michigan State — but they’re 3-1 during the stretch, losing only by being throttled by the more physically imposing Badgers.
- Even though the Boilermakers have experienced success in Ross-Ade vs. OSU, with wins in 3 of the last 4 home meetings, they’ve not beaten the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium since 1988, losing 9 consecutive games. But they’ve been close a few times in the last 2 decades, with an overtime loss in 2003 and a one-possession loss in 2012.
- OSU hasn’t lost 2 games at home in the same season since 2011, when it finished with a 6-7 record in Luke Fickell’s only season as the head coach.
Clearly, however, the Boilermakers don’t seem much affected by the odds. Instead, Brohm has instilled confidence in his team by finding the weakness in the opponent and exploiting it. What will that be for Ohio State? The Buckeyes’ defense has been susceptible to giving up yardage through the air, allowing 247 passing yards per game, 4th-worst in the Big Ten. Part of that might be circumstance — 8-1 OSU is frequently leading, forcing its opponents to pass to get back into games — but part could be deficiency, as well. If so, Brohm needs to find it, then exploit it. As often as possible.