Nick Holt deserves more credit.
For those outside West Lafayette, Holt is Purdue’s defensive coordinator, traveling with head coach Jeff Brohm from Western Kentucky. He’s enjoyed a fair amount of success throughout his coaching career, but the job he’s done with the Boilermakers in such a short period of time might be his best work yet.
Over the last four years, Purdue’s defense resembled a busted water pipe, though there were more than just a few sprouting leaks. This was a full-on geyser, and the Boilermakers were drowning in a sea of their own inconsistency.
Purdue surrendered more than 30 points per game in each of the last five seasons and was one of the B1G’s worst at stopping the run, a damning characteristic in the conference. In three of the four seasons under Darrell Hazell, the defense allowed over 200 yards per game on the ground.
It’s not hard to understand why the Boilermakers only won nine games in four seasons.
When Holt arrived in West Lafayette, he wasn’t expected to do much more than a little patchwork, trying just to slow the flooding until more help arrived.
Instead, Holt reached deep into his toolbox and repaired that broken pipe. He didn’t just fix it with duct tape and bubble gum, he rolled up his sleeves, turned the wrenches and halted the stream. Not so much as a drip has escaped.
The most noticeable upgrade has come against the run. Purdue is allowing just 134.2 yards per game this season, an improvement of more than 100 yards per game from the 2016 season. Thanks to that refinement, the Boilermakers are holding opponents to 18.9 points per game for the year — good enough or fourth-best in the B1G. It’s also the best average for a Purdue defense since allowing a paltry 17.2 points per contest in 2004.
The defense has progressed in nearly every aspect. Tackling is better, the ability to create turnovers has improved and big plays have been limited. The only subtle drop has come at defending the passing attack — though that is pretty nit-picky considering the strides the unit has made in less than a year.
Defensive Stats 2017 2016 Run defense 134.2 238.4 Pass defense 225.3 207.4 Turnovers forced 18 16 Total defense 359.5 445.8 Scoring defense 18.9 38.3
Brohm has been sure to give plenty of credit to Holt for transforming Purdue on that side of the ball.
“Me and Coach Holt have coached together for a good while now and we’re very familiar with each other,” Brohm said on the Queary & Schultz radio show. “I think he does an outstanding job. He’s really come in here, along with our whole defensive staff, and rallied the troops.
“Coach Holt has done a great job and I couldn’t be prouder of our defensive staff.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be the only praise the seasoned defensive coordinator is receiving.
Holt wasn’t listed as a candidate for the Frank Broyles Award, presented to the best assistant coach in college football. Three other B1G defensive coordinators — Jim Leonhard (Wisconsin), Don Brown (Michigan) and Brent Pry (Penn State) — were mentioned on the initial ballot.
All three of those assistants were worthy of the nomination, but so was Holt. Maybe even more so.
Purdue doesn’t have an incredible front line like Michigan. There is no Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich or Maurice Hurst on the roster right now. The Boilers aren’t loaded with playmakers like D’Cota Dixon, T.J Edwards or Natrell Jamerson at Wisconsin.
Holt has some talented players in his lineup, but this was still a raw group — mostly comprised of former two- and three-star recruits — with little experience playing winning football. Yet, somehow, Holt has converted a defense that ranked 117th nationally last fall into a unit that is comfortably inside the top 20 statistically.
Opponents have eclipsed 30 points just once against the Boilermakers this season — Louisville, with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson under center, scored 35 in Week 1. Purdue held Wisconsin — armed with the B1G’s top running back in Jonathan Taylor — to its lowest point total of the season (17).
Purdue also held a Missouri team that averages 38.5 points per game to just a field goal in Week 2. It has held six opponents to under 20 points this season. In the last four years, the Boilermaker defense held teams to under that total just five times.
It’s almost unfathomable for that much progress to be made in the span of nine months. Still, Holt goes unnoticed.
Understood that a team with a losing record doesn’t typically receive much publicity, and that applies to the players and coaches when it comes to the national awards. It’s part of the winning-rules-all culture that’s been created in sports.
At some point though, production has to trump wins and losses. There might not be anyone in the sport that could’ve yielded better results than Holt in West Lafayette.
Holt has been the repairman Purdue has needed this season. That busted pipe hasn’t leaked all season and the defense is flowing better than it has in over a decade. In such a short time, the Boilermakers defense has risen from the ashes and morphed into one of the better units in the B1G.
It’s just too bad nobody outside of West Lafayette has noticed.