So, the bye week ended, Purdue narrowly lost to Rutgers and Husker fans awoke to a betting line showing said Purdue team as a 5.5 point over Nebraska and mostly just nodded and said “sounds about right”. Purdue looks to have at least turned around their competitive fire in short order but what else is going on in West Lafayette?
Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails was gracious enough to answer some of our questions and shared his thoughts on subjects such as new HC Jeff Brohm, the agonizing loss to Rutgers, their own experience with the defensive mind of Ross Els (should sound familiar), Stephen Hawking’s ability to run against said defense and who he thinks is coming away with the “W” Saturday night. Many thanks to Travis for his time!
1) We are being told by some in Nebraska following a seven-year 66-27 run under Bo Pelini, that we should trust the Riley process in place now which -three years later - includes a loss to Northern Illinois, blowout losses to Wisconsin & Ohio St. (with another at Penn St on the horizon.) and a 2nd losing season in the last three highly likely. Knowing this, how disappointing is it that Jeff Brohm has ignored this fine blueprint by coming in, being competitive immediately with inherited talent and slugging it out pretty well with 3 ranked teams?
(OK don’t answer that. I think I was just venting a little)
I’ll answer anyway. It is refreshing. It is so refreshing that we just lost to Rutgers, but we feel like he can right the ship immediately and still reach a bowl game. Before the season I thought a Rutgers loss might mean a winless year. Now we could still go to a bowl even after losing to them. It is a testament to what he has done that we view a terrible performance against them as the exception rather than the norm.
2) What’s your overall impression of the season thus far? It may be a fairly obvious answer but how surprised are you with this squad? Are there any disappointments?
The first few weeks were definitely a surprise. Brohm had this team playing well above its talent level. Sure, it turns out that Missouri is pretty bad, but damn did it feel good to go into an SEC stadium and just whup some ass for 3.5 hours. Louisville is not as good as originally thought, but we still played well. Even against Michigan and Wisconsin we had our chances before wilting late.
That’s what makes the Rutgers loss so frustrating. The defense was dominant except for two plays, and with a Brohm offense, giving up 14 points should be an easy win. We racked up a ton of yards, but struggled any time we neared the end zone. The play calling was suspect (we had a dominant ground game but went to the air on too many plays where a simple run would have been enough). We also dropped a ton of passes. I feel like if the Purdue from the first five games shows up we win by 2 TDs. Instead, the offense was gorging on yards but not points and it cost us.
But unlike the past with Hazell, Brohm took accountability and I believe this week will be different. Drops and third down issues have been there, but on Saturday they were the worst yet. If we can fix those I think we’ll be okay the rest of the year.
3) Sindelar has had a rough couple of weeks - who’s the starting quarterback going to be?
Brohm said he knows who it will be, but I am hoping for Blough. To me, he has looked better. He has more touch on his passes and I think part of the problem Saturday was Sindelar rifling balls in as hard as possible where Blough would have more touch on his passes. Blough has also had some better looking moments. He had a brilliant start at Missouri. He was great against Ohio. He has the higher completion percentage too.
I think he gets the start, especially when one of his best games was two years ago against Nebraska (274 yards and 4 TDs plus 82 rushing yards and a TD). I think Brohm may have tipped his hand a bit too when he said he wants a QB that can scramble a little more if needed. He also stated Sindelar is not a natural runner. Blough had a critical scramble on the late TD drive vs. Rutgers and has been the better runner in his career (161 yards and 8 TDs). I think he starts this eek and goes most of the way.
4) With one winning season, two minor bowl games and no appearances in the polls since 2007, rough doesn’t begin to describe Purdue’s last 10 years. Do Boilermaker fans think Jeff Brohm is for real? Or is there going to be an extended wait and see before hopes truly rise?
At the very least he a vast departure from Darrell Hazell. We have been in every game deep into the 4th quarter so far. I am not convinced Hazell would have won a single game against this schedule. Hazell was all about saying “We didn’t execute” He would run the same shit that already wasn’t working and blame the players for execution. He was also a horrid recruiter.
That is why we have been impressed with Brohm. Talent-wise we are far behind so much of the conference. Coming into the year I thought Ja’Whwaun Bentley and Markus Bailey were the only players anywhere near being all-conference. We have receivers that can’t catch passes or get separation. We have a patchwork offensive line and very little pass rush. Somehow, he is making it work.
As I said, the Rutgers game was more of an anomaly because if you give it the eye test through 7 games, it was by far our worst game. Rutgers gave us every chance in the world to come back and we killed ourselves with dropped passes, penalties, and third down issues. These are fixable things and I actually have confidence he will fix them.
5) Have you ever figured out how Purdue led Nebraska 42-16 two years ago?
It had to be Ryker Fyfe having the worst game I have ever seen from a QB. I felt bad because he melted down completely. Even then, we damn near blew it. Remember: We won by 10, but Nebraska had a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points called back on a penalty. That means when you recovered the onside in the last minute you could have been down 8 instead of 10. Hazell was so bad he damn near blew a 25-point fourth quarter lead at home.
6) So a former Louisville QB (along with his QB coach and former Louisville QB brother) come and turn things around….by bringing huge improvements to the defense. You’ve gone from 117th in scoring defense in 2016 to 26th so far this season with huge improvements in rushing defense, 3rd down conversion percentage and turnover margin. Uh, what the hell happened??
They actually played to the team’s strengths. Remember: Ross Els was our defensive coordinator last year. I know you’re familiar with him. He came in and saw we had three pretty good linebackers and depth behind them. He also saw we had inexperience in the secondary. Knowing these things, he said, “fuck it, we’re playing a 4-2-5 and taking a linebacker off the field, plus having the other two try to play pass first. As a result, Stephen Hawking could had ran for 150 and two scores against us.
We now have a defense that plays aggressive and attacks the ball instead of trying to diagnose the play after the snap. It is not like we have vastly different players, either. T.J. McCollum came over as a grad transfer from Western Kentucky, but he has banged up and missed the last two games. He probably makes a difference on the long Rutgers TD run, but for the most part we are doing this with the same players as last year. We changed up the scheme and played competent.
7) OK, what are your predictions for the game? And remember, we’re a pretty unstable fan base right now. (Translation: We’re drinking like pigs. All the time.)
Well, we just lost to Rutgers, which is usually a sign of a disaster, but I am strangely confident. I even drove to Rutgers from Indianapolis for the game. I have such faith that Brohm will fix things that I think we get it done. This team has responded and I can’t explain it any better than “they just LOOK better”. Once Brohm gets a few better recruiting classes under his belt I have even more confidence.
I think Purdue pulls this off at home, but I know I could be wrong. I do think they will at least have a better offensive week.