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Better Know The Enemy: A Q&A With Purdue

How good will Purdue be this season? Who are the players we should be watching?

Purdue v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Purdue is our second conference foe in 2018. Last year, new coach Jeff Brohm had the Boilermakers go 7-6 and win a bowl game. It was a wonderful improvement for the Purdue faithful, but can he keep that momentum going?

I asked Travis Miller of our SBNation Purdue site Hammer And Rails about the 2018 version of Purdue football.

You guys lose a lot of players on defense, nine of the top 12 tacklers according to Phil Steele. Will the defense struggle mightily this season and if they do, is there any chance of the offense making up for that by scoring a lot more points?

There is little question there is a step back. We basically have one defensive lineman and one linebacker with significant experience. They are both good (and Markus Bailey is one of the most well-rounded linebackers in the conference), but they can only do so much.

The thing is, I am going to trust defensive coordinator Nick Holt here. OUr defense as a hole was crap for about a decade under a revolving door of coordinators (Hi, Ross Els!) It took him less than a year, with Hazell’s recruits, to form a unit that was actually pretty good against the run. This year’s starters may not have a ton of experience, but they were either recruited by Holt or have spent a year in the system. I don’t think we’ll be as good as last year, but I don’t expect to be Hazell-esque bad.

And yes, the offense should be better. The entire line returns with solid depth. We have three pretty good running backs. We basically have two starting quarterbacks. We need a few players to step up at receiver, but there are several options. We also have two very good tight ends. So we might have to start winning 45-42. Like Dom says in Fast and the Furious: Winning is Winning.

David Blough returns as does Elijah Sindelar Junior. Who is going to start at quarterback and will they last the season? Is there anyone coming up the ranks that we should know about at the quarterback position?

That’s the real question, isn’t it. Purdue has not had the same player start consecutive season openers since Curtis Painter in 2006-08. If Sindelar gets the nod on August 30th it will break that trend, but Blough still started in 2016. Both guys are named captains and I am comfortable with both.

If I had to guess it will be Sindelar. He finished last year strong all while playing on a torn ACL and he has had a good camp. That doesn’t mean Blough won’t play. Last season Brohm showed he was not afraid to change things up mid-game. He somehow made a QB rotation work. Whatever he wants to do is fine with me.

As far as young guys, Brohm is very excited about his true freshman QB Jack Plummer. Does he win the No. 3 job over redshirt freshman Nick Sipe? We’ll see. Plummer will almost certainly redshirt. But he will battle Sipe this year and next for 2020 and Life After Sindelar.

How far do you think Jeff Brohm can really take this program? Is the athletic department investing in the football program to an extent that could persuade Jeff Brohm to stick around as he is an up and comer in the coaching ranks?

After last year we’re all on a high. It wasn’t so much winning 7 games after winning only 5 in 4 years against FBS level competition, it is that he did it immediately with the same players. Especially on defense. Hazell regularly recruiting in the low 70s nationally, and now Brohm has already lined up our best recruiting class ever and it is in the top 25. Once they are signed in December (and assuming Brohm stays for year 3) we get another boost of talent.

Last year was just stunning because it was done with 2-stars, low 3-stars, and a handful of grad transfers and JuCos. It even worked from day 1 where we scared the crap out of Louisville and would have won if they didn’t have that Lamar Jackson guy.

Also the university is FINALLY investing in the program. The $65 million facility that opened last year is stunning. Now we’re quietly adding little upgrades to Ross-Ade Stadium. Ultimately, there is a plan to completely re-do the south end zone, visitor’s locker rooms, etc. Brohm also received an offseason extension and we appear to be ready to do what it takes to keep him. We’re never going to be Ohio State, but being a team like an Iowa that can threaten for a Big Ten title once every 4-5 years is a reasonable goal.

What means more to you, a win against Indiana in football or basketball?

Basketball. No question. May their program be burnt to cinders and never recover. It is infuriating to see Purdue struggle and build to a once-in-four-years run like we just had only to have it come undone with a freak injury, then Indiana bumbles along doing nothing, yet picks up a top 10 recruit like it is nothing “because it is Indiana”. Screw ‘em.

Name a player on offense and another on defense that you think people will be talking about by mid-season.

Offensively receiver Jared Sparks has been a pleasant surprise. Like former receiver Keith Smith for us, Sparks came here as a quarterback, moved to receiver last year, and is there full time this year. He ran some wildcat stuff last year as a redshirt freshman and with Brohm being Brohm don’t be surprised if he chucks a pass every now and then. He has come along very nicely. Freshman Rondale Moore looks really promising, too. He is the type of fast slot receiver that Brohm loves and much of the offseason talk has been about how Brohm will get his new offensive toy the ball as much as he can.

Defensively it is Bailey. He is an excellent all-around linebacker. Last year he led us with 7 sacks and two years he had four interceptions. He is all over the field and a true defensive leader. A First Team all-Big Ten season is not out of the question.

A lot of writers compare the Frost offense to the Brohm offense. What would be a noticable difference between the two?

I am not sure. Brohm is not afraid to run any possible play. Double flea-flicker? Punter pass to the longsnapper? Fake flea-flicker? Last year our punter was 4 for 4 on fake punts. If you can legally move the ball down the field brohm is going to try it.

In a battle of mascots, is the Boilermaker going to be the loud train (odds on favorite, just run over all the critters and dudes), the welder looking guy (fairly solid with that sledgehammer) or a shot and a beer?

Well, officially the train is our mascot. Pete is the costumed guy. I have had a Boilermaker as a drink and it tastes like pencil erasers in my beer. I don’t know, maybe I need to find better whiskey. I guess Pete is supposed to be the engineer that built the train. It came from the late 1800s when Purdue defeated nearby Wabash College and they accused us of using ringers from the local train repair shop:

In 1889, Purdue played Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and won the game 18-4. Students from the college and citizens of Crawfordsville began calling the Purdue players “a great big burly gang of corn-huskers”, “grangers”, “pumpkin-shuckers”, “railsplitters”, “blacksmiths,” “cornfield sailors”, and “foundry hands”. The Purdue students experienced hands-on education at the university, including the maintenance of a fully operational steam locomotive.

Purdue defeated Wabash College again in 1891, 44–0. An account of the game in the Crawfordsville Daily Argus News of October 26, 1891 was headlined, “Slaughter of Innocents: Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue”. Purdue became known as the boilermakers the next year.

I am kind of fond of Pumpkinshuckers myself.

While never an elite, Purdue has had stretches of success. What combination of things will it take to return to a level of 9-win, regularly bowl-eligible consistency?

I want to just give Brohm time. Keep him here 5 years and sustain his run of recruiting, which is better than anything we have seen in about 15 years. Just getting better guys from the beginning will help. It is only one year, but we have already seen he is building something unlike the last two coaches. He can definitely be a second Tiller.

Also, we’re probably about 8-10 years from getting one of Drew Brees’ sons here. Having one of the best quarterbacks in human history helped a lot.

What’s going to happen this season in your game against Nebraska?

I think Frost is going to be pretty special for them, and that can see a Brohm-like year 1 turnaround. Purdue’s own defensive questions are definite issues. I think we see another close game, with Nebraska winning it because of home field. Nebraska 24, Purdue 21