As suspected, Purdue has struggled this season with their inexperience compounded by key injuries to Rondale Moore and quarterback Elijah Sindelar. The Boilermakers started the season on the wrong foot by blowing a 17 point lead on the road at Nevada. After the Wolf Pack tied the game with 52 seconds left, Sindelar threw an awful interception to set up Nevada’s game winning field goal as time expired. After bouncing back with a 42-24 victory over Vanderbilt, Purdue limped to a 34-13 loss to TCU.
Against Minnesota, Sindelar and Moore were both injured on one second quarter play; Sindelar broke his clavicle and will miss most of the rest of the season, while Moore sufferred a hamstring injury and hasn’t played since. Despite the injuries, Purdue made it interesting with a fourth quarter comeback against the Gophers, but came up short. After a 35-7 beat down by Penn State, the Boilermakers impressed with a 40-14 victory over Maryland. Against Iowa, Purdue had their chances but came up short in a 26-20 loss, but last week in a monsoon, Illinois derailed the Boilermakers 24-6.
Against the Illini, redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer (no relation to former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer) was pulled twice after turning the ball over twice in the sloppy conditions. Jeff Brohm said that he’d open up the quarterback competition this week and announced Monday that Plummer would start but that Aidan O’Connell (6’3” 210 lbs.) could play as well. For the season, Plummer has completed 57% of his passes for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions. O’Connell has played in two games, completing 9 of 15 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Neither is a running threat; Plummer has lost five yards rushing after subtracting sacks this season.
Tario Fuller had been expected to start at running back for the Boilermakers this season until breaking his jaw in mid August; he’s just now getting back on the field in a limited role, rushing for 29 yards on 10 carries in two games. Freshman King Doerue (5’10” 210 lbs.) has emerged as the primary running back, rushing for 289 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Sophomore Zander Horvath has added 146 yards, averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Rondale Moore remains out, but is officially listed as questionable on this week’s injury report. With Purdue needing to win out the rest of the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Moore try to go this weekend. While playing in one more game this season would eliminate Moore’s opportunity to redshirt, I wouldn’t expect a player of Moore’s caliber being interested in still playing for Purdue in 2022. In the four games he played in, Moore has caught 29 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns. In Moore’s absence, true freshman David Bell has picked up the slack, catching 44 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns. No doubt in my mind that when Moore returns, Purdue’s offense is going to be tough to stop in decent weather. Tight end Brycen Hopkins also has 34 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, the Boilermakers still find themselves near the bottom of the Big Ten this season, though they have improved from 13th in total defense last season to 11th. Like the Huskers, Purdue’s defense has been burned both on the ground (12th in the Big Ten allowing 168 yards per game) and through the air (also 12th in the Big Ten allowing 244 yards per game). Senior linebacker Ben Holt, a transfer from Western Kentucky, leads the Boilermakers with 79 tackles this season. True freshman defensive end George Karlaftis has made his presence felt with 12.5 tackles for a loss including six sacks. Junior defensive end Derrick Barnes is second on the Boilermakers with 40 tackles this season. Sophomore cornerback Dedrick Mackey has made an impact this season, leading Purdue with five pass breakups and two interceptions.
To me, the outcome of this game might hinge on the availability of Rondale Moore. If healthy, the combination of Moore and Bell at receiver likely will be too much for a struggling Nebraska defense to cover. If the weather is fine, expect both teams to put points on the board in this matchup.
After the jump, you can find the preseason preview of the Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue football under Jeff Brohm has been a roller coaster. Last year, they blew out Ohio State on prime time national television ... and lost to Eastern Michigan. They beat Iowa, then got blown out by Minnesota the next week. (And we’re not going to compare the first half shellacking that Auburn gave them in the Music City Bowl.) So while it’s safe to say that Brohm has upgraded the Boilermaker football program, he still hasn’t completely shaken the Purdon’t from West Lafayette.
One of Purdue’s biggest problems over the last decade has been lack of consistency at quarterback; every year, a new starter tried to turn things around. With Jeff Brohm, the quarterback play has been better with Elijah Sindelar and David Blough, but the weird thing is that has been only the case when one of those two quarterbacks has been sidelined with an injury. Sindelar emerged late in the 2017 season after Blough broke his ankle to give Purdue their first winning season since 2011. But Purdue struggled in their first two games when both played until Sindelar suffered an upper body injury. Blough threw for 572 yards in a three point loss to Missouri and never looked back. Now Blough is gone, and Sindelar (6’4” 226 lbs.) is poised to take back over. It’s unclear just how healthy Sindelar is; he finished 2017 playing with a torn ACL that continued to bother him all of last season and this spring. Granted, he played pretty well on a bad leg in 2017, winning offensive MVP honors in the Foster Farms Bowl by throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona. In eight starts in 2017, Sindelar completed 57% of his passes with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Unfortunately, Sindelar won’t be surrounded by much experienced talent with just three returning starters on offense. One of them, though, is as good as anybody else in the nation: Sophomore Rondale Moore (5’9” 180 lbs.) dazzled the nation by catching 114 passes for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns; he also rushed for 213 yards and two more scores to become the Big Ten’s first consensus All-American as a true freshman. But the starting experience drops from there; backup senior tight end Brycen Hopkins (6’5” 245 lbs.) caught 34 passes for 583 yards last season. Keep an eye on true freshman David Bell (6’2” 185 lbs.), who could play a major role once a preseason hamstring injury heals up.
Senior Tario Fuller (6’0” 200 lbs.) looks to be the heir apparent at running back now that last year’s two top rushers have departed. Fuller was the starter in 2017 until breaking his ankle late in the third game of the season. His 6.1 yards per carry average in those first three games of the Brohm era were pretty impressive, so it’s unclear why he played so sparingly last season. After Fuller, it could be true freshman Da’Joun Hewitt (5’11” 190 lbs.) or sophomore walk-on Zander Horvath (6’3” 230 lbs.) .
The offensive line will likely be young, though junior left tackle Grant Hermanns (6’7” 293 lbs.) will be a huge contributor; he’s started 15 games in his career. Senior Matt McCann (6’6” 305 lbs.) will play on the right side at either tackle or guard; he’s started all but two games in his career. Sophomore Viktor Beach (6’4” 305 lbs.) is being counted on to be the center position along with a couple of other redshirt freshmen or sophomores to round out the line.
Contrary to the offense, the defense is full of experience with nine returning starters. One of those returning starters, senior defensive end Kai Higgins (6’4” 260 lbs.) has already been passed up by true freshman George Karlaftis (6’4” 265 lbs.), a five star recruit who enrolled this spring. Even junior defensive end Derrick Barnes (6’1” 240 lbs.), who had 92 tackles last season at linebacker and is moving up to defensive end, is looking to Karlaftis for advice. The big question is the health of senior nose guard Lorenzo Neal (6’2” 315 lbs.), who’s still recovering from offseason knee surgery and might not be ready to start the season; he does have a redshirt season available to him.
Senior weakside linebacker Markus Bailey (6’1” 240 lbs.) led Purdue with 115 tackles last season, earning him second team all-Big Ten honors. But the linebacking corps are being shaken up by the arrival of senior Ben Holt (5’10” 220 lbs), a graduate transfer from Western Kentucky, and sophomore Jaylan Alexander (6’1” 240 lbs.). Holt, the son of Purdue defensive coordinator Nick Holt, had 189 tackles in three seasons at Western Kentucky, while Alexander had 23 tackles as a true freshman reserve last season. As things currently stand, junior Cornel Jones (6’2” 240 lbs.) could find himself in a backup role despite being fifth on the team last season with 69 tackles and leading the Boilers with 12.5 tackles for a loss.
The Purdue secondary probably has the biggest question marks going into the season, but still could end up being a strong point. Sophomore cornerback Kenneth Major (6’0” 200 lbs.) led with three interceptions as a freshman, while senior safety Navon Mosley (6’0” 200 lbs.) is a three year starter. Mosley’s 93 tackles ranked second in the Purdue defense last season. But while sophomore cornerback Dedrick Mackey (5’11” 185 lbs.) looks to be the next corner, the other safety spot isn’t clear. It could be junior Brennan Thieneman (6’1” 200 lbs.), redshirt freshman Cory Trice (6’3” 210 lbs) or true freshman Jalen Graham (6’3” 215 lbs.). Thieneman, coming off a shattered ankle suffered in the bowl game, might the first man up due to his experience, but the youngsters might force a change as the season goes on.
While I expect Purdue to be better on defense in 2019, you have to remember that Purdue was 11th in the Big Ten in scoring defense and 13th in total defense. That improvement might not be enough to counterbalance a slippage on offense. If their young incoming talent blossoms, Purdue certainly could challenge in the west this season. But with that many question marks, I think it looks like a rebuilding year in West Lafayette. Though with Jeff Brohm, even that will be a huge upgrade over the Darrell Hazell debacle.