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.
What’s your prediction when the Huskers travel to Purdue?
This poll is closed
By November, all of Purdue’s new pieces are more than ready as the Boilermakers get another big win.
It’s a close game, but the Huskers eek out a road win.
It’s a brief step back towards Purdon’t as the Big Red Express rolls through West Lafayette.