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Previewing the 2021 Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue isn’t Purdon’t anymore...even if the won-loss record hasn’t changed all that significantly.

Oregon State v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Remember when Purdue and Jeff Brohm were the hot up-and-coming program in the Big Ten’s West Division? In 2018, Purdue blew out the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on a primetime ABC national broadcast, and the future of Purdue football looked oh so bright … so bright that Purdue broke open the checkbook and extended Brohm’s contract after that season, fearing that he’d return to Louisville, his alma mater. But that upset of the Buckeyes also represented the pinnacle of Brohm’s program at Purdue. Since then, Purdue is 8-15. 2019 could be explained away when Rondale Moore tore his ACL in the fourth game of the season...and of course, COVID in 2020.

That being said, Brohm still only has one winning season in West Lafayette, and Purdue fans (like Husker fans admittedly) are looking to see some results. Hot seat? Hard to say; pre-Brohm, the Boilermakers had only been to three bowls in ten seasons, so it might be simply warmer.

Purdue’s quarterback situation has been rather unstable, dating back nearly 15 years. Jack Plummer (6’5” 220 lbs.) has won the starting job the last three seasons, only to suffer a season ending injury with Aidan O’Connell (6’3” 200 lbs.) finishing the last two seasons. Plummer completed 71% of his passes last year for 938 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions; O’Connell completed 65% for 916 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions. In this season’s season opener against Oregon State, Plummer completed 29 of 41 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns.

With All-American Rondale Moore now in the NFL, it’s now David Bell’s time to be the center of attention. Bell (6’2” 205 lbs.) has earned back-to-back All-Big Ten honors his first two seasons at Purdue, including 1,035 yards as a freshman in 2019. Milton Wright (6’3” 195 lbs.) has started 11 games the last two seasons with 305 yards and two touchdowns last season, but against Oregon State, Jackson Anthrop (5’11” 190 lbs.) got the start, catching seven passes and doubling his 2020 season total of three. Tight end Payne Durham (6’5” 255 lbs.) caught 16 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns last season, but nearly matched that total against Oregon State, catching seven passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

Zander Horvath (63” 230 lbs.) took over the starting running back job last season with three 100+ yard rushing games last season; for the season, he rushed for 442 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. King Doerue (5’10” 215 lbs.) rushed for 451 yards in 2019, but the emergence of Horvath limited him to just 74 yards on 17 carries last season. Against Oregon State, Horvath rushed 21 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Three starters return on the Boilermakers’ offensive line, led by senior left tackle Greg Long (6’4” 300 lbs.), who transferred to Purdue from UTEP a year earlier. Freshmen center Gus Hartwig (6’5” 305 lbs.) and left guard SPencer Holstege (6’5” 305 lbs.) both started last season in their free year of eligibility. That relative inexperience up front is countered by the arrival of graduate transfer Tyler Witt (6’2” 300 lbs.) at right guard. Witt transferred from Western Kentucky, where he originally was recruited by Jeff Brohm during his stint with the Hilltoppers prior to getting the Purdue job.

The Bob Diaco experiment in West Lafayette lasted just one season, despite showing improvement in the 2020 COVID year. New defensive coordinator Brad Lambert spent the last two seasons as the coordinator at Marshall. Lambert inherits nine returning starters, starting with defensive end George Karlaftis (6’4” 275 lbs.), who missed half of last season. In 2019, Karlafatis earned second team All-Big Ten honors with 54 tackles and 7.5 sacks as a true freshman. On the other side, DaMarcus Mitchell (6’3” 265 lbs.) led Purdue last season with five tackles for loss and was third on the team with 34 tackles.

With leading tackler Derrick Barnes off to the NFL, it’ll be up to the Ja(y)lans to fill the void at linebacker. Jaylan Alexander (6’1” 230 lbs.) was second on the team last season with 49 tackles. Jalen Graham (6’3” 220 lbs.) only had 16 tackles last season, but led Purdue last weekend against Oregon State with six tackles, a forced fumble and three pass breakups.

In the secondary, three starters return led by cornerbacks Cory Trice (6’3” 210 lbs.) and Dedrick Mackey (5’11” 185 lbs.). Trice has started 11 games over the last two seasons and led the secondary with 31 tackles last season. Strong safety Cam Allen (6’1” 195 lbs.) added 27 tackles last season and two interceptions to lead last season. Allen had five tackles and another interception last week against the Beavers.

Five years ago, the Big Ten clearly had a bottom tier of not-good-at-all football programs like Rutgers, Maryland and Purdue. That’s not the case anymore; the bottom teams are much closer to the middle tier teams than they were, and that makes it a lot tougher to demonstrate progress, because while losing by ten instead of 35 points is better, it’s still a loss at the end of the day.


What happens when Purdue visits Lincoln?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Purdon’t no more, as Purdue boils the Cornhuskers.
    (8 votes)
  • 30%
    Little things matter, and Purdue has enough weapons to eek out a road victory over Nebraska.
    (10 votes)
  • 27%
    In a battle of two programs that aren’t as bad as they were a few years back, Nebraska is a little further along that improvement scale. A little.
    (9 votes)
  • 18%
    Huskers simply wreck the Boilermakers.
    (6 votes)
33 votes total Vote Now

Personal note: Typically all of these previews are done before the season begins, but work commitments caused the previews to sit on ice for much of the last month. (80 hour weeks leave little time for hobbies.) So I’m going to muddle through and try to finish these up this month.