In his first two seasons with Purdue, Jeff Brohm made the Boilermakers relevent, capped off by a 49-20 upset over Ohio State in 2018 televised in primetime on ABC. But after rewarding Brohm with a contract extension, the Boilermakers went a more Purdue-like 6-12 in 2019 and 2020 which started to warm Brohm’s seat. But last season, Brohm and Purdue put all that behind them with a 9-4 season capped with a Music City Bowl victory over Tennessee playing in their home state. But with a bunch of key departures, Purdue seems poised to step back a bit rather than forward in 2022.
Senior Aidan O’Connell (6’3” 210 lbs.) finally locked down the starting quarterback job that had pretty much been a revolving door throughout Brohm’s tenure in West Lafayette. He took over the job by leading a comeback over Illinois and by the end of the season was a second team All-Big Ten honoree, completing nearly 72% of his passes for 3,712 yards, 28 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Jack Plummer hit the transfer portal and headed to Cal rather than wait to see if the Brohm merry-go-round was going to come his way again. Look for incoming freshman Brady Allen (6’5” 210 lbs.) to see a smattering of playing time as O’Connell’s likely successor.
One of my hottest takes in evaluating teams is that quarterback play is highly dependent on wide receiver play. And under Jeff Brohm, offensive success has been highly connected with receivers like Rondale Moore and David Bell. Moore headed to the NFL last season after two injury-filled season, while Bell was drafted this past spring by Cleveland in the second round. Milton Wright caught 57 passes last season and was expected to be Purdue’s premier weapon this season, but academic issues scuttled his eligibility. That opens the door to sophomore Broc Thompson (6’3” 190 lbs.) who caught 30 passes for 457 yards and four touchdowns last season; in the bowl game, Thompson caught 7 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns after Bell declared for the draft. Junior tight end Payne Durham (6’5” 255 lbs.) is the leading returning receiver for Purdue with 45 catches for 467 yards and six touchdowns last season. To fill the holes in the receiver room, Brohm raided Iowa, snaring Charlie Jones (6’0” 188 lbs.) and Tyrone Tracy (6’1” 205 lbs.); the duo combined for 36 catches for 429 yards and four touchdowns. While Jones and Tracy will now have a better quarterback throwing to them in 2022, they aren’t a duo comparable to Bell and Wright. I expect Purdue’s high flying passing offense to step back in 2022.
Purdue has been the worst rushing team in the Big Ten the last three season, and with power back Zander Horvath being drafted by the LA Chargers despite that, it’s probably unrealistic to expect much different in 2022. Junior King Doerue (5’10” 205 lbs.) does return after rushing for 533 yards and two touchdowns last season. Indiana transfer Sampson James (6’1” 220 lbs.) had 331 career rushing yards for the Hoosiers previously.
Three starters return on the offensive line, led by sophomore left guard Spencer Holstege (6’5” 310 lbs.), who has started all but one game in his Purdue career. Sophomore center GUs Hartwing (6’5” 310 lbs.) has started 16 of 19 games in his career, while junior right tackle Eric Miler (6’7” 305 lbs.) has 15 starts the last two season. Florida International transfer right guard Sione Finau (6’3” 305 lbs.) transfered in this spring with 15 career starts. This is a young line that might stumble early on, but could be dependable later in the season.
Purdue’s defense improved significantly after cancelling their run with the Bob Diaco experiment after one season. But while Purdue does return seven starters defensively, they have to replace their top three defenders from last year, starting with defensive end George Karlaftis, a first round draft pick by Kansas City. Little brother Yanni Karlaftis (6’3” 230 lbs.) redshirted last season and is part of the mix to replace him along with senior Scotty Humpich (6’4” 255 lbs.), sophomore Kydran Jenkins (6’1” 270 lbs.) and junior Jack Sullivan (6’5” 275 lbs.). Inside, junior defensive tackles Branson Deen (6’2” 280 lbs.) and Lawrence Johnson (6’3” 310 lbs.) are locked in; Deen was an honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree last season.
Senior middle linebacker Kieren Douglas (6’2” 240 lbs.) with 67 tackles returns along side junior strongside linebacker Jalen Graham (6’3” 220 lbs.). Graham earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season with 64 tackles last season. Filling the vacant weakside linebacker spot is likely senior Semisi Fakasiieiki (6’2” 230 lbs.) who missed 2021 due to injury, but had 52 career tackles from 2018 through 2020 with five career starts.
Junior strong safety Cam Allen (6’1” 195 lbs.) led the secondary with 65 tackles and four interceptions last season. Junior cornerback Cory Trice (6’3” 215 lbs.) is a multi-year starter who missed most of last season due to injury; prior to the injury, he was Purdue’s top cover defender in the secondary. In Trice’s place, sophomore Jamari Brown (6’3” 205 lbs.) had 32 tackles and seven pass breakups. Adding to the depth is Indiana transfer cornerback Reese Taylor (5’11” 190 lbs.) who had 25 tackles last season.
The key losses on both sides of the ball certainly raise the question whether Purdue can repeat or improve on their 2021 breakout season. It’s incumbent to see how well the offense replaces 203 receptions for 2,588 yards and 18 touchdowns...or the defense replaces 229 tackles, for that matter. I don’t believe Purdue will miss a bowl game, but getting nine or more wins looks kind of iffy.
What’s your predictions when the Huskers travel to West Lafayette?
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Scott Frost is 0-3 against the Boilermakers. Make it 0-4.
It’s a close game, but the Huskers finally get past Purdue.
Huskers get a solid win...and more importantly, don’t suffer any major injuries on Purdue’s cow pasture imitation of a football field.