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Purdue Performance Review: The Jeff Brohm Era Gets Its Footing

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In which your qualified Purdue “writer” declares Purdue’s season a great success

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 14 Nebraska at Purdue Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hello, and welcome back to another BoilerUp89’s article. In today’s article we will discuss the history of - what’s that MNW? You want me to write an actual analysis piece? Well, okay I guess I can do that, but seems kind of boring.

I thought for sure this year’s version of the Purdue Boilermakers were a 5-7ish team. Sure the offense should be better than the 2020 team as the O-line surely couldn’t be worse. And yeah, the defense definitely couldn’t be worse than a Bob Diaco defense. But the schedule was pretty challenging - drawing Notre Dame, Ohio State, a decent Oregon State team, Michigan State, and a potential 9Windiana in addition to the usual B1G West suspects. Maybe with a break or two Jeff Brohm could eke out a 6-6 record and sneak into a bowl game, but I wasn’t overly optimistic.

Season Recap

Well look at that. An 9-4 season, with two losses to final AP top 10 teams, wisconsin (as is tradition), and the annual loss in the rain. Even the most wildly optimistic of preseason projections for Purdue wouldn’t have predicted better. The performance of the individual units also proved that I am not a football expert and am best kept talking about basketball. Or random things that I enjoy bringing to the attention of OTE’s readers.

The season started out somewhat slow. The defense showed early that it was a much improved unit and carried the Boilers to wins over Oregon State and Illinois. That wasn’t enough against a Notre Dame team that kept Purdue at arms length away for a majority of the game. UConn proved to be a FCS level pushover. The Boilermakers’ offense looked to have taken a huge step backwards as the O-line couldn’t hold up against anybody other than UConn.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Following a loss in the rain against Minnesota in which the offense could get nothing going, I was ready to write off the season as the Boilers sat at 3-2. Maybe Purdue could get wins against Northwestern or Indiana, but would they really be able to compete in the trenches against the big boys in the West?

The team once again proved that I am a dumbass who doesn’t pay enough attention. Kirk Ferentz refused to cover David Bell and the heir to the empire Brian couldn’t run an offense against Purdue so the Boilermakers knocked off (then) #2 Iowa. This win gave Purdue their first top 25 ranking since 2007.

Syndication: HawkCentral Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

wisconsin did what wisconsin does against Purdue, but Nebraska out-collapsed Purdue bringing up a home date with #3 Michigan State while Purdue already at 5 wins. We all know what happened next:

A let down against rival Ohio State occurred the following week, but Purdue was already bowl eligible with two games remaining. Competent wins at Wrigley and for the Old Oaken Bucket followed and the Boilers finished tied for 2nd in the West at 8-4 (6-3).

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Purdue was then punished and not given the Outback Bowl rewarded with a bid to the Music City Bowl for the first time ever and proceeded to win a road game against Tennessee as declared by respectable journalists across the country.

TransPerfect Music City Bowl - Purdue v Tennessee Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

What Went Wrong

The offensive line was not great. Mainly I think the fanbase had too high of expectations for this group - last year’s group weren’t seniors so of course all fans expected they would take a step forward. What Purdue fans failed to account for were the three medical retirements that occurred along the offensive line this offseason. Would be starters Mark Stickford, Will Bramel, and Kyle Jornigan all were forced to medically retire in the spring and summer. Making things even worse, would be senior and contributor Jimmy McKenna graduated in three years and decided to move on from football and redshirt senior and potential starter after the medical retirements Sam Garvin suffered a back injury in camp.

For developmental programs - and Purdue is a developmental programs - good offensive line depth charts consist of lots of juniors and seniors, preferably of the redshirt variety. So that would be the 2017, 2018 and 2019 classes. Let’s take a look at those offensive line recruiting classes for Purdue.

2017 (would be redshirt seniors) - 5 scholarship OL. 1 was a transfer (Ethan Smart) and long since ran out of eligibility. 2 medically retired following the 2020 (Viktor Beach) and 2021 (Mark Stickford) seasons respectively. 1 changed positions to DL (D.J. Washington). 1 transferred out following his freshman season (Jalen Jackson). Former walk-on Sam Garvin was the lone remaining redshirt senior OL recruited from this class and as mentioned above he suffered a back injury during camp and missed most of the season, returning only for the final two games of the regular season.

2018 (would be seniors or redshirt juniors) - 4 scholarship OL. 1 opted out of football before enrolling (Charles Allen). 1 medically retired (Will Bramel). 1 graduated early and moved on from football (Jimmy McKenna). 1 was still around and started at tackle (Eric Miller).

2017 (would be juniors or redshirt sophomores) - 4 scholarship OL. 1 medically retired (Kyle Jornigan). 3 redshirt sophomores with a combined 8 games of experience coming into the year (Cam Craig, Dave Monnot, and Spencer Holstege).

So 1 redshirt junior and 3 redshirt sophomores with very limited experience was the result of Purdue’s offensive line classes that you would expect to be leading the position group. Now Purdue did bring 1 transfer at OL each of the past two years to help out along the line, but a) they’ve came from UTEP and Western Kentucky and b) the expectations for this year’s OL were way too high. Although the coaching staff would figure out how to get enough time for the QB in the passing, the running game struggled the entire year and was at the bottom of the B1G.

Outside of the OL, the punt game ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten. There was also Brohm’s inability to run an offense in the rain once again cost Purdue a game in what has become an annual tradition.

What Went Right

Nearly everything not mentioned in the what went wrong section. Purdue got reliable and consistent kicking from their transfer kicker. The WR and TE group was deep and lethal to lots of opponents. Aidan O’Connell spent the 2nd half of the season playing like a national top 5 QB. The defense played much more aggressively and although they did give up some big plays, they were able to limit points and get off the field a lot more often than the previous two seasons.

Indiana v Purdue Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Attendance numbers were very high especially late in the season with two sellouts. Every home game had at least 52,000 fans out of a capacity of 61,320. David Bell and George Karlaftis will represent Purdue early in the NFL draft this upcoming year. Jeff Brohm is coming back for a year 6 and has built some program momentum.

The Jeff Brohm Era Moving Forward

I don’t know if the O-line issues will be fixed by next year. I believe transfers Greg Long and Tyler Witt are now out of eligibility. Dave Monnot has entered the transfer portal. But overall, Brohm seems to have realized the issue with O-line recruiting a couple of years ago. He has started to more consistently bring in a higher quantity of O-line recruits to be able to absorb some of the attrition issues that have plagued the program at that position the past couple of years. And if you are a believer in recruiting rankings, this ranking of the O-line recruits the past three classes (2020-2022) have been significantly higher on average than previous classes under Brohm. While I think the O-line will take a step forward next year, it may take until 2023 for the O-line to finally get to the point were Purdue can have a reliable run game like they did in 2017.

Which is unfortunate because otherwise the roster and schedule really sets up for a great 2022 season. No Ohio State, no Michigan, no Michigan State, no Notre Dame. No great non-conference opponents. Aidan O’Connell returns for his 6th year. The WR group brings in some reinforcements and has some top talent returning despite the loss of David Bell. The defense returns a lot of important pieces and appears to be bringing back most of the coaching staff.

The all important question for 2022 and the rest of the Brohm era is whether Brohm can replace outgoing assistants following successful seasons. WR position coach Jamarcus Shephard has left for a significant pay raise at Washington. Shephard is a great WR coach, but I would expect Brohm’s offense should be able to attract a top WR coach. Brohm’s pass happy offense has got to be pretty attractive to WR coaches. The defensive play caller and co-DC/LB coach Brad Lambert left for Wake Forest. Replacing him will be more of a challenge, but the trio of co-DCs this past year will hopefully help mitigate the loss of Lambert.

If Brohm can replace outgoing assistants with competent, quality guys then 2021 could end up being the start for one of the best stretches in Purdue football history. Hopefully Purdue can take advantage of their beneficial 2022 schedule, make some noise in the West, get that wisconsin badger off their back, and finally help the West get a win in Indianapolis - after all we are the best at beating Ohio State in the conference. The fact they got to 9 wins in 2021 with their difficult schedule and a non-functioning offensive line has rebuilt the fanbases faith in Jeff Brohm and it suggests that the best may be yet to come.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa
For the first time in a long time you can squint and see a path to this, if unlikely, for Purdue.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images