Today we talk about the explosive Purdue Boilermakers offense, the key departures from last season, and projected contributors for the upcoming campaign. As mentioned in yesterday’s coaching article, Jeff Brohm is an offensive passing wizard. While he can get overly conservative at times and try to run the ball, his passing playbook is one of the most fun to watch.
Purdue opened a 21-7 lead on No. 3 Michigan State on this amazing trick play pic.twitter.com/vtLsPHwAbx— College Football HQ (@CFB_FN) November 6, 2021
Purdue got off to a very slow start offensively last year averaging just 17.7 points per game in their first 6 games against actual scholarship Division 1 football teams (sorry, passing by Connecticut fans, but your only win last season was a 6 pointer against non-scholarship Yale so I’m not counting you as a program). The lack of any semblance of a run game led to repeatedly stalling drives in the red zone, but thankfully a solid kicking game kept that 17.7 points from being more like 12 points/game and the defense kept Purdue on track to make a bowl game. Midway thru the Illini game, Jeff Brohm would bench QB Jack Plummer in favor of Aidan O’Connell and while the offense didn’t quite kick into gear for a few more games thanks to turnovers and Brohm’s inability to coach in the rain, it was still an immediate improvement.
After the yearly loss to wisconsin, Purdue’s offense flipped a switch and put up 28, 40, 31, 32, 44, and 48 points while leading the team to 5 wins in their final 6 games last year. Sure, lowly Tennessee and Nebraska were among those wins, but Purdue also beat top 5 Michigan State during that time frame helping prevent a three-way tie atop the Big 10 (L)EAST that would have seen Ohio State back their way into the Big Ten championship game based on shitty tie-breakers. Although Big Ten champion Michigan is almost just as appalling a notion as Big Ten champion Ohio State, at least Purdue did their bit to help knock the Buckeyes off their pinnacle.
During that final 6 game stretch of the season, Aidan O’Connell led the Boilermakers offense by throwing 21 TDs against just 3 INTs (all in the bowl game) and averaging 399 yards/game. If you have been wondering why AOC and Purdue have been getting some offseason hype – those stats are why.
WR David Bell is the big name gone from last year’s offense and he’s joined the Cleveland Browns as a third-round pick. I’m not sure how he lasted to the third round and normally you don’t think of the Browns as an organization that makes good, let alone great, decisions but here we are. Bell’s 2946 receiving yards in just 29 careers games will be difficult to replace. Although he only managed 6 touchdowns last season, Bell was a superstar in West Lafayette and the ultimate safety blanket for Purdue’s quarterbacks.
RB Alexander Horvath has graduated after a four-year career that somehow saw him manage a 4.4 yards/carry average behind some bad offensive lines. A tough, physical runner, Horvath didn’t have breakaway speed, but his strength allowed him to gain some hard-fought yards when the running lanes were not existent. Horvath also exhibited reliable receiving hands out of the backfield although he was rarely called upon in this role.
QB Jack Plummer has moved on and transferred to the California Golden Bears where he is expected to be their starter. Plummer showed a solid arm at times and slightly more escape ability than O’Connell, but his reluctance to force passes to covered receivers was a poor fit with last season’s turnstile O-line (especially early in the season) that didn’t give him more than 2 seconds most of the time. I liked Plummer and was on the Plummer side of the QB debate going into last fall - clearly I was wrong - but I can’t blame him for transferring to be a starter in his final year of college ball.
WR Milton Wright was an academic casualty this spring after being an academic casualty for last year’s bowl game. The #2 receiver for the Boilermakers last season, with the loss of David Bell to the NFL Wright could have put up seriously good numbers that would get him an NFL look next spring. While there are still faint hopes among some of the fanbase that he will be academically reinstated by the fall, I’ve pretty much written that off and as a result his NFL career dream is likely gone as well.
WR Jackson Anthrop of the famous Anthrop brothers has departed after the last decade of Anthrops gracing Purdue athletics with their presence. Anthrop was a reliable punt returner in his career, an underrated slot receiver, and even got some carries on the ground last season.
BoilerUp89’s Projected Depth Charts
Starter: Aidan O’Connell returns for his 6th year of college and has a firm grasp on the starting spot. After taking over for Jack Plummer in the Illini game, Aidan got the offense rolling. He has a strong arm and good accuracy which led to a 71.6% completion mark last year. Since AOC isn’t the fastest guy and the O-line play has generally been poor the past few years, he has succeeded by getting the ball out to his receivers quickly. The downside to O’Connell is that he has never seen a throwing window that is too small and he can be susceptible to throwing interceptions as a result. While a handful of the interceptions he threw last year weren’t his fault (they were directly on the receivers letting the ball go through their hands), 11 INTs tied him for the B1G lead. Fortunately, six of those were in just two games, and the former walk-on’s season long ratio of 28 TDs:11 INTs to go along with 3712 yards is pretty good considering he was splitting time behind Plummer for the first four games last season. If O’Connell can cut down on his INTs while maintaining a high yards/attempt he could put together the best QB season at Purdue under Brohm so far.
Next up: Austin Burton returns for another season after primarily being a running QB that took a handful of QB runs and option plays last year. His arm seems semi-serviceable, but college fans haven’t really gotten to see it yet as he just attempted 7 passes last year after attempting only 64 passes at UCLA in 2019. Redshirt freshman Michael Alaimo and true freshman Brady Allen both came to Purdue as 4-star recruits and round out the scholarship QBs. I suspect we see Alaimo get some experience in mop up duty during the non-conference so Purdue doesn’t enter next year with no game experience in the QB room.
If Purdue’s season goes off the tracks, the most likely reason is that O’Connell got hurt at some point and the backups weren’t ready for the spotlight of starting.
Starter: King Doerue is the presumed starter after splitting duties with Horvath last season. A pair of transfers in Indiana transfer Sampson James and recent Central Michigan transfer Kobe Lewis will push him for the starting role.
Doerue had a vague and unexplained medical condition that saw him miss a few games last season. His familiarity with the playbook and O’Connell likely give him the edge on the starting spot. Doerue is quicker than Horvath was but has also struggled at times when the O-line isn’t creating any holes and despite being quicker than Horvath still doesn’t have breakaway speed.
Sampson looked promising at Indiana as a true freshman but got passed on the RB depth chart in 2020 and again during the 2021 offseason leading him to transfer just before the start of the 2021 season. Although he tried to get himself declared eligible by the NCAA for last season, he had missed the transfer window and ended up sitting out last season. Hopefully Sampson has recovered from his untimely haircut in 2020 and has regained his strength.
Lewis sat out 2021 following an ACL tear. His last full season at RB he put up 1074 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns for the Chippewas in 2019. Purdue hasn’t had a 1000-yard rusher since Kory Sheets during my freshman year. While that feels like it was just a year or two ago, our OTE sports information bureau tells me that it was actually longer than that. The questions for Lewis are whether he is fully recovered from his ACL injury and if he can handle the jump up in competition.
Next up: Dylan Downing should be the 4th guy in the RB room this fall and in contention to get some carries if any RB has to miss some time. The redshirt sophomore transferred into Purdue from UNLV last offseason and lead the team in yards/carry with 4.0 last season on 44 attempts. Downing was firmly behind Doerue and Horvath last season but was pressed into action when injuries to those two created a void at the position. I see him filling a similar role this season but he will probably at least get some carries in mop up action during the non-conference slate. Downing probably needs to get a little stronger to compete in the Big Ten so we will see how the strength and conditioning program has been helping him in that regard.
Charlie Jones is technically a wide receiver and return specialist but I wouldn’t be shocked to see either him or Tyrone Tracy get some carries this season. I’ll talk more about the two in the WR group, but I could see either Jones or Tracy playing a role in the running game similar to what Jackson Anthrop did last season in taking some end arounds and occasionally lining up in the backfield.
One of my unpublished rambling articles from last season was about the development or lack of development of the offensive line under Brohm. A rash of injuries and early football retirements have meant that instead of having a line consisting almost entirely of juniors and seniors, Brohm has been forced to often play underclassmen along the line in both 2020 and 2021. In his first two recruiting classes Brohm recruited the minimal number of O-linemen that Purdue should, giving himself no room for error. Looking at his recruiting practices since then, I think Brohm realized his error back in 2019 but Purdue isn’t the type of program that is recruiting O-linemen that can succeed as freshmen and good transfer O-linemen are highly coveted by everyone which has made the last two seasons at this position group rough. While I’m cautiously optimistic about the line this year, and I think they should be fine in pass protection, I don’t think they really turn the corner to being an above average run blocking unit until 2023.
Projected starters: Eric Miller, Spencer Holstege, Gus Hartwig, Sione Finau, Cam Craig
Junior Hartwig and redshirt juniors Holstege and Craig all return as starters for another season. Although they were often over matched by veteran defenders across the B1G with a couple extra years of strength training, they had a handful of good moments and solidified as the season went on in pass blocking. It is hoped that with another year of development, they will be able to start opening holes in the run game as well.
I project that redshirt senior Eric Miller and transfer Sione Finau will be the other two starters but Miller has been dealing with occasional injuries this spring and both him and Finau could be pushed by two up and coming linemen I’m particularly high on or another transfer. Miller is the only scholarship senior lineman on the roster that was developed at Purdue. The lowest ranked recruit of what was originally a four-man OL class in 2018, Miller is the only one still playing college ball as Charles Allen retired before playing a snap, Will Bramel had to medically retire a couple of years ago, and Jimmy McKenna graduated after just three seasons. Miller has been a solid, developmental tackle but the problem is he is the only one from his class. Finau comes to Purdue from FIU where he started for three seasons. It will be a jump in competition level but he performed well at FIU.
Two deep: Marcus Mbow, Mahamane Moussa, Josh Kaltenberger, Jared Bycznski, Daniel Johnson
I’m really optimistic about Mbow and Moussa and they got into games as true freshman last season, but thankfully managed to keep their redshirts. Both have been working out at tackle during the spring while Miller deals with an injury, but I could also see them push Finau or Holstege for a guard spot in the starting lineup. If they can’t crack the starting lineup, I think both Mbow and Moussa will still play in most games as part of the O-line rotation.
Kaltenberger and Bycznski are a year older than Mbow and Moussa and I’ll think both will see playing time this season as well but they are probably still one or two years away from being staples in the starting lineup. Daniel Johnson is a transfer from Kent State where he started 8 games in his 3 years at tackle. If Miller or Craig miss time due to injury and Mbow and Moussa aren’t ready to step in at tackle, Johnson is the next most likely guy in my opinion. Perhaps our resident Kent State fan (or is he an Akron fan? I can never keep the two schools apart in my mind) and reader will chime in with his thoughts in the comments.
Next up: Nalin Fox (redshirt sophomore) and Zach Richards (redshirt freshman) are the next two up and could both earn their way into the last spot on the two-deeps but I suspect both are just outside of it at the moment and won’t be used much this year barring injuries.
There were no medical retirements over the winter/spring for the first time in a few years, so the O-line is already making progress. As mentioned above, I don’t think this is the year Purdue’s running game takes off, but barring another rash of summer injuries along the O-line they should take a small step towards respectability in the run game and I think the pass protection should be more than capable of holding up. In addition to returning four starters, the depth has improved as well and I’m comfortable with any of the top 7 linemen while not being nearly as frightened about going past that as the past few years.
This is easily my favorite position group on the roster. They are deep and talented and even though they have lost superstars to the NFL the past two seasons I feel they are more than capable of being the second best WR group in the conference.
Starters: Broc Thompson, Mershawn Rice, and Tyrone Tracy are the guys I’ve tentatively projected as starters at the WR group but there are tons of players that should see snaps. Thompson put up 217 yards and 2 touchdowns on two injured knees in the bowl game. Although he didn’t break out until the Music City Bowl (with Bell off to the NFL and Wright suspended), Thompson previously saw success at Marshall and is more than capable of stretching the field vertically. Tyrone Tracy joins Purdue from Iowa as he was tired of watching Emperor in waiting Brian Ferentz not know what a passing game is. Tracy is a formerly high-ranking recruit and was projected to be Iowa’s top receiver this year. As mentioned in the RB section, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets occasional carries as well. Mershawn Rice looked promising early in the season before suffering a season ending foot injury against Notre Dame. If Thompson and Rice are healthy this is a great group of receivers. If they aren’t, I think Purdue can survive because…
Two deep: Abdur-Rahmann Yaseen, TJ Sheffield, and Charlie Jones
Yaseen is the next great Purdue receiver and my personal favorite on this list. A four-star recruit in the 2020 class, he was buried on the depth chart a bit the past two seasons but saw some playing time last year following injuries to Anthrop and Rice and can stretch the field vertically. Unfortunately, after only a couple of games in the rotation, Yaseen suffered his own season ending knee injury in practice. TJ Sheffield is a sure handed receiver who put up solid numbers last season behind Bell and Wright. I don’t think he’s as much of deep threat as Thompson, Rice, or Yaseen but Sheffield is a reliable slot receiver. He’s going to have to fight off the competition to continue to get playing time. Charlie Jones is another Iowa transfer and former youth football teammate of Aidan O’Connell’s. I think Jones will have more of an impact on special teams, but his relationship with O’Connell should help him get on the field with the receiver group as well.
Honestly any of these first six receivers could be starters and I wouldn’t be surprised.
Next up: sophomores Preston Terrell, Collin Sullivan, and Deion Burks and transfer Elijah Canion
Terrell, Sullivan, and Burks are promising underclassmen receivers. All three were pressed into action during the bowl game, but with Yaseen and Rice coming back from injury and Tracy and Jones transferring in they may be another year away from being regulars in the WR rotation. On the other hand, they are all talented enough that wouldn’t be shocked if any of them grabbed a spot in the backend of the WR rotation. Canion is a transfer from Auburn but he was limited there to appearances against G5 and FCS schools. As such I have a harder time seeing where he fits in the picture
If Thompson, Rice, and Yaseen all return at full strength post injury this should be the best position group at Purdue this year. If they are still hobbled from post surgery recoveries, then the group still has a couple of proven options and some unproven talent that is capable of stepping up. I’m not sure which of the young guys would end up breaking out, but there are enough good options that I’m confident that someone would
PAYNE. MF. DURHAM. PURDUE LEADS 38-31 pic.twitter.com/zOHsGKYuwb— The Dylan & Dylan Show (@DylanDylanShow) December 30, 2021
Starter: Payne Durham
Durham is the clear starter among the TEs. He’s had some occasional issues with drops and injuries, but he’s the hardest in the group to tackle and appears to be the best blocker as well. Durham had 6 touchdowns and 467 yards in just 9.5 games last season.
Back-up: Garrett Miller
Miller is a capable tight end and may have a higher ceiling with his potential than Durham. He’s more sure handed than Durham but not quite as good a route runner or as difficult to tackle. That’s not to say he’s bad at either of those, he is just a half step behind Durham in his development - which makes sense as Miller is younger than Durham.
Next up: Paul Piferi
Piferi is a former QB who has successfully made the transition to TE. His touchdown catch in the IU game must have felt extremely rewarding after the work he’s put in to make that position change. We are all aware of how much Jeff Brohm likes trick plays. As a former QB playing TE, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Piferi involved in one of Brohm’s trick plays this year.
Other than Allen I have a hard time seeing any of the true freshman coming anywhere close to seeing the field. And Allen’s redshirt will only be burned in the event of catastrophic injuries/ineffectiveness in front of him. WRs Zion Steptoe and Curtis Deville may be talented enough (and Steptoe was one of the early enrollees) but there is so much talent in the WR room, that I don’t know how either sees the field. In the past I would say they could on special teams, but I think Charlie Jones transferring in ended that possibility.
Purdue’s offense will look to keep momentum rolling from their bowl game. Returning 7 starters on the offense (and 9 starters from the bowl game), Purdue should be great shape on offense. Hopefully there are no games in the rain this season and the offense stays aggressive instead of trying to nurse late leads by running out the clock as they’ve been unable to do that under Brohm. A step up by the offensive line in the run game could make Purdue’s offense one of the best in the conference. While I think that step up in the O-line is still one more season away, the passing game is more than dangerous enough that they can keep Purdue in every game on the schedule except for the game against wisconsin which just isn’t going to happen. Some things never change.
How many TDs will AOC throw this season?
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Who will be the leading receiver?
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other (tell us in the comments)
Who will be the leading rusher?
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other (tell us in the comments)
How many starts will the underclassmen lineman Mahamme Moussa and Marcus Mbow combine for?
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Will any true freshman make meaningful contributions to the team this season?
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YES (Tell us who in the comments)