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Behind Enemy Lines: Purdue Boilermakers

Travis Miller from Hammer and Rails answers our questions.

Purdue v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Today I’m joined by Travis Miller, one of the editors at Hammer and Rails, SB Nation’s Purdue site.

Travis took the time to answer our questions leading up to the Purdue game this weekend at Rose-Ade Stadium. Let’s get right to it.

1. After an exciting offensive start to the season, Purdue's offense has struggled in Big Ten play. Was it just the step up in competition or are defensives starting to figure the Purdue offense out?

TM: I think it is a little of both, combined with Purdue’s severe lack of talent catching up. We were able to get off to a good start with a greatly improved scheme and I think it caught some teams by surprise. The win at Missouri was the high point. We walked into Columbia and kicked ass on both sides of the ball for the entire afternoon. It was completely unexpected.

Unfortunately, some things that were concerns reared their ugly heads and the last two weeks bit us badly. We have a dearth of talent at wide receiver and have had a ton of drops against Rutgers and Nebraska. The drops prevented us from finishing drives at Rutgers and cost us a few points against Nebraska. Injuries have been a factor too. T.J. McCollum was a difference maker defensively and while the defense has played well enough to win the last two weeks, he could have made them that much better.

The main problems have been at receiver and on the offensive line, however. In the end, someone has to block and someone has to catch the ball. We lost Grant Hermanns, our very promising redshirt freshman left tackle, to a knee injury and it has compounded our offensive problems. The coaching staff is still trying to get things done, but when we already had depth issues coming into the season something like an injury to Hermanns does not help.

2. How has recruiting gone under year one with Jeff Brohm?

TM: Extremely well in the sense that Hazell was a horrible recruiter who wouldn’t even offer hometown talent (see 4-star offensive tackle Coy Cronk, who played at Lafayette Central Catholic but was a freshman All-American at Indiana last year because Hazell refused to offer a scholarship). Brohm just pulled off his biggest coup yet by getting 4-star 2019 Defensive End George Karlaftis to stay home. He is an outstanding junior at West Lafayette HS and Brohm got him from Michigan and Miami as his other two finalists.

The 2018 class had a rash of summer commitments and grew to 22 almost overnight. It is ranking in the mid-40s nationally, which is not world shattering, but when Hazell struggled to get out of the mid-70s it is improvement. The 2018 class will hopefully be closer to the middle of the Big Ten. Hazell was at or near the bottom every year. The same was true with Hope. If Brohm’s 2018 class can raise the talent level and improve play on the field the 2019 class already has an excellent start with Karlaftis on board.

3. Who is going to play at QB for Purdue? David Blough or Elijah Sindelar? Both?

TM: Blough played the entire Nebraska game and it was the first game all year we stuck with one QB. Honestly, he has been the better of the two. He led the late scoring drive at Rutgers and I think part of the issue with the drops came from Sindelar struggling with touch on his passes. He tends to rifle balls as hard as he can and I think it led to a few of the drops. Does Purdue beat Rutgers if Blough plays the whole game? Hard to say. I do now he was spectacular against Ohio and Missouri. Last week he was decent against Nebraska, but drops were still an issue.

Brohm said this week that Blough will start, and that is the first time he has publically named a starter before kickoff. He also said Sindelar will be “in the bullpen” if needed. I think Blough gives us our best shot because his numbers are better, plus he is a better runner than Sindelar. Brohm mentioned he wants more of a running element going forward, so that also plays in Blough’s favor.

4. There is a small chance that Purdue could make a bowl game. The remaining schedule is Illinois, @ Northwestern, @ Iowa, Indiana. They need to win three. What would you say their chances are?

TM: Well, before Nebraska led a TD drive with 1:22 left last week I would have said they were excellent. Losing to Rutgers definitely feels like a missed opportunity and blowing a 12-point fourth quarter lead last week and losing by a point with 16 seconds left really stings. I would feel a lot better had we won just one of those games.

That said, Brohm has this team fighting and even after giving up the lead last week, we got the ball to midfield on the final play and supposedly an uncalled helmet-to-helmet hit on Blough after that final pass could have given us a shot at a miracle win. We fought to the last play and have done so in every game. We’re going to have to steal one on the road at Northwestern or Iowa now. That’s really difficult, but not impossible. If we can beat Illinois I think it will be a confidence boost that is deeply needed after three losses by 11 points, but losing to Illinois likely ends any bowl hopes.

5. Purdue doesn't seem to have one go to WR or RB. Is this because of a lack of anyone standing out above the rest or is this a design to spread it out under the Brohm system?

TM: A little of both. We have had running back by committee with four solid options. Tario Fuller was great in the first three games, but got hurt at Missouri and has not played since. Lately it has been D.J. Knox and Richie worship splitting carries and both have done well. Markell Jones ran for over 900 yards two years ago, but has battled injuries and has struggled to stand out. He still returned against Minnesota after missing the previous three games and managed to score the go ahead TD.

At receiver Jackson Anthrop has been the most consistent, but because of that teams are keying on him. He is a good possession receiver and slot guy, but he is not going to be a game-breaking receiver. The outside guys in Gregory Phillips and Anthony Mahoungou have struggled with drops, while the three JuCos/Grad transfers we brought in have not played up to expectations. Terry Wright has done the best of those and he has battled a shoulder injury for a while.

6. Who are the players that Illinois fans should look out for?

TM: Ja’Whaun Bentley and Gelen Robinson are having pretty good senior seasons and have been excellent on defense. Robinson was a monster last week with six tackles for loss and really wrecked Nebraska in the first half. Bentley had a game sealing pick-6 against Minnesota and has anchored the defense all year.

Offensively we just need someone, anyone to catch the damn football. Last week it was so bad that Isaac Zico dropped a TD pass that hit him in the face mask.

7. How does this game play out?

No offense, but this is Purdue’s last chance to tune up the offense for the stretch run. We have a lot we need to fix and Illinois has consistently been the worst in the conference this year in a lot of categories. I would view a loss as a major step back because Rutgers, while a bad loss, has at least played better this year and Nebraska is improving. To be blunt, even Darrell Hazell could beat Illinois, as he did it twice. Purdue was a dead team walking under him last year and beat an Illinois team that was probably better than this year. I think we get it done at home, but I also think the Illini are improving and will make us work for it.

Huge thanks to Travis Miller for taking the time to answer our questions this week.