Welcome to The Champaign Room Freshman Guide to Big Ten Football! As we’re now a full 15 years from my fall semester on the fourth floor of Allen Hall (pre-air conditioning), it occurs to me that I have a wealth of familiarity with our Big Ten foes that our incoming freshmen simply haven’t accumulated yet. Over the next month, I’ll be hosting this crash course on each of our conference opponents: what’s their deal, how good are they, who do we need to watch out for, and why they suck. My work at SBNation’s Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire has exposed me to a lot of opposing fandom and information on the rest of our conference brethren.
Wanna know what the closest stadium to do an away game trip is?
Finally, at long last, it’s another trophy game!
Since hiring Jeff Brohm, Purdue has returned to their position as the Big Ten team with the fun passing offense. The first thing people talk about when they bring up Purdue is engineering. This isn’t because they have the best engineering school in the Big Ten (you can find that in Champaign-Urbana) but because their mascot is either a steam locomotive or a frightening caricature of a railroad worker.
The second thing is quarterbacks. Purdue has been up and down throughout its history, never being particularly close to a national title and having periods of sustained over-.500 success and periods of being pretty bad, but their legacy has been defined by quarterbacks they have sent to the NFL. The list includes Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Len Dawson, who along with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees make Purdue one of only two schools (Alabama is the other) to produce three quarterbacks that started and won a Super Bowl.
In addition to those three, two-time NFL passing touchdown leader Jim Everett, former Cleveland Browns playoff hero Mike Phipps and Noted Game Manager Kyle Orton also came from Purdue. They’ve produced some famous backup quarterbacks as well; besides Orton, there’s Curtis Painter, who famously played poorly enough for the 2011 Colts to ensure they could get Andrew Luck. There’s also 11-year NFL backup Mark Herrmann and current backups David Blough and Danny Etling. Former Illini Jeff George even played a year in West Lafayette before transferring to Illinois.
As far as wins and losses, the Boilers’ fortunes have often been tied to a specific quarterback. They spent the whole 60’s being a fearsome competitor under coach Jack Mollenkopf but peaked during Bob Griese’s playing career in the mid-60s before falling off immediately upon his retirement. After spending the 70s cycling through coaches (including former Illini player and former Northwestern head coach Alex Agase) to no avail, Jim Young suddenly led the Boilers to 28 wins in three seasons. This was the era of QB Mark Herrmann, upon whose graduation Purdue fell back into irrelevance.
They achieved a Peach Bowl in 1984 with Jim Everett at QB, but were mired in losing seasons until coach Joe Tiller and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 1997. Tiller brought a wide open passing game back to West Lafayette and had the program consistently above .500 until his 2008 retirement. His successors failed spectacularly until Jeff Brohm took up the mantle in 2017.
History vs Illinois
Purdue is a team that shares a rich history with Illinois that dates back to 1892. It’s the closest Big Ten rival campus to Champaign, so shenanigans ensued. In 1905, Purdue students procured a cannon and brought it to Champaign to fire off in the event of a win. However, their plan was foiled by some Illini fans who spotted it before the end of the game and captured it, whisking it away to a barn. Its return some 38 years later inspired the current Purdue Cannon trophy for which they’ve played ever since.
The appeal of the matchup is different in recent years. Purdue was the second of six teams to take Illinois’ record from 6-0 to 6-6 in 2011, but in 2013 Illinois broke a 20-game Big Ten winless streak against the Boilers. Mid-2010s Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is widely considered one of the worst Big Ten coaches in recent memory, going 3-24 in conference games. Two of those wins were in Champaign in 2014 to seemingly derail Tim Beckman’s third year and in 2016 to serve as the first red flag for the Lovie Smith era.
Jeff Brohm has more or less had our number with the exception of a 2019 game in monsoon conditions at a flooded Ross-Ade Stadium. The pass-happy Purdue offense turned the ball over early and Illinois was content to throw just seven passes all day en route to a victory.
Overall, Illinois (5 national championships, 15 conference titles) is 45-46-6 against Purdue (0 national championships, 12 conference titles). Courtesy of last year’s blown fourth quarter lead, Illinois now trails in the Purdue Cannon series for the first time since 1902 when the Boilermakers held a 5-4-1 advantage.
Led by star receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis, the 2021 Boilermakers started out 3-2 courtesy of close losses to Notre Dame and Minnesota. However, they got off the mat thanks to Bell absolutely clowning Iowa in a 24-7 win. Wisconsin smacked them out of the top 25 but they rebounded against Nebraska and then scored their second top-5 upset of the season, defeating Michigan State largely thanks to another insane performance by Bell. They couldn’t make it three against Ohio State but won their last two to earn a Music City Bowl berth.
In an absolute classic, they took down Tennessee’s high-powered offense in a dramatic 48-45 shootout where every touchdown seemed to be at least 60 yards. They’d finish 9-4 for their best mark since 2003.
Coaching Staff & Identity
Former Illinois quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm cut his teeth under Bobby Petrino at Louisville and after his stint at Illinois he would eventually become the head coach at Western Kentucky. There, he’d coach a fearsome passing offense that would eventually yield a 12-win season where quarterback Brandon Doughty threw 48 touchdowns and an 11-win season where Mike White threw 37 touchdowns.
Purdue snatched up Brohm and immediately became fun to watch. He was able to turn Darrell Hazell’s players into a bowl team in his first season, and with the help of breakout star receiver Rondale Moore, his Boilermakers upset #2 Ohio State in year two. A couple of losing campaigns followed, but after fixing the defense he had a breakthrough season last year.
Brohm is the playcaller and runs a pro-style spread with a lot of short passing concepts. Brohm is not afraid to take deep shots early and often and his fondness for trick plays has both wowed fans and gotten him into trouble. His offense is in theory built to run the ball as well, but for various reasons it simply hasn’t been able to.
Brad Lambert will call the defense for a second year after finally providing the best defensive performance in the Jeff Brohm era. This was accomplished by playing Cover 3 on the back end and mixing 3-4 fronts with 2-4-5 action. It will be interesting to see how he runs a defense without a single threat on the scale of George Karlaftis
Dudes To Watch
Former walk-on Aidan O’Connell has become one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks under Brohm’s tutelage. Milton Wright was slated to be the go-to receiver, but was ruled academically ineligible this summer. They’ll be counting on transfers, including Charlie Jones from Iowa, to quickly develop rapport with O’Connell.
The front seven actually has a lot of seniors for the Purdue defense, but it’s more solid role players than stars. Cole Brevard has a chance to be an anchor at D-line after transferring from Penn State, but the safest bet to be their best defensive player is veteran safety Cam Allen.
Season Prediction & Fan Expectations
Despite missing out on a division title, last season must have felt like a fever dream to Purdue fans; not only did they get to see their team win 9 games including two top-5 upsets, but their team did it by being fun and scoring points.
Losing Bell and Karlaftis is a lot for the offense and defense to overcome, but Purdue fans see what every Big Ten West fan sees: a division with no clear-cut leader absolutely ripe for the taking. Purdue at a baseline level expects to go bowling this year.
I have them going 8-4 but only 5-4 in conference play.
Illinois Game Prediction
2019 notwithstanding, it’s hard for me to be optimistic about the Purdue game because their quarterback is so good. We should have a decisive special teams advantage and be able to stop the run, but our linebackers in particular will be tested laterally by intermediate passing.
The game being in November should increase the odds Purdue faces adverse weather, but it also gives this brand-new receiving corps for the Boilers time to gel. I’d rather face them earlier.
I think Purdue wins this one, and it might be going away unless we are really able to bowl them over with our rushing attack for the entire game.
I generally find Purdue fans pretty reasonable, except of course for their fixation on P.
Look at this guy with P all over his chest
Why Purdue Sucks
Drew Brees’ last act in the NFL was to Go Down Swingin’ in a playoff game where his Saints had the Tom Brady Buccaneers on the ropes even though he could barely get the ball past the line of scrimmage anymore. I genuinely believe the decision not to give Jameis Winston more throws in that game led directly to Tom Brady winning another Super Bowl. Good job everyone!
I’m still mad at the entire offensive braintrust behind the last six games of the 2011 Fighting Illini season because Nathan Scheelhaase is still the most talented quarterback Jeff Brohm has ever coached. All the points he couldn’t find with a true dual-threat quarterback, NFL tight ends and a first round receiver just ruined part of my senior year. If Jeff Brohm is such a great offensive mind, how could his ass not find more than seven points with that level of talent against the worst Ohio State team in the last 20 years? I will NEVER forgive Jeff Brohm for that. Bill Cubit got way more out of Nate in one season than Brohm ever managed in two.
Oh wait, I know what happened. Surprise surprise, Jeff Brohm’s offense couldn’t run the ball and he had to settle for 169 passing yards on 34 passing attempts. Blanket A.J. Jenkins and suddenly the vaunted offensive braintrust of Chip Long, Paul Petrino and Jeff Brohm can’t coach their way across the 50.
Brohm’s offense has quite the interesting weakness for a team that plays outside in the fall in Indiana, but even given that context Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium is a special case. Despite their reputation as The Engineering School, Ross-Ade still has woefully insufficient drainage, which means the sidelines get flooded with standing.This famously happened in 2019.
A lot of people in my class (myself included) got “$14,000 scholarships” to attend Purdue, which I think was some kind of marketing thing where they’d offer to match Illinois’ in-state tuition for kids from Chicagoland. Considering all the thirst, they should at least figure out their drainage situation.
You’ll also hear about Purdue sending people to space, as several Apollo astronauts were Purdue alums. That has nothing to do with their football program. Illinois actually sent a former football captain into space.
Perhaps the most irritating thing is that everything I watch on TV and the internet has been inundated with ads for “Purdue University Global.” At first I thought I was finally being exposed to this PUBG thing you kids are obsessed with, but then I did some more research and found that Purdue bought a for-profit online degree mill called Kaplan University back in 2018 and rebranded it Purdue University Global. 12.5% of its revenue goes back to its prior for-profit owner. Controversy has surrounded this since its inception, as Purdue faculty weren’t told about this. In 2019, the online master’s program in nursing admitted every single applicant.
We should be dunking on them for this a lot more than we do.
Seriously, look up Purdue University Global. The Google search result has its homepage titled:
Purdue University Global: An Accredited Online University.
Wow, accreditation and everything!
Jeff Brohm lost to Tim Beckman.
TCRBrad: Lately, Purdue has been a thorn in the side of Illinois Football. Losses in 2011 and 2012 by less than one score, 2016’s overtime loss in OT at home, 2020’s loss at home by a touchdown, and last year’s 13-9 loss in West Lafayette all sucked. The last 2 losses pushed Purdue ahead of Illinois in all-time matchups, leaving Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Indiana as the last teams Illinois has a head-to-head lead over.
Matt Rejc: I’m still convinced that the Purdue Cannon is one of the most underrated rivalry trophies in college football. I mean think about it…the trophy itself is the actual cannon that Purdue fans brought to Champaign 117 years ago to fire off and flex on Illini fans after a road win! But like the Illibuck turtle, it just has the misfortune of being largely irrelevant in the modern college football world. Hopefully that changes someday…
He Was A High School Quarterback (Off Tackle Empire) In 1994, Illinois was going for its seventh straight win against Purdue and Ken Dilger got tackled at the one foot line on the last play of the game. That sucked. I’m still salty about it.