Boilermakers back on the Rails?
Will Purdue lose to a MWC team in back-to-back years?
Getting to know the Purdue Boilermakers
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (17-21 at Purdue)
Conference: Big Ten (B1G) – West Division
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
2019 Record: 4-8
Even though it may look as if the Falcons are easing into the 2020 football season with an opener against the FCS Duquesne Dukes, there is nothing “easy” about the ensuing weeks of the schedule. From their season opener, Air Force then hosts the defending MWC champions, Boise State. After they tussle with the Broncos, the Falcons will find themselves in B1G country, West Lafayette, Indiana.
Air Force is no stranger to the B1G, holding a 5-9-2 record against the conference, with their last three ventures coming by way of Michigan schools. Most recently, in 2017, the Falcons succumb to a then top ten ranked Michigan Wolverines team.
Prior to that it will have been exactly five years to the day on September 19, 2020, when they matched up the Spartans. In 2015, they traveled to East Lansing and played eventual B1G Champion and Playoff Bound, Michigan State very respectably, losing by two scores. I’m glad that I made the road trip out to see this one in person. Spartan Stadium is nicely situated on their campus, and that was a special year for the Mountain Division Champion Falcons.
I wouldn’t expect Purdue to push for a Playoff spot in 2020. However, with a B1G West Division that is up for grabs, a rebound season could find the Boilers jockeying for a place atop that side of the Conference. As disappointing as 2019 was, four of their losses came to ranked opponents, and two of which were by a single score. There is reason for optimism if your a Boilermaker fan.
The Purdue Offense
A lethal offense has been the hallmark of Jeff Brohm led team. Even before he arrived at Purdue, Brohm had a lot of success at Western Kentucky, riding a potent offense to back to back conference championships, and even an AP Top 25 Ranking.
The Boilers seemed to be progressing in Brohms first two years in West Lafayette, before injuries, an inconsistent offense and a leaky defense beset the team in 2019. Purdue started three different quarterbacks last season, and that alone can be a recipe for disaster. A dilemma that Air Force knows all too well.
A majority of snaps went to freshman signal callers Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer, who if you were to just look at their statistics were quite serviceable. This is especially true when you consider they played a majority of the season without one of nations most electrifying players, Rondale Moore. The passing attack averaged over 300 yards per game, which was 12th in the country and led the B1G Conference.
Coming into this season, the Boilers offense has three players recognized by Athlon Sports as pre-season All-Conference players; WR Rondale Moore- 1st Team, WR David Bell- 2nd Team and OL Grant Hermanns- 4th Team.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Purdue can have a rebound season, and it all starts with Rondale Moore and the offense. Consistent quarterback and offensive line play continues to be the big question for the Boilers, but progress could help ensure a few more W’s. The quarterback room also got a boost of experience with incoming senior transfer, Austin Burton, from UCLA.
That was a lot of talk around the passing game- but the reality is, the offense was not well rounded. In fact, Purdue featured one of the worst running attacks in the country, ranking 126th, averaging just 2.92 yards per carry for 83.3 yards per game. As a team, they averaged just 25.8 points per game, good enough for 87th in the country.
Purdue is returning quarterbacks with game experience, their top two rushers to go with their three most productive receivers for 2020. There is room for growth and plenty of optimism on this side of the ball.
The Purdue Defense
Even though their overall rank (86th) for points per game allowed is right in line with their offense, there are far lesser known commodities on the defensive side of the ball. As a unit, the Purdue defense surrendered 30 points per game.
While they do return pre-season All-Conference players in DL George Karlaftis- 1st Team, and DL Lorenzo Neal- 4th Team, there are more questions than answers. Also back is Derrick Barnes, who racked up 11 TFL’s to go with 7.5 sacks, but again, there is still plenty to be sorted out on this side of the ball.
Brohm has done a great job recruiting at Purdue, so that may end up being the answer to a lot of the questions on defense. When your defensive showing was lackluster, introducing new talent isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if unproven.
As it relates to their match-up with Air Force, at least the strength of the defense appears to be in the front seven. Purdue ranked 99th versus the run last season, allowing 193 yards per game. That will be a significant influence to the narrative when these teams play in the fall.
What To Expect
If Purdue wants to avoid a repeat of their 2019 results vs. Nevada, they are going to have to get stout up front on defense, and take care of the ball. Rondale Moore is a game changer, and if he is healthy, the offense could be explosive.
Thankfully, Air Force has an All-Conference standout of its own in Tre Bugg, who is going to be challenged with covering Moore. The Falcons are not estranged to covering elite receivers, but the supporting cast in the secondary is a bit of an unknown after losing all of its starters with the exception of Bugg, and some depth players.
If last season is any indication, Air Force played three of the top five passing offenses in the country, which included the top ranked Washington State Cougars. The Falcons secured victories in all three games, winning two of which comfortably.
I think the 2020 version of Purdue is certainly a Bowl ready team, with enough talent to incite debates of division contender worthiness. The combination of some truly explosive talent on both offenses, a Purdue defense (especially vs. the run) looking for progress and the Falcons who are replacing a lot of departing production from their defense lends to the potential of a shootout.
I would expect the type of entertaining out of conference contest we were treated to last year, when Air Force traveled to Boulder to upend Colorado in a thriller.