What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Travis from Hammer & Rails, the go-to blog for supporters of Our Most Hated Rival, gives us the scoop on Purdue football in 2020.
EDIT: I answered questions from Travis over at H&R, so go on and read those, too.
1. Let's start with the elephant in the waiting room -- how much is the COVID-induced absence of Jeff Brohm going to affect things on Saturday? I see that he's being replaced with another Brohm in Brian, right?
TRAVIS: You are correct. Jeff may be in the press box, but is not expected to be on the sidelines. Brian, who has been his offensive coordinator both at Purdue and Western Kentucky, will be on the sidelines and not upstairs. Yesterday he said he has never called plays during a game, so… neat!
Obviously, Brian has been in the chain of command for some time. I think that the continuity there will help and we do have someone with head coaching experience on the staff already as Bob Diaco is the new defensive coordinator, yet they still chose Brian Brohm. Is that because Diaco is installing a new defense and already has enough on his plate? Who knows. I think it will be a factor, but one a scale of “1 to 2 screwups” to “Brian Brohm breaks down sobbing on the sidelines under the pressure,” I think we’re much closer to the former.
2. Explain to me how it's legal for Purdue to have BOTH David Bell and Rondale Moore on offense at the same time. There ought to be regulations and bylaws and statutes against that sort of thing. But how exciting is it for Purdue fans to have both of those guys on offense? Has there been much word on how Purdue plans to use them?
TRAVIS: Pretty much since Bell started to emerge last year after Rondale was injured we have been giddy thinking about how those two would fit together. Bell was playing before Rondale got hurt, but in the first three games he only had six catches for 130 yards and a TD. He didn’t really take off until the Minnesota game where Rondale went down (8 for 114).
Two things make me giddy about it. Rondale is the speedy slot guy that can run sweeps and generally be a home run threat any time he touches the ball. Bell is the steady, sure-handed possession guy who can play on the outside and go deep. That is perfect, and you can’t double both. If you do choose to do that Purdue has a bunch of other talented guys that will be open.
Amad Anderson Jr. had a decent year with 31 catches for 343 yards and three touchdowns last season. Jared Sparks is an experienced steady hand as a senior with more than 600 receiving yards in his career (and as a former quarterback also has a TD pass). Milton Wright (18-288-1, plus a passing TD) had a decent freshman season and is a former four-star talent. Brohm hasn’t even gotten to truly unwrap his other toys yet in TJ Sheffield (4-star who was injured last year) and true freshmen four-stars Maliq Carr (who will also play basketball for Matt Painter) and Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen. With Wright and Sparks both having a passing TD to their credit in their careers these guys can even throw.
I guess you can be uspet that general all-purpose guy Jackson Anthrop is out with a shoulder injury. Having Bell and Moore with a bunch of other talented guys is an incredible luxury. We just need someone that can consistently get them all the ball.
3. Bell and Moore aside, what's the rest of Purdue's offense going to look like?
TRAVIS: As I mentioned, there is an embarrassment of riches at receiver. We need to improve the running game, which was one of the worst in the country last year. Zander Horvath (think a Mark Weisman analogue right down to being a former walk-on) going completely nuts on Indiana last year accounted for over 1/8th of our entire rushing total for the season last year, so it wasn’t good. King Doerue was good as a true freshman, leading the team with 451 yards and five touchdowns while also catching 20 passes, but there needs to be more. I am excited to see what four-star recruit Tirek Murphy can do.
The offensive line should be better, but it is shifting somewhat. Then there is quarterback, which is kind of important. Brohm says he has picked his guy, but we don’t know who it is. You guys saw Jack Plummer last year. As a redshirt freshman who was thrown into the fire after Elijah Sindelar got hurt, he wasn’t bad. He had his freshman moments, but had a big game against Maryland and threw for 327 yards against you guys. He broke his ankle against Nebraska and now-former walk-on Aidan O’Connell came on. He only led the game-winning drive vs. the Cornhuskers, won at Northwestern in his first career start, and threw for 400+ against Indiana. He is in the mix, too. Finally, Austin Burton is a newcomer as a graduate transfer from UCLA with two years of eligibility left. He was brought in to compete immediately, but both O’Connell and Plummer have more game experience.
I think Plummer has the edge as he was the starter last year before injury, but Brohm has said he may play two quarterbacks. We had success with that in 2017 as Sindelar and David Blough platooned, but you really prefer one guy. Given what O’Connell did last year as a walk on I think Brohm could run a functioning offense with trebuchet, the muffler off of his old Toyota, and some dirt for grit. He could probably even go get Sindelar from his job as an engineer at Chrysler in Tipton, Indiana, enroll him (he still had a year of eligibility left, but quit due to injuries), give him a few practices, and get him to throw for 450. Just imagine the movie version here: Brohm walks into the factory and says, “I need you, Elijah. Let’s Play Football.”
4. What's the outlook for Purdue's defense in 2020? Who are 3-4 guys Iowa fans should be aware of on that side of the ball for Saturday?
TRAVIS: It is funny you mention 3-4 because Purdue is shifting to that alignment under Diaco. The defense, especially the pass defense, was a complete mess much of last year and is getting an overhaul with a grad transfer (Tyler Coyle), a JuCo guy (Geovante Howard), and a familiar name to Iowa fans (DJ Johnson). Derrick Barnes will be the hybrid DE/LB and he has a lot of experience. Up front we couldn’t be more comfortable as Lorenzo Neal returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL and freshman All-American George Karlaftis is back to torment quarterbacks. If anything, I think Karlaftis was too fast last year as his overzealousness to get into the backfield led to him missing a few sacks. Neal was also projected as a first rounder at defensive tackle and is, in general, a planet of a run-stuffer in the middle.
5. Purdue took a bit of a step back under Brohm last season. What are the expectations like for this year, given how weird everything is?
TRAVIS: It is going to be interesting. Injuries were the name of the game last year as we lost two starting quarterbacks, an all-world talent in Moore, a first round talent in Neal, and several other steady upperclassmen. That led to a lot of freshmen playing. I think at one point 18 straight touchdowns were scored by freshmen or a freshman threw the pass for them.
The 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes were both the best classes we have had in at least 15 years, and by a wide margin. The classes that were in the 60s and 70s nationally under Hazell are mostly gone now. The 2019 and 2020 classes were both borderline top 25 classes, so the talent has upgraded. Even with all the freshmen playing last year they are still young this year. Even in all the weirdness I think we can still win 4-5 games thanks to a favorable schedule. The only team from the east we lost from the original schedule was Michigan and we got to keep Rutgers and Indiana, so thank you, Big Ten! I think we can also hold serve against Northwestern, Nebraska, and Illinois from the west too. The Iowa game seems like a swing game. Win it, and suddenly 6-7 wins might be possible. Indiana and Nebraska are far from locks, but they are games I can see us winning (and Iowa is better than both). If we can’t beat Northwestern, Illinois (yes, we lost to them last year), and Rutgers, then we have issues. We also have to figure out how to win close games. In the last two years we have lost five times (Missouri, Eastern Michigan, and Wisconsin in 2018, and Nevada and Indiana in 2019) on literally the game’s final play. Flip those five games and suddenly things for Brohm look even better.
In short, I think it is a stage setting year for what could be a huge 2021 as the young talent gains experience.
6. OK, prediction time -- how is the latest showdown between Most Hated Rivals going to play out?
TRAVIS: I saw where you have a lot of defensive questions especially up front, so if the QB derby winner has time to throw we’re going to have open guys with all the talent on the field. Rondale is also a “How the hell do you stop this guy” guy, but you guys were about the only team that contained him two years ago (six catches for 31 yards, though we still won). I think the offense will be fine, but I worry about the new defensive scheme. I think we see another game like the one two years ago when Purdue won 38-36. Does Kirk stupidly go for two again chasing points?
NOTE: Don't forget to go and read my responses to Travis' questions at H&R, too!
Thanks for being a good sport, Travis, but I still hope your squad gets mollywhopped on Saturday. You can check out Travis and the rest of the H&R crew at Hammer & Rails. You can also follow Travis on Twitter at @JustTMill and Hammer & Rails on Twitter at @HammerAndRails. The Iowa-Purdue game is in West Lafayette, IN on Saturday, October 24, and is scheduled to start at approximately 2:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.