Crossroads College Football: In a season of disappointment, Purdue has a lot to build on

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As the air begins to attenuate and the leaves start to foil, an amazing sport returns to the eyes of viewers: football.

Every year when September rolls around, college football fans are anxious for their school to start the season. Each season brings a bout of optimism, and perhaps feelings of a fresh start, to every fan who had waited through the long course of eight or nine months for their team to reappear on the television screen. Some fans in particular were more anxious than most--those of the Purdue Boilermakers. 

Fresh off a 6-7 season that saw the ultimate triumph over Ohio State, as well as the ultimate low of a loss against Eastern Michigan, Purdue followers were hungry for what was to come next. Though they were crushed by Auburn in a bowl game that Auburn had no business participating in, there was enough foreshadowing to unite all Purdue fans alike. It was clear that promising head coach Jeff Brohm was well on his way to restoring a program that had been neglected for over a decade. 2019 was going to be the year Purdue asserted themselves as a true competitor in the Big Ten.

Until it all fell apart. 

After what many would consider a successful year, there were reports linking Brohm to the open position at Louisville, his alma mater. Despite the reports, Brohm announced his intentions to stay, and that he did. After the drama, focus switched to the promise of the upcoming season. The Boilermakers lost some key players due to graduation, such as star quarterback David Blough and running backs D.J. Knox and Markell Jones, but there were many terrific players returning, including linebacker Markus Bailey and defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal. Under an improved Elijah Sindelar, not to mention Rondale Moore, the Boilermakers were surely in great hands. 

In the blink of an eye, it was already Week 1 and Purdue was set to take on Nevada. After cruising to a solid 24-7 lead at halftime, the Boilermaker defense seamlessly imploded, allowing Nevada to score 27 in the second half en route to a 34-31 victory over the black and gold. Disappointment understandably accumulated--but it was only one game and the Boilermakers had plenty of opportunity to make up for the loss. Sure enough, they answered with a 42-24 victory over Vanderbilt. The win sort of brought a sigh of relief. While the Commodores may not be an SEC powerhouse, they’re usually no pushover. In fact, Vanderbilt managed a pretty solid offense in 2018, averaging 28.5 points per game, complemented by 411.3 yards per matchup. So, holding the Commodores to 24 points was a great performance to build upon.

Unfortunately, injuries happened--and a lot of them. During the game against Vandy, Sindelar suffered a concussion. Before their next game against TCU, the Boilermakers lost defensive stud Markus Bailey. Sindelar remained out until the Week 4 game against Minnesota, where he and Rondale Moore sustained injuries...on the same play. The two most important players on their offense disappeared as if Thanos snapped his fingers. Up to this point, through the course of three games, Sindelar had tossed for 978 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions on 64% of his passes. Eventually, it was reported that Sindelar would remain out for six-to-eight weeks due to a broken clavicle. Moore is listed as having a hyperextended knee and Sindelar is labeled as week-to-week. Another key injury was that of defensive tackle Anthony Watts, who is out indefinitely with a substantial arm injury. These circumstances have led them to their 2-4 start.

Ravaged with injuries, the Boilermakers have been forced to work with what they have. To be quite honest, they look as if they’re in good hands for the future. Not only do they have a formidable recruiting class (#26 nationally), but their young players have showed a lot of promise. Take young quarterback Jack Plummer for example--through four games thus far, the redshirt freshman has accumulated 965 yards, 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while completing 59.4% of his passes. In fact, he’s coming off quite the impressive victory over Maryland, where he threw for a whopping 420 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions on an outstanding 80.5%. 

It’s essential to mention that much of the reason Purdue has struggled this season. They’re unable to efficiently run the football. The team has relied upon the quarterbacks to do the heavy lifting. Through six games, they’ve only been able to muster up a total of 577 rushing yards, which averages to a meager 63.5 rushing yards per game. Even worse, the backs have only been able to average 2.2 yards per carry. Yes, let's reiterate that: 2.2 yards per carry. Freshman Doerue King leads the backfield in carries with 67, rushing for 250 yards and two touchdowns, carrying for 37.67 a game and a decent 3.4 per carry. Through six games last season, the Boilermakers racked up 1,076 yards rushing, averaging 179.33 a game. Of course, the presence of Knox and Jones helped those numbers, but the Boilermakers need to find a ground game to be successful now and in the future.

As aforementioned, the Boilermakers are doing well in the recruiting world. Over the weekend, they managed to secure a 4-star tight end out of Michigan, Maliq Carr, who is ranked as the fifth best in the country at his position. The team has also been provided a future solution to their problematic rushing offense by adding 4-star running back Tirek Murphy, who is ranked #1 in the state of New York. Strides on the defensive end have also proven successful as the team added 4-star safety Christian Gonzalez to its commitment list. Additionally, 4-star quarterback Michael Alaimo also committed earlier this year. 

2019 four-star freshman David Bell is already making a name for himself, hauling in a team high 438 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, freshman George Karlaftis is doing the same, having recorded 29 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 1 interception. 

What does all of this information point to? When taking into account the potential of their current young roster, combined with the incoming three to four-star talent, Purdue looks to be shaping into a sneaky solid team. While it’s understandable that this season looks to be a lost one, be mindful of what is to come for the upcoming squads. Those young freshmen and sophomores are gathering valuable experience on the field with each additional snap. 

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but there is much for the Boilermakers to work on, especially on the ground and on defense. However, Brohm is boiling up something special in West Lafayette. With patience, it’ll only be a matter of time before Purdue is hammering down on the Big Ten.

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