The most dramatic one-year turnaround in college football probably won’t be a major storyline at any point later this season. It probably won’t create many headlines for national outlets, consume much airtime on studio shows or matter at all in the College Football Playoff chase. It is taking place in relative obscurity, disregarded by casual observers but in full view of college football geeks.
After three-plus years treading water under former head coach Darrell Hazell while languishing near the bottom of the offensive charts, Purdue is winning, and scoring a lot of points in the process. On Saturday, the Boilermakers crushed SEC foe Missouri, 35–3, to move to 2–1 on the season. That followed a 44–21 victory over Mid-American Conference East Division favorite Ohio and a one-touchdown loss to Louisville in Indianapolis.
The transformation was precipitated by a savvy coaching hire. About two months after firing Hazell (9–33 overall record), new athletic director Mike Bobinski tabbed Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm to fill his spot. The former Louisville quarterback promised to infuse some verve into a Purdue offense that rarely posed much of a threat to conference opponents during Hazell’s time at the helm.
But the mostly bullish forecasts about Brohm’s prospects in West Lafayette were tempered by the reality that it would take time to get his system cranking at full tilt. Even in the Big Ten’s virtual junior varsity division (the West), it seemed as though Brohm would need a season or two to turn over the roster and bring in players hand-picked to run his offense. The Boilermakers were not ripe for a one-year makeover.
Brohm may not have Purdue ready to win the division, but he has turned it into a tough out with a dangerous offensive attack. The Boilermakers gave Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals everything they wanted in Week 1, averaging more than eight yards per play against a top-flight Group of Five squad a week later and this weekend zooming through Missouri’s mushy defense time and again without breaking a sweat.
A week after Mizzou switched defensive coordinators, Purdue junior quarterback David Blough tore holes in the Tigers’ coverage, connecting on 22 of his 28 passing attempts for 187 yards and a touchdown and running for one score. Boilermakers sophomore running back Tario Fuller complemented their aerial assault with a 36-yard touchdown dash in the first quarter and finished with 90 yards on 19 carries.
Purdue rose 12 spots in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ ratings, the third-largest jump in the Football Bowl Subdivision, after the win over the Bobcats last week, and they’ll keep climbing after routing Missouri. The Boilermakers’ toughest work lies ahead, but conference opponents won’t be able to laze into wins against them anymore. No longer will Purdue be the punching bag squads look to as a soft spot on their league slate.
Next week’s game against Michigan will be instructive. The Boilermakers won’t be expected to take down the Wolverines, but if they can put a fast and talented defense through its paces, it’ll signal they’re ready to go score-for-score with top conference competition. Purdue’s schedule lightens up from there, with road dates against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa looming as its toughest challenges. Getting to a bowl is a plausible goal.
Michigan better go into Ross-Ade Stadium with a better plan to slow down Blough & Co. than Missouri had on Saturday.