Purdue Didn't Want a 4-8 Season, But Future Sure Looks Bright

Brady Extin

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Not much went right for Purdue this season.

Entering the season with big expectations, the Boilermakers finished just 4-8 after a 44-41 loss to Indiana in double-overtime on Saturday. The injury bug hit Purdue this season in ways that fans and head coach Jeff Brohm could have never imagined.

The Boilermakers lost their top two quarterbacks. Their defense leader played just two games before tearing his ACL. Their No. 1 defensive tackle never saw the field. The top two running backs played very limited snaps. And lastly, one of the top wide receivers in the  country missed almost all season with a leg injury.

The injuries to those players — Elijah Sindelar, Markus Bailey, Lorenzo Neal, Tario Fuller, Richie Worship and Rondale Moore — allowed new guys the opportunity to shine. Some stepped up to the plate and delivered in a big way.

Not all was lost in the injury-riddled season. Earlier than expected, Purdue fans got a glimpse into the near future. And it looks like it’s going to be special. George Karlaftis, David Bell, and King Doerue, among many other freshmen, stepped up in the vid of Purdue’s veterans.

“I do think progress is being made,” Brohm said. “A lot of youth has been in there and they’ve hung in there and have done some good things for us.”

Karlaftis had one of the best seasons ever for a Purdue freshman ever, recording 7.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception. As good as he was, though, he may not have even been Purdue’s top freshman. That honor probably goes to wide receiver David Bell.

Stepping up as the team’s No. 1 receiver once Moore got hurt, Bell put together a season that not many saw coming. After adding 136 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Indiana, Bell finished the season with 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns. He went for more than  100 yards six different times, and may have locked up Big Ten Freshman of the Year with his performance against the Hoosiers.

With Karlaftis and Bell, Purdue has found its offensive and defensive leaders for the future.

They’re just one piece of Purdue’s bright future, though. Outside of tight end Brycen Hopkins and linebacker Ben Holt, the Boilermakers return nearly every starter in 2020.

According to Brohm, they’ve got the pieces. Now, it’s all about putting in the work.

“I do think that our guys showed that they want to win, and we have a handful of guys that are really ready to win,” Brohm said. “Now we just need more guys that understand everything that it’s going to take in order to compete at a high level.”

As Brohm said, Purdue did show fight and the desire to win this season.

They came away with some impressive wins in Big Ten play, beating Maryland 40-14, upsetting Nebraska 31-27 and traveling to Northwestern and winning there for the first time in 10 years.

Even in some of the losses, the Boilermakers showed fight and toughness. They played Iowa well on the road, losing by just six, and traveled to Wisconsin and hung around for the first half. And Saturday, they took Indiana’s best team in recent memory to double-overtime to end the season.

Within all the good though, there was some forgettable moments for this young Purdue team. A 35-7 loss at Penn State and an embarrassing 24-6 loss to Illinois particularly stick out.

All those outcomes, the good and the bad, have helped shape this Purdue team for the future, and they’re going to be better off for it.

"When you look back at it, it is a bad thing that a lot of our team got injured and we ended up playing a lot of freshmen," sophomore running back Zander Horvath said. "But in the end, I feel like it is a better thing for us, experience-wise. 

"They are up to game speed. Next year we are going to have a feel for how we all play, and it’s going to be good."