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Hawkeye Football Opponent Preview: Purdue Boilermakers

Can Jeff Brohm’s program get back on track after a dud of a 2019 season?

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Hey there. As you’re aware if you’re reading this article, we’ve been counting down the days and weeks until the beginning of the Iowa football season and previewing each of Iowa’s opponents in 2020. Welp, last week the Big Ten announced that fall sports will not happen, and there’s “hope” that a season will be played in the spring.

Will the spring season actually happen? If I were a betting blogger, I’d invest my entire life savings on ‘No!’ and that other conferences won’t be playing this fall either, despite their best wishes. Or maybe they will? Or maybe the Big Ten and the PAC-12 will play in the spring when everyone else is playing in the fall? Nobody knows!

Regardless, we’re already here, blogging away about Iowa’s opponents for the upcoming season, and we’re gonna need a lot of content to fill these months, so we’ll keep on keeping on. Just note, we are assuming at this point that these games will get played, and that the rosters in the spring will be the same as the fall. Will that come true? Probably not! But who cares?

This week we’re previewing the Purdue Boilermakers, who, after having two years of instant success under head coach Jeff Brohm, delivered an underwhelming 4-8 2019 campaign and are looking to right the once-promising ship.

Purdue Boilermakers

2019 Record: 4-8 (3-6), 5th in Big Ten West

After a bowl victory and two bowl appearances in Jeff Brohm’s first two seasons as head coach at Purdue, it’s safe to say the Boilermakers derailed in Brohm’s third season, tallying a 4-8 record and no bowl appearance in a season where the team was expected to at least make its third consecutive bowl. Injuries certainly played a role in that, but it still made for a tough season.

Heading into the 2020 season, whenever (if ever) that may be, the Boilermakers are obviously looking to get back...on Brohm tries to permanently bring the Purdue program to sustained relevance. And it’s certainly a possibility after all the young players who saw extended playing time last year in the face of those aforementioned injuries...

Key Departures

One of the biggest departures for the program is former defensive coordinator Nick Holt, who was fired after the 2019 season. Holt was in charge of a defense that left a lot to be desired in nearly every aspect, inexperienced or not. His 2019 defense was ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 436 yards per game, and 12th in run defense, allowing 192 rushing yards per game.

Replacing him comes Bob Diaco, fresh from a stint at Louisiana Tech. He will have a lot to work with when it comes to up-and-coming talent on his roster, but will need to replace Markus Bailey, who tallied 301 combined solo and assisted tackles, 13.5 sacks, 6 interceptions and 1 touchdown in his career. He only saw playing time in 4 games last season due to injury before being drafted in the 7th round of the NFL Draft to the Cincinnati Bengals, but still made an impact on the team’s younger defensive players from the sidelines. The team also lost its leading tackler Ben Holt, son of former defensive coordinator Nick, who tallied 66 solo tackles and a sack in his lone graduate-transfer season with the Boilermakers.

The offense, meanwhile, was slated to return a lot of talent, with the biggest loss expected to be tight end Brycen Hopkins, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 4th round of the NFL Draft.

That all changed a few weeks ago when Rondale Moore opted out due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

Moore was expected to return from injury to add to the more than 1600 yards and 14 touchdowns he had tallied in his career, but the nature of his leg injury led to some doubt. Opting out allows Moore to focus entirely on training for the draft, but does limit his film and NFL franchises’ ability to see that he’s fully recovered on the field.

Key Returners

The offense highlights a lot of returning talent, but also a lot of question marks, particularly at quarterback. The offensive line returns three starters from last season, led by Grant Hermanns at left tackle. But that line will need to better work, as the run game struggled in 2019 — tallying only 83 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry, both last in the conference. However, the team’s two leading backs, King Doerue and Zander, Horvath who tallied 451 yards and 5 touchdowns and 377 yards and 2 touchdowns restively, both look to use their combined starting experience to find better results. And at receiver, true sophomore receiver David Bell, who logged 1,035 yards and 8 total touchdowns in his debut season, will lead the way with Moore now opted out for the NFL.

But the man behind center throwing and handing off the ball to the returning talent is still up in the air. The Boilermakers return quarterbacks Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell, but also have added UCLA graduate transfer Austin Burton. If you have more than one quarterback, you have no quarterback, as we saw from Purdue last season, and the quicker they can decide on who will stay under center for the duration of the season, the better they will perform under Brohm’s fantastic offensive mind.

Defensively, new DC Diaco will be relying on the returning talent of defensive end George Karlaftis, whose 7.5 sacks over 12 starts earned him Freshman All-American recognition. Defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal is also poised to return, but will be another Boilermaker returning from an injury that kept him out the entire 2019 campaign. Cornerbacks Dedrick Mackey and Cory Trice also showed promise last season, along with help from safeties Simeon Smiley, Brennan Thieneman, Cam Allen and UConn graduate transfer Tyler Coyl.

And rounding it out in the kicking game, the Boilermakers will return kicker J.D. Dellinger, who hit 13 of 16 field goal attempts last season. Sophomore punter Brooks Cormier also returns, but was inconsistent last season and will compete with junior punter Zac Collins, who logged 33 punts for over 1,000 yards last season.

2020 Preview

It’s still hard to say what will happen with Big Ten football in general, so it’s obviously still difficult to say what will happen with Purdue in 2020. On paper, the team is poised to lean on its youthful experience to achieve more success in 2020. But between youth and the loss of a talent like Moore, the Boilermakers have a lot to prove. That’s made more difficult with a conference-only schedule that features difficult road matchups against Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and difficult home matchups against Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska. It’s possible that the Boilermakers could pick up an upset or two somewhere in there to get enough wins for a bowl appearance, but a lot of it will depend on the growth of talent and improvement from the defense under Diaco.

Iowa/Purdue Prediction

Let’s not shy away from it: this game is usually a yearly toss-up. But if the Big Ten-only schedule plays out, the Hawkeyes will face the Boilermakers in week 2, and I think, even with a lot of unknowns for the Hawkeyes, it will take Purdue a bit more time to figure things out, and Iowa will squeak out a close victory.

Iowa 24, Purdue 21