The Michigan Wolverines are a win away from a second consecutive Big Ten Championship. In the way of that are Jeff Brohm and the Purdue Boilermakers.
Michigan hasn’t played Purdue since 2017 — it’s been the hottest of minutes since Jim Harbaugh and Brohm met up last. In fact, it was Brohm’s first season at Purdue.
To gain some insight on the Boilermakers, Maize n Brew spoke with Hammer and Rails contributor Andrew Ledman. He has been with the Purdue SB Nation community for nearly a decade and is a Purdue graduate. A true diehard fan of the Boilermakers, he answered questions about the team on offense, defense, what Brohm could be cooking up for Saturday, and much more.
Michigan advanced to the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time ever last year. This year, the same goes for Purdue. Michigan fans were so elated to finally take down Ohio State and represent the Big Ten East in Indianapolis. What is the feeling resonating around the Purdue fan base after beating Indiana and reaching the conference championship?
Ledman: Purdue has always been more of a basketball school who dabbles in football. Purdue fans love to watch football when it’s good but often struggle to fill the stands during the down years. Jeff Brohm really invigorated this program after two coaching hires that didn’t go as planned. In general, the feeling around the program is better than it has been since probably 2005. That being said, people still have their gripes about Brohm and some, unrealistically, think he needs to go and Purdue can just pony up for someone with more consistent success.
After this weekend (where the basketball team beat West Virginia, #6 Gonzaga, and #8 Duke and attained a No. 5 ranking) Purdue fans are in a world of joy and happiness that quite frankly feels a bit uncomfortable. Purdue fans don’t thrive on expectations so we are much happier to be the underdog in a game against Michigan than we are to be the fifth-ranked basketball team preparing for hapless Florida State.
Michigan has not played Purdue since 2017 (thanks conference divisions). A lot has changed since then, but one thing remains the same: Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Brohm. Explain to Michigan fans Brohm’s coaching philosophies, and what they can expect from him this Saturday on the field.
Ledman: Jeff Brohm is the play caller for the Purdue offense and takes that job very seriously, sometimes to the detriment of his other duties. He styles himself as a bit of a gunslinger and someone who isn’t afraid to take a risk or throw in a trick play. However, what Jeff Brohm says and what Jeff Brohm does can often be at odds with one another. I talked about this on our most recent podcast but Jeff Brohm complains about Jeff Brohm the play caller an awful lot. After the first half of the Indiana game he mentioned they got away from the run and he’s got to do a better job keeping that focus. He tends to do this 2-3 times a season.
All that preamble out of the way, I think when Brohm knows he has nothing to lose he is more apt to pull out the bells and whistles. Brohm wants to throw the ball. He’s called his offense a precision passing offense, and playing in a domed stadium will certainly help that. I think Brohm knows that in this game, basically no one expects him to win so why not get a little crazy. People might not remember that last year Purdue took down Tennessee in their bowl game despite losing their top wide receiver and defensive lineman as they prepared for the draft. It wouldn’t shock me to see Brohm call 2-3 trick plays to try to get something going against what is obviously a very stout Michigan defense.
In my opinion, Charlie “Chuck Sizzle” Jones has been one of the best, most impactful transfers in college football this season. His ability to change the game on special teams and on offense is a joy to watch. What about him makes him so good in both those areas of the game?
Ledman: It’s such an interesting pickup for Purdue because to look at his career before now, you wouldn’t think of him as anything special. He had some success at Iowa in the return game but nothing much to speak of at the receiver position. Then, he comes in to Purdue and has a 1,000+ yard season. Purdue would likely be lost on offense without him.
It’s worth mentioning he and Aidan O’Connell grew up together and AOC was instrumental in getting Jones to come to Purdue once he entered the transfer portal. The two have a solid friendship and have known each other for years and I think that translates onto the field. There’s just an unspoken connection to someone who you’ve known that long.
I think Jones does a lot of things really well. He’s a crisp route runner, he’s got great hands and he’s got pretty decent speed. He’s not off the charts on any one of those skills but when you add them all together, you wind up with one hell of a receiver. Regarding his special teams play, he hasn’t made as much of an impact here at Purdue just because he’s become so important to the offense that you almost don’t want to risk him. So he’s just not had that many opportunities.
Purdue is right around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in terms of total, rushing and passing defense. Who are some key players to watch for the Boilermakers on that side of the ball?
Ledman: The Purdue secondary has had its fair share of problems. We lost a player midway through the season due to some mental health challenges, which seems to have been the best choice for him but obviously left the team scrambling. They’ve been able to grab nine interceptions as a unit with three returned for touchdowns, which obviously is great. However, they also have been prone to big chunk plays and mental lapses, which tend to occur at the worst possible time and are concentrated at the end of halves/games. Purdue gave up scores at the end of the half and end of the game against Penn State, the end of the Syracuse game and the end of the Maryland game. Purdue has been lucky that a lot of the quarterbacks they faced couldn’t make the difficult throws to truly make the secondary pay.
Cam Allen and Cory Trice are the ones to watch in the defensive backfield, though both can be prone to those same mental lapses and poor tackling. It’s a real mixed bag back there.
Regarding run defense, Purdue has held up surprisingly well. Purdue has faced some very good running backs in Sean Tucker and Chase Brown and while they didn’t completely shut them down, they did enough to keep those games close. Purdue might be down one of their top lineman in Branson Deen — he’s listed as questionable and Brohm didn’t sound too confident in his early week press conference. You’ll likely hear Jack Sullivan’s name a lot from the line, as his play has really improved here down the stretch. Nic Caraway and Lawrence Johnson are two more lineman who likely will make an impact, especially if Deen can’t go.
What will the final score be, and why?
Ledman: I’ve put a lot of thought into this Purdue team this year, I’ve spent hours watching them, I’ve spent hours writing about them and talking about them and yet, I still don’t feel like I have any idea who they are and what they are truly capable of. They seem to play to the level of their competition and if that’s the case, Michigan might be in for some trouble. Purdue has to consider itself lucky just to be in this position. They had every opportunity to seize the West for themselves but squandered it and had to rely on a Nebraska victory over Iowa just to get here. I think Brohm and company know they are outgunned here and will be creative, but I think the loss of Purdue’s starting center Gus Hartwig, as well as the likely loss of Deen mentioned above, proves just too much for Purdue to overcome and they lose to Michigan with a final score of Michigan 42 - Purdue 21.
Many thanks to Andrew for his stellar insight! You can go follow his work on SB Nation’s Hammer and Rails.