The Purdue Boilermakers pulled the signature upset of this past college football weekend—indeed of the entire season, when they dismantled Ohio State by a 49-20 count for a national prime-time audience. After a slow start, Purdue is now 4-3 and a wide range of possibilities—anything from the Rose Bowl to missing a bowl altogether is still very much in play.
Expectations were high, at least relatively speaking, in West Lafayette, when the season opened on a Thursday night at home against Northwestern. But Purdue lost that game, then dropped successive home games to Eastern Michigan and Missouri. It looked like the Boilermakers were about to give back the progress they’d made in 2017 when first-year head coach Jeff Brohm led them to a surprise 6-6 season and subsequent bowl win over Arizona.
A visit from a good Boston College team on September 22 marked the turnaround. Purdue delivered a 30-13 win. And then the offense really started humming. The Boilermakers have dropped 40-plus points in a three-game win streak that started with road trips to Nebraska and Illinois and continued Saturday night at home against the Buckeyes.
Purdue is now squarely in the mix of the Big Ten West race. They, along with Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern, all have one conference loss. The Boilermakers have November home games with the Badgers and Hawkeyes, meaning they realistically control their own destiny to get to Indianapolis. Just win out and presume Northwestern loses one more game.
The “win out” part will be more than a little challenging though. In addition to the obvious difficulties that Iowa and Wisconsin themselves present, there’s a road trip to Michigan State on Saturday. There are road games at Minnesota and Indiana, neither of which are a gimme. There’s the problem with doing all of this while college kids are coming off the high of nailing Ohio State in front of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit.
If Purdue doesn’t maintain their focus, the other extreme—slipping out of the bowl picture altogether is also in play. They need two more wins to get bowl-eligible. There isn’t even one game left that’s a surefire win, much less two. You could tell me that Purdue will win out, or that they’ll lose four of five and end up 5-7. Neither would shock me.
But if I had to bet, I’d say the Boilermakers will be much closer to the positive end of those extremes. David Blough is playing efficient football at quarterback. Rondale Moore is a terrific receiver, with 57 catches for 728 yards. While the passing game is top-heavy reliant on him, there are some deep threats in Bryce Hopkins and Isaac Zoo that can stretch the field if secondaries lock in too exclusively on Moore.
The running game is nicely balanced with D.J. Knox leading the way and Markell Jones a solid change of pace. Each is averaging in the 5-6 yards-per-carry neighborhood. The defense, led by linebackers Cornell Jones and Markus Bailey has enough playmakers to keep winning games against the Big Ten’s middle class.
Most of all, Purdue has a head coach in Brohm that clearly knows what he’s doing. The Boilermakers haven’t been relevant in the Big Ten race since the eight-year stretch from 1997-2004 that was Joe Tiller’s high point here. That run included Drew Brees and a Rose Bowl bid in 2000. For Year 2 of the Brohm era, an eight-win campaign and continued improvement are still very reasonable goals.