By Michael Hogg
With the 2022 Season upon us, can Purdue pick up where they left off after a 9-4 season capped by a thrilling 48-45 win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl? For the first time in his regime at Purdue, Jeff Brohm finally knows who his opening day starter is going to be for the Boilermakers and that is going to be Aidan O’Connell. While O’Connell is missing David Bell who left after his Junior Season for the NFL and Milton Wright who was dismissed from the team for academic issues. Besides Bell, Purdue loses a key piece of their defense in Defense End George Karlaftis who departed for the NFL as well.
For Purdue to be just as successful as they were last year they have to have a great start against Penn St who comes into Ross-Ade Stadium for a prime-time national broadcast on Thursday night there are five things that they have to do to accomplish this, and be a contender in a wide-open Big Ten West Division.
Task number one has to be that O’Connell has to pick up where he left off last season where he threw for over 3700 yards and 28 touchdowns While losing both Bell and Wright are key losses for him, O’Connell is able to have some pieces coming back for him with TJ Sheffield and Broc Thompson who had a career day last year during the Music City Bowl with two touchdowns and 217 yards receiving. Along with Sheffield who also caught a touchdown is fifth-year Senior Payne Durham who was also on the receiving end of an O’Connell touchdown pass during the Music City Bowl. O’Connell was able to pick up two transfers from Iowa Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones who can be used in the return game which should help Purdue immensely.
Task number two for Purdue is they have to get the running game going as that has been a downside for Brohm since he has been at Purdue. Even though they are spread the ball type of Offense, being successful in the run game will alleviate O’Connell from doing everything himself. With Xander Horvath departing after graduation it is going to be up to Senior King Doerue who rushed for over 500 yards and one touchdown. Doerue has to come up big, especially in the red zone along with Dylan Downing who is coming back to offset the carries for Doerue. Brohm is hoping for big things this year with the run game as he wants them to be more successful in short-yardage situations along with being inside the red zone.
Task number three is will the Offensive line be able to hold up for Purdue to be successful in both the running and passing game? They do have to pick up from last year as they were successful in the pass-blocking schemes but need to do better with run-blocking. The Line is led by Center Gus Hartwig Guard Spencer Holstege and Tackle Eric Miller who are the stalwarts for the Boilermakers this year. If they are able to do what they did last year O’Connell could have a HUGE season throwing the ball, however, the run game is going to be the key if they can do better than the 88 yards per game they were averaging in 2021.
Task number four is being able to get pressure in both the running and passing game with the Defensive Line. While the loss of Karlaftis is important Purdue is going to be just as better on the defensive side of the ball as they have Lawrence Johnson and Branson Deen to anchor the line, For the linebackers Jalen Graham Kieren Douglas and Kydran Jenkins. The front seven is going to be also bolstered by the returns of Jack Sullivan, O.C. Brothers, and Chris Jefferson along with others who should be able to provide depth for the front seven. The Defensive Back should be just as rock solid as last year, especially with the comeback of Cory Trice who missed the 2021 season due to an injury as one of the Cornerbacks along with Reese Taylor. The Safeties are going to be stacked as well with Cam Allen and Chris Johnson along with Brandon Calloway will provide depth for the Boilermaker secondary.
Finally, task number five is Special Teams, With the addition of Jones from Iowa that is going to help Purdue IMMENSELY in the return game as he was able to have several return touchdowns for Iowa in his career prior to him transferring to Purdue. Senior Placekicker Mitchell Finneran should have another outstanding season kicking for Purdue. In the Punting Department Jank Ansell also returns and looks forward to having another successful season in the punting game for the Boilermakers.
While Purdue has received some national recognition in the off-season and as well in 2021, can they keep the momentum going into 2022, it will be an interesting season for Purdue but they have to have a fast start against Penn St if they want to have a chance to play on December 3rd at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten Championship.