For those Louisville football aficionados you are well aware why the Cardinals don't have a #16 on the current roster. For the rest of ya, a little feller name Johnny Unitas wore #16 back in the day and Louisville decided that no one else should get to wear that number again....ever. So here we are.
We got three kids rocking #15 tomorrow so I could have very easily mailed it in, but do you think Petrino is giving the boys a day off today? Nope. I’m not that king of blogger either, and you all aren’t that kind of reader. NO DAYS OFF!!
Instead, I sat down with Travis Miller (@JustTMill) from over at Hammer & Rails, the Purdue SB Nation site, and asked for his thoughts on a few things as we head into Week 1. Hope you enjoy.
Purdue fans have had to endure some pretty mediocre football the last few seasons as Darrell Hazell never really got things rolling, finishing out his four seasons with a 9-33 record and never winning more than 3 games any season he was there. After letting Hazell go the Boilers went and got UofL alum and former WKU Head Coach Jeff Brohm. Most pegged the Brohm hire as one of the best in the offseason across the Power 5 conferences. What are the realistic expectations for Coach Brohm heading into this year, with a roster somewhat thin on athleticism?
It is hard to say, really. We were pretty bad last year, but still at least won three games. Beating Eastern Kentucky, Nevada, and Illinois is not a great accomplishment. In the other three Hazell-coached games Purdue got trounced, but played generally better under Gerad Parker even though it lost its last six. This year’s schedule is arguably tougher. The Louisville game is not easy and a trip to Missouri is not a cakewalk. In Big Ten play we do get Illinois and Rutgers though. I think overall the team will be better, but if Brohm somehow gets us to a bowl game he has to be a Coach of the Year candidate. There are just too many questions, too many undeveloped players, and too much of a gap to make up with many teams. Brohm has done his best to fill that gap, bringing in six graduate transfers and a wealth of JuCo guys to play right now, but that can only do so much.
One of the more experienced players for Purdue, and the lone bright spot at times last season, was Sophomore quarterback David Blough. Not only did he lead the Big Ten in passing yards/game, but was second in the conference in passing TD's. While ball security is a concern for Blough, Brohm has produced a Top 3 QB nationally the last three years at WKU in terms of passer rating. Can Blough be on that level running Brohm's offense in the Big Ten?
I certainly hope so. Blough has shown some flashes in the past with a big game against Nebraska in 2015 and a huge game against Iowa last year. He can run a fair amount, but he has often been forced to play behind a bad offensive line and he had John Shoop as his offensive coordinator during his redshirt year in 2014 and his first year playing in 2015. Brohm has to de-Shoop him, and the process is ongoing. I really like Blough if he can cut down on the turnovers. He attended the Manning Academy this summer and Brohm really does seem to be a QB whisperer. Blough was also better last year without Shoop, but turnovers were an issue at times. It really depends on if his line shores up in front of him.
Ahh, yes. A topic all too familiar with Louisville fans is inconsistent O-line play. The opening week battle between Purdue and Louisville, statistically speaking at least, is going to be ugly in the trenches. Louisville has some pass rushers that can get in the backfield in James Hearns and Trevon Young. Does Purdue have talent in the front 7 that could have Lamar Jackson running for his life all game?
There are a few guys that can cause some trouble, but not an Ed Oliver type. Eddy Wilson is a solid defensive tackle that is a definite NFL prospect in 2019 and, if he plays well, he could declare for 2018. Gelen Robinson, the son of our legendary basketball player Glenn Robinson, has been a frustrating player for three years but is the type that can dominate a game. He can play both inside and outside. It looks like we’re trying to develop more of a rush with Danny Ezechukwu sometimes playing LB and sometimes lining up at end. I really like linebackers Markus Bailey and Ja’Whaun Bentley too. T.J. McCollum came over from WKU with Brohm for his final season of eligibility as well. The experience is there to at least give a few different looks, but Lamar Jackson is still Lamar Jackson. He didn’t win the Heisman for nothing last year. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified of him. Our front seven should be better just because of the coaching change. We ran a moronic 4-2-5 most of last season (even though linebacker was a strength and the secondary was a weakness) and teams ran all day on us. Our definition of “better” mostly comes from “It can’t really be worse than it was.”
To go back to your comment regarding Purdue's O-line play, they will likely throw two or maybe even three different running backs at the Cards in Week 1. What should Louisville expect from the Boilers running game, considering the Cards don’t have a ton of depth along the defensive line?
More like four or five. We have a very deep running back room and each of the guys can throw a little something different out there. Markell Jones is probably the best and hopefully will be the starter. He ran for absolutely absurd numbers in high school including 3,565 yards and 60 TDs as a senior. After an 865-10 season as a freshman he struggled greatly last year. Purdue needs him to be better and it needs the offensive line to be much better. That offensive line is my biggest question. Blough is doing the best he can do, but Grant Hermanns is a first time starter at left tackle as a redshirt freshman, and both Shane Evans and Dave Steinmetz are graduate transfers brought in to play immediately. Kirk Barron and Matt McCann both started last season, but the other three spots are shaky and exactly why Brohm went after grad transfers. Evans and Steinmetz are better than anyone else we already had in the program. We also need to break in an entirely different group of receivers, with Gregory Phillips being the lone player with any real experience.
Both teams certainly appear to still have some question marks as they roll into Lucas Oil a couple weeks from today. On paper, Louisville is the more talented team, more experienced team, and just so happens to be returning the Heisman trophy winning quarterback in Lamar Jackson, but, Jeff Brohm is a student of Petrino, and Co-Offensive Coordinator Brian Brohm was a QB under Petrino (Coach Holt and Levine also had stints at Louisville). With a little "inside knowledge" and some extra motivation against the alma mater, do Brohm and the Boilers shock the college football world in Week 1? What's your prediction for how this one will play out?
It is going to take a virtually perfect game to spring this upset. Purdue is going to needs its front seven to be dominant on a “Houston against Louisville last season” level. Blough is going to need his offensive line to come together quickly and have his receivers also be on the same page when we haven’t really sorted that spot yet. We’re also likely going to need turnover help. That’s probably all not going to happen. Most Purdue fans know this and would honestly be happy with a competitive game where we might have a chance into the second half. If we went into halftime down something like 24-17 and eventually lost like 41-27 then I think most of our crowd would be happy. We have been in this spot before. Four seasons ago Hazell came to town with a lot of fanfare and we made a big deal out of a road game against an Ohio River team that we thought we could beat. Purdue then went out, trailed 14-7 at halftime at Cincinnati, and lost 42-7 on its way to a 1-11 season. If Brohm can outperform that it is a very good first step.
Big thanks again to Travis Miller for all his insight and information on the Week 1 opponent. Feel free to check out his preview of Louisville from earlier this summer where he breaks down the Cards and has some very nice things to say about the squad.
16 Days, folks.