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What to watch for: Purdue Boilermakers

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The first What To Watch For of the season lays out some of the questions for both teams.

NCAA Football: Louisville Spring Game Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

CAN JEFF BROHM MAKE LEMONADE?

Purdue has been a struggling program for a decade and those struggles have left the program with a very low level of talent. To put it bluntly, Purdue doesn’t often look like a Big Ten team. Most power 5 teams have at least a handful of high level players without the second group of guys to keep up. Purdue has a handful of second level guys and no real top level guys.

Here’s where Brohm factors in. Western Kentucky didn’t have a lot of high level guys when he took over in Bowling Green. What he was able to do was mine the transfer market for guys looking for more playing time as well as identify the guys he had on the roster that just needed a chance. This past year, Brohm saw two of his offensive players go in the first three rounds of the draft. He also turned a quarterback in Mike White, who barely completed half of his passes at USF, into one of the national passing leaders.

Brohm didn’t take over a barren roster at Western but he took what was given to him and improved it very quickly. One has to wonder if he can take the lemons he was given at Purdue and turn them into lemonade? I don’t know how he can pull that off this year but he has the most important position covered if David Blough’s shoulder is healthy enough. Brohm will use trick plays and speed to try to overcome the talent deficit and it’s worked some in the past. Western hung fairly well with Alabama last year and I’d imagine Brohm is playing that up to his team as Louisville being the same type of challenge.

Graduate transfers will start or play at 5 positions for Purdue against Louisville. Once again, Jeff Brohm took full advantage of the transfer market and he pulled in guys that could immediately help. He was even able to pull a starter from Western’s defense to lead his new one. I won’t go as far as to say Brohm drastically updated his talent level, but he definitely improved it.

LOUISVILLE’S OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY

It’s obvious where everyone’s focus will be on early in the season for Louisville. The offensive line was the downfall of the offense late in the season last year and Bobby Petrino made a change at coach to try to fix the issues. Petrino also pulled in a few recruits that could immediately help upgrade the position and add depth.

Mike Summers made the decision this fall to move Lukayus McNeil from tackle to guard and decided true freshman Mechi Becton would start in his place. Becton is drawing rave reviews from the coaches this fall so the expectations are high. Summers is also a co-offensive coordinator and his influence can really help the line in other ways. UofL has brought back the fullback as well as putting an emphasis on getting away from being a shotgun-only offense. Lamar Jackson will take snaps from under center with the hopes that it will help bring back some traditional run plays as well as play-action off of those run plays.

The line needs help from the play calling this year and I think play-action will really alleviate some of the blitzing and other pressure packages defenses will use. It will also lead to some of the big plays we saw early in the season last year. Lamar and his receivers will benefit from easier deep throws if safeties bite on play-actions.

I don’t know how this line will play but I think that starting off against a team that is breaking in new guys and a new system should help Louisville. Nick Holt is an aggressive coordinator but what happens if his blitzes are getting home? If Lamar Jackson breaks a couple of big runs early? If his new guys in the secondary can’t keep up with Jaylen Smith and company? He will have to back off and the line can get a good game to get some confidence going.

HOW DOES PETER SIRMON CALL A GAME?

Todd Grantham led Louisville’s defense to some great rankings and highlight reel plays during his time here. At the same time, he frustrated plenty of fans with his defensive philosophy of blitz first and ask questions later. I’m a firm believer that you have to bring pressure on defense to win games these days. Offenses are built to take advantage of the defense and you have to combat that. Grantham went overboard with that at times and turned his pressure into the very thing that offenses took advantage of.

Louisville will run the same system under Peter Sirmon that Grantham ran. We’ll see a 3-3-5 that turns into a 4-2-5 at times. We’ll look forward to seeing James Hearns and Trevon Young coming off the edge on 3rd downs also. What we don’t know is how much Sirmon will blitz. We don’t know if his corners will be in press coverage or if they’ll play with a cushion. How does Peter Sirmon combat an offensive coach like Jeff Brohm who ran the most productive offense in the country last year?

I’ve watched hundreds of defensive snaps from Mississippi State’s defense last year and I don’t think the play calling could be any different than what we are used to here. Sirmon didn’t blitz very much at all last year. It was almost as if he had a base defensive call as opposed to a base defense at times. Kind of like when you play a video game and just call a few defensive plays that work for you.

Sirmon was upfront about his defense’s poor performance last season. He pointed out how injuries hampered things. But his defense gave up 41 points to Samford. They pretty much allowed Arkansas to average a first down per play. For some context, Louisville allowed Clemson and UK to put up 8+ yards per play last year and that hadn’t happened since Kragthorpe was here. MSU pulled that off in back-to-back weeks. I can’t help but think that Sirmon’s lack of pressure and blitzing factors in to the poor year. Will we see something different?

JEFF BROHM’S TRICK PLAYS

WKU was more than just a high powered offense that threw the ball all over the place. They actually were very balanced and they used trick plays to keep defenses off guard and generate big plays. They ran them against anyone and everyone and it worked a good amount. Brohm recruited athletic kids to come and play for him even if they weren’t complete players. He ended up with receivers that could throw the ball 50 yards and running backs that could catch the ball like receivers. It allowed for some creative things that not everyone can do.

Now that he’s at Purdue, Brohm’s 3rd string quarterback is also going to play some receiver. I expect him to use that to his advantage and dial up a double pass or a reverse into a pass play to try to get a receiver behind the defense. He can also use these types of plays to setup decoy plays even if they don’t work. It’s all about keeping the defense of guard and Brohm has done very well with that in his career.