Mike Carmin covers the Purdue football team for the Lafayette Journal & Courier. He gave Hawkcentral.com the lowdown on the 2017 Boilermakers under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm here.
Read and learn, Hawkeye fans.
► Hawkcentral.com: Jeff Brohm came to Purdue with a reputation as an offensive innovator, but his biggest achievement seems to be creating a rugged defense. Is that fair to say? How has he done it?
► Carmin: The biggest storyline of this season is the defense from Purdue's standpoint and how well and consistently they've played all year. The defense has kept the Boilermakers in every game. When Brohm arrived in December, a majority of the team's best players were on defense. The scheme run by co-coordinator Nick Holt fits the talent on the roster, especially at linebacker. They filled holes at linebacker with T.J. McCollum and the secondary with Josh Okonye, both graduate transfers. The defense plays hard and with effort on every possession, a drastic change from previous Purdue teams.
► Hawkcentral.com: With quarterback David Blough out with an injury, it doesn’t feel like there’s a big dropoff to sophomore Elijah Sindelar. Are they similar players? What challenge does Sindelar pose for the Hawkeye defense?
► Carmin: The production has been similar this season but they're different quarterbacks. Blough doesn't have the vertical arm strength that Sindelar has. When Brohm shifted to running the ball more, Blough got the call because of his mobility to escape danger but also be a threat on the ground. When Purdue went up-tempo with Blough, the pace was swift and effective. Sindelar isn't the threat in the run game but can stretch the field with a stronger arm. The problem? The receivers have been inconsistent in the basic fundamentals of the position: catching, route running and perimeter blocking.
► Hawkcentral.com: The Purdue rushing attack has shown noticeable improvement, but there really isn’t a star tailback. How have the Boilermakers been getting it done?
► Carmin: Mainly, the combination of D.J. Knox and Richie Worship. Markell Jones, who missed the first four games with a knee injury, has added more depth. Knox is hard to find around the line of scrimmage because of his size. Worship is a big 260-pound back who isn't afraid to hurdle defenders and also run over them. He also returns kicks. Purdue has generated rushing yards using receivers on jet sweeps to stretch the defense from sideline-to-sideline. Northwestern was the first team to hold the Boilermakers under 100 yards since the Oct. 14 loss to Wisconsin.
► Hawkcentral.com: The Boilermakers have lost four of five, but have been close in each defeat. Is that a sign of progress for this team, or a lingering concern about not being able to finish off opponents?
► Carmin: It's week No. 11 and Purdue can still qualify for a bowl game. You haven't been able to say that the last four years. So, that's progress. It's real, even though the results throughout the second half of the season are trending the other way. Last year, the Boilermakers were getting blown out by halftime or in the second half. Anybody that watched this team prior to this season could see they weren't competitive and offered little promise that things would change. Although the program still lacks front-line talent in several areas and the recruiting has to pick up to fill the holes, Brohm is the right coach to make it happen at Purdue.
► Hawkcentral.com: Finally, what has been the biggest difference in the attitude surrounding the Purdue football team since Brohm took over?
► Carmin: From Day 1, he preached playing hard, with effort, with a competitive spirit and fighting on every possession. Those of us on the outside who see it every day can tell those elements are now part of the culture around the program. The players believe they can compete with any team on their schedule and win, despite the obvious shortcomings up and down the roster. Brohm has this team focused on the next opponent. Earlier in the year when Purdue started off hot, some players got ahead of themselves but Brohm quickly pulled them back into reality. I think the foundation for the future has already taken hold.