Ten observations from today’s game.
1. I wondered how this team would respond to early adversity. And, it didn’t take long to find out: Not well. Purdue had the ball first, and it moved 13 yards on six plays. Then, it had its punt blocked. The Huskers scored a TD on the next play. It was an ominous start. The Cornhuskers’ average starting field position on their first three drives: The Purdue 30-yard line. It took Nebraska just 12 plays to take a 17-0 lead. Oh, and the Cornhuskers scored on all five of their first possessions, taking a 27-13 halftime lead.
“It was not the day we wanted,” said Jeff Brohm. “Got off to a bad start. Had a lot of penalties. Was not able to run the football, and it was a bad day for us. I thought we had a good week of practice, thought our guys were ready to play. I thought we would come out and play better. The bad start shot us in the foot early on and we weren’t able to overcome it. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to work through it. We’ve got a good opponent next week, and we got to figure out a way to get better.”
2. Rondale Moore’s last appearance in Ross-Ade Stadium didn’t go as anyone envisioned. He made 13 catches for 78 yards and ran one time for seven yards. It was a far cry from his debut back on Aug. 31, 2018, vs. Northwestern. That night, Moore had a huge opening salvo, catching 11 passes for 109 yards, running two times for 79 yards, including a nifty 76-yard run to tie the score at 14 and break Otis Armstrong’s school single-game record for all-purpose yards. Moore had 302 at halftime and wound up with 313 en route to becoming the first true freshman in Big Ten history be earn consensus All-American honors.
“Rondale has been a great ambassador for our program,” said Brohm. “He’s a heck of a player, very talented, he’s a great teammate. He’s got a bright future. And, you know, loved to have gotten him a few more wins this past year, but he was able to come back for a couple games with a couple more left, and we hope to utilize him and for him to finish as strong as he can, and see if we can figure out a way to win a football game. He’s worked extremely hard to get to this point.”
3. Special teans continue to be a major issue for this program. On Purdue’s first drive, Brohm opted to use third-string true freshman walk-on punter Brendan Cropsey. And, the punt was blocked, as the protection broke down. Nebraska recovered on the 1-yard line and scored on the next play to take a 7-0 lead.
“Well, we had some punting competition this week on Thursday,” said Brohm. “Brendan punted better than anyone else. To be quite honest, I believe it was one guy not getting their block that caused the punt to be blocked. But after that, we went with our other punters who have been in the game. So, I’d have to look at it, but I’m pretty sure it was a miscue on the blocking. We let somebody come free.”
4. Special teams, Part 2. The Boilermakers’ cup runneth over with special teams gaffes. On Purdue’s second punt of the game, it was flagged for a sideline interference. And after the Huskers’ second TD, Purdue was penalized for a substation infraction. In the second quarter, there was a kickoff out of bounds. Punting is disastrous. On this day, Purdue used three punters. And usual punter Brooks Cormier wasn’t one of them. There also was a mishandled punt return. On a positive note, the team may have something with TJ Sheffield on kickoff returns. And it was nice to see J.D. Dellinger nail two field goals, his first since the Minnesota game.
5. Jeff Brohm had a three-game losing skid in each of his first three seasons. Now, he has lost four in a row for the first time. The last time Purdue lost four games in a row was when it closed 2016–the Darrell Hazell era–with seven losses in a row. The Boilers lost the first game of 2017 before notching win to end what was an eight-game slide. How does Brohm fix this?
“Well, we tried to fix it this past week, and unfortunately we came out and got off to a bad start, and couldn’t get out of the hole,” said Brohm. “So, you know, you got to continue to work through it. You got to identify all the problems that you have, and you’ve got to coach better and play better. So, it’s just gonna be a combination of all those things. And we’ve got work to do to get ready for Indiana.”
6. Much was made in some circles about Purdue first-year DC Bob Diaco taking on the Huskers, for whom he was the DC in 2017. For the most part, the Cornhuskers had their way with Diaco’s defense. With a chance to set the tone to start the second half, Purdue’s defense got sliced up on a 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that saw Nebraska take a 34-13 lead. That killed the mojo Purdue had at the end of the first half, when it blocked a punt and kicked a field goal. Purdue still hasn’t notched a takeaway since the second quarter of the Northwestern game on Nov. 14. It did get a sack for just the second time in the last four games. The defense continues to struggle to get off the field on third downs. In the last four games—all losses—the Boilermakers are allowing foes to convert 49 percent of their third downs (30-of-61). Would Brohm consider changing the defensive staff at this moment?
“Right now, we’re going to work through our problems,” said Brohm. “There’s a multitude of areas we need to get better at. It doesn’t fall on one person or one segment of the game. We have a lot of work to do. All three segments need to play better. And each one’s taking their turn, and we’re not good enough to do that. So, all three segments need to get better. We have to grind this thing out as coaches and figure out a way to improve and see if we can try to find a way to play better next week at Indiana.”
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7. Where was Zander Horvath? The junior was a forgotten man on this day. He began the day No. 5 in the Big Ten in rushing (84.2 ypg), running 82 times for 421 yards and two TDs. He has three 100-yard rushing games in 2020, including 101 last week. But on this day, Horvath carried just seven times for 21 yards. Purdue had -2 yards rushing on 17 carries. The running game never got on track. So, it was pass, pass, pass. Jack Plummer hit 33-of-47 passes for 334 yards and three TDs. Still, Brohm fessed he did consider changing quarterbacks at one point.
“Yes, we definitely thought of putting Austin (Burton) in the game,” said Brohm. “And sometimes, it’s not all on the quarterback. Jack played hard, was under a little bit of duress. He made some plays, and we have to play better around that position. To ask our quarterback to make every throw, every play, we’ve got to play better around him. And we’ve got to make sure that we have a more balanced offense in order for our quarterback to play efficient.”
8. Since that glorious 49-20 win vs. No. 2 Ohio State on Oct. 20, 2018, Purdue has gone 8-16. It hasn’t taken long for the momentum in this program to evaporate. Will Purdue win again? It’s a fair question. The Boilermakers go to Indiana next week and then finish the season vs. a Big Ten East foe TBD.
9. Penalties everywhere today. There were 11 for 126 yards. Not a good reflection on the team’s discipline and attention to detail.
“Well, it was a bad job,” said Brohm. “I don’t know what all the penalties were, but we had numerous holding penalties that negated big plays and some things that happened. And then we had some dumb penalties on defense after the whistle that can never happen. And we’re for sure not good enough to overcome many of those and we had a lot of yards for penalties today, so I’ll have to go back and see exactly what they all were, but there was a lot.”
10. Jeff Brohm mentioned on Thursday that his roster had suffered some opt-outs. Some confirmed by GoldandBlack.com were running backs Da’Joun Hewitt and Tirek Murphy, along with FB Alfred Armour and CB D.J. Johnson. Brohm also confirmed wideouts Jared Sparks (opt out) and Amad Anderson, Jr. (transfer portal), had left. Hard to feel if any of these absences were consequential today. Still, the opt-outs/departures with three games left are a bad look—no matter how you spin it. After the game, Brohm confirmed the opt outs of Hewitt, Murphy, Johnson, Armour and Anderson.