The Purdue football has waited nearly 11 months to try and erase the memory of a miserable, injury-plagued 4-8 season in 2019.
The interminable offseason is finally set to end this afternoon when Purdue takes on Iowa in the 2020 season opener, but not all the Boilermakers have made it to the starting line healthy.
Monday, coach Jeff Brohm tested positive for COVID-19, leaving him watching the opener from his home in isolation after an appeal to be able to coach the game by phone was denied by the NCAA. Then on Thursday, Brohm announced that the team will also be down a “few” coaches and support staff against the Hawkeyes because of the coronavirus. Finally, news came Friday that star wide receiver Rondale Moore will miss the game for undisclosed reasons.
Purdue certainly won't be at full strength against an Iowa team coming off a 10-3 season and a Holiday Bowl win over USC, but Brohm believes his squad has done a good job in preparing all offseason and is ready for the challenge.
“Our guys have put in a lot of work, a lot of great effort over the last couple months, not only football-wise, but trying to stay safe and do their part to get an opportunity to play,” the fourth-year coach said.
“Now it's about going out there and proving your worth and measuring yourself against good football teams and that's what we've got in Iowa, a really talented, disciplined, hard-nosed team that's very tough to beat. We've got to go see how we measure up.”
Brohm will be watching the game on TV and has jokingly recommended that his family stay out of the room so they don't have to hear him if he gets upset. Coaching in his place will be his brother, co-offensive coordinator Brian Brohm, who will be the acting head coach and call the offensive plays. The younger Brohm, who played quarterback at Louisville, believes he is ready for the challenge of leading a team on his own.
“I'm looking forward to it, I feel prepared,” Brian Brohm said. “Football has been in my life since I can remember, so I've seen a lot of situations, seen a lot of games play out, played a lot games, been on the sideline for a lot of games.
“It's been a little bit more going over situations in my head, knowing what to do when, but I've always done that and been in Jeff's ear. But now it's going to be my call, which will be different. ... It'll be fun to be able to do that.”
The loss of Moore might be even more significant for the Boilers. The 2018 consensus All-American was one of the most dynamic players in the country that season and together he and sophomore David Bell were set to form maybe the best receiver tandem in the country. Bell, Amad Anderson, Milton Wright and TJ Sheffield can still cause defenses plenty of problems, but losing Moore is a blow.
“They're the best we've faced since (Jarvis) Landry and Odell Beckham (with LSU in the 2014 Outback Bowl),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Moore and Bell. “You look at Purdue and they've got a bunch of guys that can really go at the receiver position. But those two guys are marquee players. We tried to recruit Bell and just didn't have any luck, but what a great player he is. We had a hard time defending him last year alone.”
The players who will be active today are mostly just glad that the long offseason is finally over.
“The wait feels like forever,” tight end Payne Durham said. “All the guys are super pumped up, we're just ready to go out there and play football. We got the news that the season was canceled, this building was probably the worst place to be in America, everyone was down. Then we got the news we're starting back up, it couldn't come fast enough so now it's here and we're just ready to get out there and play football.”
Purdue vs. Iowa
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette
TV: Big Ten Network
Under center: Purdue had a three-man quarterback competition all summer and into preseason camp with redshirt sophomore Jack Plummer, redshirt junior Aidan O'Connell and UCLA transfer Austin Burton vying for the starting job. Coach Jeff Brohm said the Boilermakers have selected a starter and let him know this week, but the winner of the job will not be announced until just before the start of the game against Iowa. Brohm added it's well within the realm of possibility that more than one quarterback could see the field. O'Connell has the best arm, while Plummer is probably the most accurate and Burton is the best athlete.
Iowa on offense: The Hawkeyes were not a particularly potent offense in 2019, ranking 88th nationally with just 25.8 points per game. They could struggle to reach even that modest level this year with quarterback Nate Stanley gone and replaced by the inexperienced Spencer Petras. Petras, a redshirt sophomore, has attempted just 11 passes in his first two seasons on campus and he'll have to deal with a Purdue defensive front that features defensive end George Karlaftis, who had 17 tackles for loss last season as a true freshman. The Hawkeyes will rely on a two-headed monster at running back in Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent, who combined for 1,201 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Purdue gave up 192 rushing yards per game in 2019.
Iowa on defense: The Hawkeyes made their bones on defense last season, ranking fifth in the country in points allowed at 14 per game. They lost star defensive end AJ Epenesa, who was a second-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills, as well as cornerback Michael Ojemudia, a third-round pick of the Denver Broncos. Also departed is starting linebacker Dijimon Colbert, who had 61 tackles last season but opted out for 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns. The Hawkeyes will rely on corner Matt Hankins, who broke up seven passes and intercepted two last season, to try to slow down Purdue's aerial attack. Last season, Plummer racked up 327 yards passing on 50 attempts against Iowa, which won 26-20.
Prediction: Iowa 21, Purdue 16
- Dylan Sinn, The Journal Gazette