An annual tradition in West Lafayette in recent years has come to a close: Purdue has chosen the winner of its quarterback competition.
Redshirt junior Jack Plummer will start under center for the Boilermakers in Week 1 against Oregon State, Boilers coach Jeff Brohm announced after his team's practice Thursday. Brohm said the competition has been "extremely close."
"I think he's earned it," Brohm said of Plummer, who started the final three games of the 2020 season and six games in 2019. "He's worked extremely hard. He has good leadership skills. He wants to win and he wants to put in the work. His teammates respect him. He competed and battled and fought for the job.
"At the same time, we feel like we have a capable quarterback room. ... We have numerous guys who can go in the game at any point and they have to be ready for that."
Plummer won the job over a trio of other competitors: fifth-year senior Aidan O'Connell, UCLA transfer Austin Burton and redshirt freshman Michael Alaimo.
"The competition brings out the best in all of us because we have to be on our A-game all the time," Plummer said during fall camp.
O'Connell, Plummer and Burton battled for the job prior to the 2020 season, as well, and O'Connell won it, going on to start the first three games of the campaign before missing the rest of the season with a foot injury, which he originally suffered in a win over Illinois in Week 2.
Plummer started the final three games in 2020, going 0-3 with eight touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 71% of his throws. By contrast, O'Connell completed 64.8% of his passes and threw seven touchdowns against two picks in his three starts.
"Jack's done a good job of becoming more consistent on making good decisions, making accurate throws," Brohm said. "He gives us some athleticism, as well, which he has to utilize, when he's out there, whether it's a designed run or a scramble."
Athleticism is one of the areas where Plummer has the most clear advantage over the big-armed O'Connell, who is less mobile. Brohm said he wants his quarterbacks to run at least 4-6 times per game, whether on a scramble or a designed run.
Plummer, who raised his yards per attempt from 6.7 in 2019 to 7.6 in 2020, is also slightly more accurate than O'Connell and worked hard in the offseason on being able to get more power into his throws by training his lower body and hips.
The 6-foot-5 Gilbert, Arizona, native was the backup quarterback to start the 2019 campaign and started six games after Week 1 starter Elijah Sindelar went down with an injury early in the season. The then-redshirt freshman threw 11 touchdowns against eight interceptions before he also got hurt, clearing the way for O'Connell to finish the season as the starter.
That makes three straight seasons Plummer and O'Connell have battled for snaps. Brohm noted that each year he's been at Purdue the team has played multiple quarterbacks because of injury; prior to the '19 and '20 battles between Plummer and O'Connell, Sindelar and David Blough each made starts in 2017 and 2018.
Brohm, who is entering his fifth season leading the Boilermakers, declined to name a firm No. 2 quarterback, but said all three have strengths that will help in different situations.
"Aidan is a very accurate passer, he's played for us, he's got some moxie," Brohm said. "He's got some gamesmanship to him and he's very poised under pressure. Austin Burton has some traits similar to Jack where he's got some athleticism, he can move around and make plays. He's mastered the offense better this fall and he's right there on the cusp.
"And then even Michael Alaimo, had a little bit of an injury to his toe that set him back the last couple of weeks, but was really performing well and while he's young, the rate at which he improved is great to see, we're looking forward to hopefully at some point letting him showcase what he can do."
For now, however, Plummer is QB1.
"Jack has the confidence of the team," Brohm said. "He really cares about his teammates and this football team and I anticipate him playing well."