As Syracuse Orange football draws closer to hitting the Dome turf again, we continue to preview all 12 of SU’s opponents. Last time out, we examined a favorable matchup at UConn. Now we take a look at an opponent from the soon-to-be super conference known as the Big Ten. On paper, this is the most challenging game before the bye week - and an opportunity for a statement win.
School: Purdue University
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Recommended Blog: Hammer and Rails
Conference: Big Ten
History vs. Syracuse: These two schools have faced each other exactly once: on September 5, 2004, the No. 24 Boilermakers schooled the visiting Orange 51-0. So... yeah. Let’s actually put points on the board this time and go from there.
Coach: Jeff Brohm, sixth season. In college at Louisville, Brohm played both football and baseball, though he gave up the later for a shot at the NFL. As a journeyman QB, he spent time with the Chargers, Washington, 49ers, Bucs, Broncos, and Browns, as well as the Orlando Rage of the XFL’s 1st iteration. In 2003, Brohm joined his alma mater’s coaching staff. After stints as the QB coach at FAU, Illinois, and UAB, he took an assistant position with Western Kentucky in 2013. The Hilltoppers promoted him to head coach the next year, and he subsequently led the program to a 30-10 record over three seasons. The team also won two bowl games and finished No. 24 on the AP poll in 2015. He departed the program for Purdue prior to the 2016 bowl season. The Boilermakers have gone 28-29 with three bowl games since, a massive improvement from four years in the basement beforehand.
2021 Record: (9-4) (6-3)
Recapping Last Season:
Purdue stalled in 2019 (4-8) and derailed in a COVID-shortened 2020 (2-4) but went full steam ahead in 2021. After winning the first two games, they lost a close one to No. 10 Notre Dame. After splitting their next two, Purdue stunned the No. 2 team in the country with a 24-7 win at Iowa and briefly became ranked themselves (No. 25). Another 1-1 split set the stage for a matchup with No. 3 Michigan State. The Boilermakers bested the Spartans but could not repeat that magic the next week at No. 4 Ohio State. Two more wins to close out the regular season landed them a spot in the Music City Bowl, where they beat the de-facto home team of Tennessee 48-45 in OT.
Purdue’s passing attack was one of the best in all of college football, averaging the 5th-most yards per game (355.4) in the air. You can attribute that to the killer connection between veteran QB Aidan O’Connell and top WR David Bell. O’Connell threw for 3,712 yards with 28 TDs and 11 picks, giving him the 5th-best QBR in the FBS. Bell had 93 catches for 1,286 yards and 6 TDs. He was one of SIX receivers on the roster with 30 or more catches. While this unit was truly elite, the rushing attack was anything but. They were the 4th-worst in the nation with 84.2 yards per game and only 2.8 per attempt.
The Boilermakers had some big contributions from blitzers and ballhawks alike. The defense combined for 25 sacks and 13 interceptions, along with 4 fumble recoveries. Safety Cam Allen picked off four balls while Kydran Jenkins, George Karlaftis, and DaMarcus Mitchell got to the opposing QB 14 times total. This group allowed just over 20 points per game and defended pretty evenly between runs and passes. Kicker Mitchell Fineran was a busy man, making 24/29 FGs.
2022 Season Outlook:
The season starts off with home contests against Penn State and Indiana State before the trip to Syracuse. Purdue will also get FAU, Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern at home, along with visits to Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. There really aren’t any games on this schedule that the Boilers can’t win but expect a few close losses. Another bowl game is well in sight.
The receiving corps will miss Bell, who is now with the Cleveland Browns, and Milton Wright, who was ruled academically ineligible for 2022. T.J. Sheffield, Broc Thompson, and TE Payne Durham should pick up the slack. They’ll still have O’Connell slinging passes their way in his sixth and final college season. King Doerue will get another shot to lead the backfield, hopefully with improved results. The offensive line appears to be stable for the near future.
A lot of pieces left the defense to chase NFL opportunities, but there are still playmakers sprinkled throughout the squad. Jenkins, Kieren Douglas, and Jalen Graham are still a formidable bunch who can create pressure. Allen also returns for another go with Marvin Grant under his wing. There are a lot of upperclassmen in starting roles that should keep this unit sturdy.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 17
Location: JMA Wireless Dome, Syracuse, New York
Odds of Orange Victory: 20%
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
The Boilermakers’ air-attack ought to be a good counter to what the Orange present on D. With a relatively unproved front seven, Syracuse may struggle to consistently pressure the quarterback, and it's only a matter of time until balls find their way downfield to the plethora of available receiving options. It’s a little too optimistic to imagine Purdue losing a shootout against SU, especially when Garrett Shrader has to contend with lockdown defenders no matter where he looks. Unless Sean Tucker comes through with one of his incredible performances, this could get ugly.