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Syracuse football: Q&A with Hammer and Rails

A look from the opposition’s side

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Fresno State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange look to go to 3-0 to start the 2023 season. And for the second year in a row, the Purdue Boilermakers stand in the way of that record. Last year’s contest was a wild and unpredictable affair that saw the Orange survive a 4th quarter shootout to win 32-29. It’s a much different Boilermakers team than last year, so how do they look now? Andrew Ledman from our friends at Hammer and Rails was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about Purdue.


TNIAAM: Syracuse fans are probably surprised to learn that Purdue reached the Big Ten Championship game last season. How did that happen?

Hammer and Rails: I mean, the Big Ten West was/is(?) not a very good division. The bulk of the big name teams reside in the conference’s East so Purdue was able to do just enough to get to the conference championship game where Michigan took them down. The schedule for Purdue in conference play was also very favorable.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 27 Big Ten Conference Media Days Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TNIAAM: Jeff Brohm left for his alma mater in Louisville, which means Purdue brought in Ryan Walters. What was your initial reaction to his hiring?

H&R: There’s always a bit of a disappointment when you don’t hire THE NAME of the offseason but that was never gonna happen at Purdue so they went with what I think was the best option they had. A young up and coming coordinator who has had success at Illinois and is very highly regarded in the profession. He gives Purdue a cool factor that Jeff Brohm simply didn’t bring. He also has a reputation as a good recruiter and that’s always a plus.

TNIAAM: So… the Walters era didn’t get off to the greatest of starts. What happened in that Fresno State game?

H&R: Purdue played their 5th string center at one point. I’m not even sure you can call him a 5th string center though because generally you don’t have a 5th string center, you’ve got a guy who plays line and can maybe snap the ball a bit. It honestly was devastating for the offensive line. Purdue was without the starter and backup at center (further injuries during the game caused issues) as well as their top two tight ends. The offensive line was bad and somehow the defensive secondary was worse.

TNIAAM: With a five-and-a-half hour rain delay against Virginia Tech, did you really learn anything from that weird game?

H&R: Yeah I think we learned that Purdue can be resilient. It’s never good to go up 17-0 and then suddenly see the game is tied 17-17, but Purdue didn’t give up. The defense fought back and pitched a shutout in the second half and allowed barely any rushing yards which is a huge key. They also did better on third down. Lots of things to learn.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Purdue at Virginia Tech Photo by Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TNIAAM: Gone is Aiden O’Connell, in is Texas transfer Hudson Card. What’s been the consensus on his play so far?

H&R: I think Purdue fans have been overjoyed. Losing AOC was a huge blow and Purdue didn’t really know who or what they had behind him to step in. Could there have been a hidden gem there? Maybe. We just didn’t know. Instead, Coach Walters made going out and getting a QB his number one priority and he got his first choice in the Texas transfer. He’s been accurate, no interceptions yet, and is not afraid to use his legs when needed.

TNIAAM: Also gone is Charlie Jones. Who’s stepped up to replace him?

H&R: No one player is going to be able to replace Charlie Jones. He was, in essence, the sole WR that Purdue consistently went to last year. Which is great when he’s as dominant as Jones was throughout the year, but it also stifles the growth of the rest of the unit a bit. Deion Burks has looked good so far this year and shown an ability to make a big play against Fresno State but Virginia Tech effectively took him out of the game with their coverage. Purdue will have to replace the production of Charlie Jones via committee and maybe that’s good, but they certainly are still looking for that dominant number one WR.

TNIAAM: Purdue’s defense was remarkably average in the Big Ten rankings last season. What are the strengths and weaknesses of that unit?

H&R: Weakness is easy, the secondary. In that game against Fresno State they were missing tackles, they were letting WRs behind them, and just overall doing everything you don’t want the secondary to do. It was just one of the worst performances of any defensive unit in recent memory.

To go the other way I think the defensive line has been impressive. They have found themselves in the backfield quite a bit and have been able to slow both teams running attacks down. Virginia Tech netted just 11 rushing yards on the day. That’s an impressive number even if you aren’t a running team.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Fresno State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TNIAAM: Who’s an unsung hero on both sides of the ball that deserves attention?

H&R: I think we’ve seen that Gus Hartwig is truly the offensive’s unsung hero. He’s Purdue’s starting center who has not yet played this season, though they are hopeful for a return on Saturday. The offensive line never truly gets the credit it deserves but with Hartwig out you’ve really seen how much he anchors this offensive line.

On the defensive side of the ball I think Kydran Jenkins is becoming that guy. The senior out of Georgia is really starting to step-up. The linebacker had a great game against Virginia Tech last week with four tackles and a sack. Not exactly eye popping numbers sure but he make an impact on the field.

TNIAAM: It isn’t college football in 2023 without talking about realignment. What’s your opinion on your new West Coast conference mates?

H&R: There’s good and bad with all these moves. It means that Purdue is basically set for cash for well...ever. I mean these new TV deals, precipitated in part by realignment and the promise of growth in other areas of the country mean that Purdue will be getting anywhere from $30-$50 million more a year than schools in other conferences and those numbers are just astounding. It will of course make it incredibly incredibly difficult for Purdue to find a way to win the Big Ten, which was always tough, and that stinks. In some sense the rich get richer here but at least Purdue’s conference is secure.

TNIAAM: Prediction time. Who’s taking home the win in this primetime affair?

H&R: Purdue just plays different at home in night games. There’s just something about the atmosphere and something about the way the teams react to it. I know that Ross-Ade isn’t exactly known as the toughest place to play but I think if you look back at who has lost there in recent years you’ll be surprised at the graveyard of top 10 teams. I think Purdue are really underestimating Purdue here. Just as I think it’s likely that I’m underestimating Syracuse. I’m sticking with my gut and picking Purdue 35-31.


Big thanks once again to Andrew from Hammer and Rails for taking some time to answer these questions. We answered some of their burning questions about the Orange on their side as well. You can find that Q&A by clicking the link here.