Purdue made what — on paper, at least — looks like one of the offseason’s better hires, as the Boilermakers landed Jeff Brohm from Western Kentucky.
Brohm went 30-10 in his three years with the Hilltoppers, including a 22-5 mark — and 15-1 in Conference USA play — over the past two seasons. His teams regularly lit up the scoreboards and became must-see action in league play. Can Brohm now bring those theatrics to West Lafayette, Ind.?
Here are the top storylines facing Brohm and the Boilers as they open spring ball on Feb. 27.
5 Storylines to Watch in Purdue’s Spring Practice
1. David Blough’s development
In Jeff Brohm’s first year at Western Kentucky, Brandon Doughty finished second nationally in passing yards (371.5 ypg). In Brohm’s second year, Doughty finished third (363.0). And last year, new Hilltoppers QB Mike White ranked eighth nationally in the same category (311.6). Of course, it would be a stretch to expect Blough to pick up a new offense with the snap of a finger, but Brohm’s teams are at their best when the signal-caller is letting it rip, so monitoring how well Blough and the rest of the QBs adjust this spring is the biggest storyline surrounding this team.
2. Wide receiver progress
Purdue had three players catch 39 or more passes last season for 356 or more yards. All three players — DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall and Cameron Posey — are gone. So Blough will have to work with a new cast of receivers, as the two leading returning pass catchers are a tight end (Cole Herdman) and running back (Markell Jones).
3. Can the defense make progress?
Purdue’s defense in 2016 was, to put it nicely, not very good. The Boilers finished last in the Big Ten and 117th nationally in scoring defense (38.3 ppg) and next-to-last in the conference (and 91st nationally) in total D (445.8 ypg). Brohm brought coordinator Nick Holt with him from WKU to lead Purdue’s defense, and Holt’s Hilltoppers units showed some progress from 2014-16, going from an abysmal 123rd nationally in total D in the regime’s first year, to 71st in ‘15, to 41st in ‘16. While the Boilers have their work cut out for them after an abysmal 2016, there is some consolation: They were very young, as they return six of their top seven tacklers from last season. (They also add WKU graduate transfer linebacker T.J. McCollum, although he will be limited to non-contact drills this spring because of elbow surgery.)
4. Depth concerns
The major concern with any new regime early on is mastering the balance of setting a new tone without adding to the inevitable attrition that comes to a roster experiencing a coaching turnover. For Purdue, this gets tricky on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"We're going to have to be careful we're not running them into the ground and we're not losing people during the spring because our numbers are low," Brohm said, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier. "With that being said, we need to get a lot of reps. We're going to have to police how we do a little bit and make sure we're smart with it."
5. Can early enrollees make an impact?
When you go 3-9 and your head coach gets fired, your team has plenty of holes to fill. That makes the monitoring of the Boilers’ five early enrollees more noteworthy, considering the opportunities that are there for the taking, especially for three of those five mid-year players, who are junior college transfers: defensive end Kai Higgins, cornerback T.J. Jallow and offensive lineman Ethan Smart.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Purdue in the Big Ten
The good news, bad news for Purdue is that the Boilermakers currently stand in arguably the worst shape of anyone in the Big Ten West — but that there’s nowhere to go but up. That’s what the hiring of Jeff Brohm is expected to do: Improve this program dramatically, restoring the Cradle of Quarterbacks moniker and making the Boilers a legitimate threat again.
Does this mean slaying Wisconsin and Nebraska in Year 1? Of course not. But there’s no reason this program can’t eventually climb out of the division cellar in a few years and at least throw punches with Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota or Northwestern annually. Of course, two of those aforementioned programs have experienced coaching changes themselves over the past two years, so Purdue has some competition in its fight for respectability. Still, the Boilers have done it in the past, and that should be the goal for a program that, if nothing else, ought to be exciting to watch offensively early on.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.
(Jeff Brohm photo courtesy of www.purduesports.com)