It’s somehow finally game week for Oregon State and with a bit of an unknown opponent in Purdue on the horizon, we reached out to Travis Miller from over at Hammer and Rails, Purdue’s SB Nation community, for some answers about the Boilermakers and what they bring to the table. If you’d also like to see what we had to tell them about the Beavers, check out their Q&A with us.
1. Most Oregon State fans are probably not familiar one bit about Purdue and their current team. Let’s start with the offense. Who are the main pieces on that side of the ball that the Beavers need to worry about?
The top player is definitely wide receiver David Bell. He has been fantastic his first two years and is in line to be a top 50 draft pick if he elects to leave for the NFL after this year, which he will. Purdue fans are exceedingly frustrated that we never really got to see what he could do in conjunction with Rondale Moore, as he really came on as a freshman after Moore was injured in 2019, then got only 3 games with him last season. He is an elite talent though. He plays the ball well in the air and will be a “throw the ball up and tell him to go get it” target a few times a game. I expect a 100 catch, 1,000 yard, 10 TD season out of him, at minimum.
The rest of the offense is very pass first. Junior QB Jack Plummer won the starting job and should be fine. He was pressed into action as a redshirt freshman in 2019 due to injury, then got hurt himself. He sat behind Aidan O’Connell in the first three games last year, but started the final three and completed over 70% of his passes. I expect him to take a step forward this year because we have a ton of receiving talent even with Rondale gone. Zander Horvath, a former walk-on, is a big, bruising back that played well last year and should provide a decent running game.
2. Now to the defense. Obviously, defensive end George Karlaftis is one of the main talents who excels at putting fear in the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators. How is the Boilermakers’ defense being viewed heading into 2021?
Well, the defense has to be better than last year. Bob Diaco was a mistake as a defensive coordinator and was removed after a year. Karlaftis was limited to just three games last season, but when he played, the defense was significantly better. He draws so much attention that DaMarcus Mitchell can be quite disruptive on the other end. Purdue also brought in a bunch of transfers with linebacker OC Brothers as probably the most exciting one.
I am really high on safeties Jalen Graham, Cam Allen, and Marvin Grant. I think they are flying under the radar a bit and I really want to see what they can do in the middle. A lot rests on Karlaftis though. When he played last year, there was an actual pass rush. When it was out, there was none. He opens things up so much and I personally think he is good enough to be the difference in a game or two this year.
3. If there’s one point of growth team-wide that needs to improve for Purdue this season in order to climb through the ranks of the Big Ten, what would it be?
The defense and special teams have to be better. Simply put, those units cost us three wins last year. At Minnesota we missed a field goal and had a short one blocked in a three point loss (though we still won the game if not for an egregious pass interference call with less than a minute left). We gave up a kickoff return for a score against Rutgers. There was a punt blocked and a big return given up against Nebraska. There has been almost a complete makeover on special teams, and the punting game really couldn’t be worse.
The defense also could not get off the field against Rutgers and Nebraska last year. What was especially frustrating was Rutgers, where they simply ran read option and bled the fourth quarter away. Still, Purdue was close enough last year that a few more stops will really be the difference.
4. Name the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of this Boilermakers group.
The receivers. Brohm has recruited the receiver position very well. In addition to Bell Milton Wright, Mershawn Rice, Croc Thompson, and TJ Sheffield should be very good. Jackson Anthrop is the townie kid that stayed for his COVID 6th year and was excellent in the slot in 2017 before that Rondale guy came in. He is one of those players that gives everything he has to a program and pays off, especially when he had an older brother on our basketball team and another as a receiver before he got here.
I would say the lines outside of Karlaftis are weak. Defensive Tackle is probably my top concern, while the offensive line is decent, but thin with only about 7 guys Brohm trusts right now. That can become a big problem in a hurry.
5. And finally, just as you asked, what is your prediction for this one?
I think we see points. It’s the first game in front of fans in 2 years. In many ways it is the first full strength game for both in 2 years. There’s going to be missed assignments and big plays. I think this is the most critical game of Brohm’s tenure given the momentum he has lost, but I think he pulls it out. Purdue 38, Oregon State 31.