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2021 football opponent preview: Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilers have a wide open QB competition and some talent on both sides of the ball. Can they finally beat the Badgers?

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It is August now, which means that it is time to seriously turn our attention to college football. The Wisconsin Badgers opened up fall practice two weeks ago and the rest of the country has joined them. For the rest of the month, we will be posting two articles about each opponent on Wisconsin’s schedule.

The first post will be written by one of our staffers and will give you a basic overview of each team the Badgers are playing. The second post will be written by a variety of fans and writers of each team, giving us a more in-depth look at the team from those who follow it closely. We’ve got other SB Nation site contributors, newsletter writers, podcast hosts, and other Twitter sports shouters on deck. It should be a lot of fun.

Up next in our preview series we take a look at Purdue.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Northwestern at Purdue
Linebacker Jaylan Alexander waiting for whatever stupid play Northwestern is going to run.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team name: Purdue Boilermakers
2020 record: 2-4 (2-4 Big Ten)
Date/location of 2021 game: October 23, West Lafayette, Ind.
Last time vs. Wisconsin: 45-24 loss at UW in 2019.

Returning leaders:

Passing: Junior QB Jack Plummer, 88-of-124 (71.0%) for 938 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions
Rushing: Senior RB Zander Horvath, 89 attempts for 453 yards (5.0 ypc), two touchdowns
Receiving: Junior WR David Bell, 53 catches for 625 yards (11.8 ypc), eight touchdowns, long of 89 yards
Tackles: Senior LB Jaylan Alexander, 49 tackles, two tackles for loss
Sacks: Junior DE George Karlaftis, two sacks
Interceptions: Junior S Cam Allen, two INTs

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Key offensive player:

While stud WR David Bell is the clear statistical pick — as well as a target Purdue will likely have to lean on with superstar Rondale Moore being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals last year — the Boilermakers are kinda hoping any quarterback shows up.

Their two quarterbacks who split time last year — Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell who both had over 900 yards each throwing the ball — are still with the program, but apparently the competition is wide open. That doesn’t seem like a great sign, considering both Plummer and O’Connell had about identical — and halfway decent — statistical performances. UCLA transfer Austin Brown or redshirt freshman Michael Alaimo are also in the running to be the one who throws to Bell. Because while he might be very very good at football, it does really matter who gives you the ball there. And it’s harder to pass the ball than to throw it (spoken like a true Wisconsin graduate).

Key defensive player:

Homegrown talent George Karlaftis will be the star man to watch for the Boilermakers on the defensive side of the ball. Karlaftis — whose younger brother Yanni signed with Purdue in the class of 2021 — is a force of an edge rusher at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds. Last season, he led the pass rush for Purdue with two sacks in the shortened season and not a ton of help.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Vanderbilt at Purdue
Karlaftis can’t even stand up for the whole game? How good can he even be? (spoiler: very good)
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He is — along with senior DaMarcus Mitchell — going to be leading the defensive line from the edge as Purdue replaces their two interior linemen. Karlaftis also had an injury shortened season, playing in only three games. Despite that, the off-brand Greek Freak led the team in sacks. If he is healthy and can put together a good season off the edge, he can help Purdue’s solid and returning defensive secondary shape together a defense that was No. 56 nationally.

2021 season preview:

Despite being forever in my heart after stopping Ohio State 49-20 in 2018 in one of the most inexplicable recent college football results, Jeff Brohm’s Purdue has been overall...not great. Brohm has only been 19-25 in four years in West Lafayette, and although he’s secured fun players like Rondale Moore and David Bell, there’s not been much cohesion around the offense.

The Boilermakers also don’t look set for a suddenly huge season either. They have a tricky opener against a semi-rising team out west in Oregon State —who has been playing better than their record — before heading to a somehow crappier place in Indiana at this little private school called Notre Dame. Sure, they have hapless UConn as an obvious win, but it looks like the Boilermakers could roll into Big Ten play with a 1-2 record.

While Purdue ducks Michigan and Penn State in the eastern opponents, they have to travel to Columbus in November and host Michigan State, who might put something together with new coach Mel Tucker before ending the season with Indiana.

What I’m saying is the schedule doesn’t do them a ton of favors. Neither does their game against Northwestern which inexplicably is in Chicago despite being listed as a home game.

People smarter than me predict them to finish sixth in the division, ahead of Illinois. But it’s not super clear if they can find a win to get to six wins and become bowl eligible.

I think a lot is riding on quarterback play — which, duh, makes sense as they touch the ball every single snap. But two guys who Brohm couldn’t decide on if they should stay starters, a UCLA transfer and Purdue freshman don’t exactly inspire confidence.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 31 Purdue at Illinois
Aidan O’Connell is the other QB who might start. Both guys are...fine.
Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Or, you can take an optimistic view here as well: two straight wins over similarly low level Oregon State at the start and an abysmal UConn gives momentum heading into the game against the Irish. Sure, Notre Dame wins but it’s closer than you might think. After that, they have a game against Illinois which seems like the easiest Big Ten win in their slate. If they go 3-1 through that stretch, maybe the Boilermakers can — pun intended — get on the right track and roll into deeper Big Ten play with some confidence.

Or maybe a loss in the opener against Oregon — pun intended — derails their confidence and they sputter out to an 0-4 start and Jeff Brohm’s seat is — train metaphor intended — getting stoked with coals. Maybe returning seven starters on both sides of the ball means much less when it’s Purdue quality starters.

Either way, Brohm might be coaching for his job, and needing to reach a bowl at the minimum to do so. Or — ok I swear this is it — it’s the end of the line for the Brohm era.