Wednesday, September 27, 2017 1:00 am
Boilermakers focus on stronger finishes
JEFF WASHBURN | For The Journal Gazette
WEST LAFAYETTE – Improved, but still a long way to go.
That's the way first-year Purdue coach Jeff Brohm sees his Boilermakers heading into this week's bye before playing host to unbeaten Minnesota (3-0) on Oct. 7 in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Purdue is 2-2, recording lopsided victories against Ohio University (44-21) and at Missouri (35-3) while losing to 17th-ranked Louisville (3-1) and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson (35-28) and last Saturday to No. 8 Michigan (4-0), which scored the final 21 points in a 28-10 victory.
Moving forward, it's obvious Purdue must find a way to improve its depth as well as its second-half offense and defense.
In the Michigan game, the Boilermakers' 32 first-half plays produced 179 yards. In the final 30 minutes, Purdue had the ball for only 18 plays and gained only 10 yards. The Wolverines gained 423 yards, including 292 yards and three rushing touchdowns in the final two quarters against a tired Boilermaker defense.
“I was proud of our effort,” Brohm said of playing a young and talented Michigan team. “Our defense just got worn down in the second half.”
Purdue defensive tackle Gelen Robinson, who made six tackles, including three for loss, said if the Boilermakers are going to be successful in their final eight games, the defense can't suffer fatigue during the third and fourth quarters. Michigan scored 21 points in the final 17:42.
“We're gonna need to work harder and figure out a way to get those stops late,” Robinson said.
Making stops in the first half of the Minnesota game will be more difficult because last Saturday, strong safety Jacob Thieneman and middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley were ejected in the second half for targeting penalties, which means each must sit out the first two quarters against the Gophers.
Brohm also wants his team to be careful what it says about an opponent. Early last week, wide receiver Gregory Phillips said the college football world would be shocked when the Boilermakers upset Michigan.
That certainly didn't happen.
“We need to keep our mouths shut and just play football,” Brohm said. “I want us to be confident and I don't want that (trash talking). I think we need to tone it down a little bit. Michigan is good, and we knew that coming in. We were a little too confident after a good SEC win on the road.
“The focus has to be on one game at a time. We have to earn our stripes. The Big Ten schedule is not going to get any easier. We have some tough games coming up, and we need to get back to working hard and having fun. Just worry about one team at a time. At the end of the season, we will see where we are.”
Another area of concern as Purdue enters its bye week is third-down conversions. The Boilermakers were a stunning 0 for 12 on third down against the Wolverines and now are 17 for 54 (31.5 percent) through four weeks.
“We have to work on calling better plays,” Brohm said. “We have to find a way to get guys open. We tried to call a couple of different things, but it seemed like nothing was working.”
Quarterback Elijah Sindelar, who finished Saturday's game after starter David Blough injured his right shoulder while being sacked, said fixing the third-down issue must be a point of emphasis.
“It's tough against a defense like Michigan's,” Sindelar said. “You can't make those mental mistakes like flags, fumbles, sacks or tackles for loss. If you shoot yourself in the foot, it's extremely hard to make up for it.”
Offensive left tackle Grant Hermanns said the offensive line is partially to blame for what has happened on third down.
“I think we just weren't as physical up front,” Hermanns said. “We knew what they were going to do. We saw it on film all week. We saw it Saturday. We have to execute and make plays.”
Brohm also is eager to see how Blough and starting running back Tario Fuller heal from injuries during the bye week. Fuller sprained an ankle at Missouri, did not practice at all last week and did not dress for the Michigan game. Blough's shoulder injury is the same kind that sidelined him for two weeks in August after he sprained his throwing shoulder during a scrimmage.
“Too early to tell if David will be ready to play (against Minnesota),” Brohm said. “Unfortunately we took sacks late.”
While Brohm would like to be above .500, he is a realist who understands how talented Louisville and Michigan are.
“The Louisville game, we had our chances,” Brohm said. “This Michigan game, we had a lead in the first half. In the second half, we got beat down Michigan style. That is the way they do it. We have to find a way to get better and improve.”
Brohm likes the way his defense – when not fatigued – has played and expects it to get better. Purdue had six tackles for loss in the first half Saturday.
“It definitely gets us motivated,” sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey said. “It gets the momentum on our side. When you get a team like Michigan that likes to run the ball off schedule, it makes them more predictable. We have to make more plays, especially in the second half.”
The Purdue fan base has bought in. Saturday's sellout of 60,042 was the Boilermakers' first sellout since Nov. 22, 2008, which was long-time coach Joe Tiller's last game at Purdue, a victory against rival Indiana.
“The crowd was amazing,” Brohm said. “It was great to see. It makes you want to work harder. We want to put a product out there that people want to watch. That crowd means a lot to our guys.”