The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 29, 2021 7:50 pm

Purdue crushes Indiana, looks ahead to bowl

Hoosiers look for answers

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Jeff Brohm needed a nap.

The fifth-year Purdue coach had earned it after leading his team to a third win in four tries against Indiana this afternoon, a more-than-convincing 44-7 triumph that capped an 8-4 season for the Boilermakers. For those keeping track, that's two more wins this year than Purdue had in 2019 and 2020 combined.

Brohm has a busy stretch coming up: before Purdue begins bowl prep, he'll head out on the recruiting trail, solidifying his team's commitments and trying to land more. Then he'll get down to work on the Boilermakers' final game, in which his team will have a chance to reach nine wins for the first time since 2003.

But first, some shut-eye.

"I'm going to take a couple naps, I'm pretty tired," Brohm said. "Thanksgiving I wasn't as festive as I should have (been). This season will wear you out, but that's football. You gotta work through it and you have to give it everything you've got. You've gotta be able to look in the mirror and say 'Okay, now I can rest.'"

Brohm and the Boilermakers can say that after a regular season that re-established the upward trajectory of the program's early years under Brohm, before the injury-riddled campaigns in '19 and '20 threatened to undo that progress.

It's fitting that the year the promise of the Brohm Era has come into full focus was the third (and maybe final) season at Purdue for in-state talents David Bell and George Karlaftis. Both of the former prized recruits were instrumental in today's victory: Bell had six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown despite dealing with an injury that kept him out of practice all week. Karlaftis had three tackles, including a sack, despite taking on double teams on a significant number of snaps. 

After the game, Brohm made his pitch to other such elite in-state recruits who might want to be part of what he is building in West Lafayette.

"Anybody in state or in the surrounding area that wants to come somewhere and be a difference-maker, help Purdue become great, make a name for themselves, do some great things in state with their family and friends a big part of it, with us trying to set them up for huge success after (Purdue), that's what we like to do and we're good at it," Brohm said.

"If you look at Rondale Moore, David Bell, George Karlaftis, those guys were three guys that could've pretty much went anywhere and they chose to come here and they have more than a bright future. People around this state appreciate what they've done and what they've given."

If Bell and Karlaftis are done playing at Ross-Ade Stadium – their participation in Senior Day festivities underscores the idea they will seriously consider departing for the NFL at the end of this season – it will be after meeting (and often exceeding) every expectation set for them and the program when they came to West Lafayette in 2019.

"My freshman year winning four games and last year winning two, those were pretty disappointing seasons," Bell said. "For us to win eight games this year and a possibility to win a ninth game is huge for the program. ... To be able to win and continue to show that Purdue is a winning school, that was my No. 1 (goal) coming to Purdue, to win the most games possible and to change the narrative of Purdue."

As influential as four-star recruits Bell and Karlaftis have been, the Boilermakers' improvement through the latter part of this season, when they've won 4 of 5, has also been driven in large part by a former walk-on. Quarterback Aidan O'Connell has raised his game to such a level it caused Bell speculated after the victory over the Hoosiers that O'Connell's name would have been in the Heisman conversation if the Boilers had won a few more games this season.

And why not? O'Connell has thrown for more than 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception in his last four games and has led the Boilers to a pair of wins over top 5 opponents this season. He is putting together the best stretch of quarterback play at Purdue in Brohm's tenure, a remarkably high standard after the performances of David Blough and Elijah Sindelar in 2017 and 2018.

"If we can space some guys out and get them open, he's going to hit them," Brohm said of O'Connell. "He just has been really been good at throwing the ball in tight windows. He stands in there, he sees things, he anticipates, spreads it around pretty daggone good the last few games. He just works really hard."

Now Purdue will wait to receive a bowl invitation. The Boilers will likely end up in one of the Big Ten's mid-tier bowls, such as the Las Vegas, Music City or Gator. Any of those would be an accomplishment for a team that seemed to have lost all of its momentum entering the season.

For the Hoosiers, the story is the opposite. When the season began, Indiana seemed to have as much momentum as it has in a half-century. The program's recruiting level had been elevated, the Hoosiers were coming off a season that saw them climb into the top 10 and threaten Ohio State and Tom Allen was the National Coach of the Year. All of that feels like a million years ago.

Indiana saw its 2021 season end with a whimper today. The Hoosiers hurt themselves on more than a few occasions: extending a drive with an unnecessary pass interference penalty on fourth down, getting a pick-six called back because of another pass interference penalty, picking up an unsportsmanlike conduct call after a big run, blowing coverages. All of it added up to the latest in a string of lackluster efforts for the Hoosiers to close the season. 

By the final minutes, Indiana was running the ball on nearly every play, content to let the clock bleed away and get back to Bloomington as quickly as possible. Few seemed to want the season to continue for another minute.

Sunday, the real work begins for Allen. He'll have to evaluate every part of his program, as Brohm did after last season. As with Purdue in the winter of 2020-21, that evaluation will likely include some changes on Allen's staff. The fifth-year Hoosiers coach built a respectable program in his first four seasons at the helm and seemed to be on the verge of doing more. Now, it will take a monumental lift just to get back to respectable.

“I would say that evaluation process begins immediately," Allen said. "That’s part of this process, you’ve got to be accountable for the performance of your guys and accountable for your areas of responsibility so yeah, it starts with me, I’m the one in charge and so that accountability flows downhill, so that will be immediately evaluated.”


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