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Previewing The Enemy: Purdue Boilermakers

It’s Penn State football time.

After a long offseason of anticipation, coaching changes, and transfer portal shakeups, the Nittany Lions are traveling to West Lafeyette to open their season against Purdue. After falling to 11-11 over the last two years, Penn State has a lot on the line come Thursday night.

But, who exactly is this Boilermaker team? Before the Nittany Lions take the field for the first time in 2022, let’s take an in-depth look at Purdue from all sides of the ball.

The Team

Head coach Jeff Brohm, who is entering his sixth year at Purdue’s helm, holds a career 58-39 record. Last year, the Boilermakers broke .500 for the first time in four years and appeared in the AP Poll for the first time since 2007. Veteran quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who returns this year, earned the starting job and led the way, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.

Along with O’Connell, Purdue’s 2021 squad was led by stars David Bell and George Karlaftis, who both earned first-team All-Big Ten awards but won’t return this year. The “Spoilermakers” picked up impressive wins over No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State en route to a 9-3 finish — good for second in the Big Ten West — and a Music City Bowl win over Tennessee.

Penn State holds a 15-3-1 all-time record over Purdue and is currently on a nine-game win streak. The two teams last met in 2019 when the No. 12 Nittany Lions secured a 35-7 win on Homecoming Weekend.

Offense

Led by O’Connell, Purdue developed one of the most potent pass-first offenses in the Big Ten last season. The Boilermakers attempted more passes by far than anyone in the conference and only finished second in passing yards behind Ohio State.

O’Connell was second only to the Buckeyes’ CJ Stroud as the most efficient and accurate passer in the Big Ten, boasting 28 touchdowns at a 71.8% clip. However, he’ll be without his workhorse in Bell this year, as the All-American was selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

To replace Bell, Brohm turned to the transfer portal and brought in Charlie Jones and Tyrone Tracy from Iowa. Jones hauled in three receiving touchdowns on 323 yards for the Hawkeyes last year while Tracy logged one of his own. The Boilermakers were counting on returning star wideout Milton Wright to carry a big load in the passing game, but he’ll be on academic suspension throughout the year.

Broc Thompson also shined in the bowl game with 217 yards and two touchdowns, which is a promising sign for Purdue’s wide receiving corps.

Tight end Payne Durham was heavily involved in the passing game last year as well, putting up an impressive 467 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Garrett Miller, Durham’s backup, will miss the 2022 campaign with an injury, which makes tight end among the thinnest of the Boilermakers’ position groups. Durham fought through nagging injuries last year, too.

For how bad Penn State’s run game was last year, Purdue’s was much worse and easily the worst in the conference. It averaged just 84 rushing yards per game and only found the end zone on the ground seven times all season. Lead back King Doerue returns after posting 533 yards last year, but the Boilermakers are going to really lean on the air attack.

Purdue is poised to return three starters along its offensive line in center Gus Hartwig, tackle Eric Miller, and guard Spencer Holstege. Thanks to its veteran status, this group is expected to take a step forward in 2022. O’Connell almost exclusively thrives as a pocket passer, so the line will need to buy him plenty of time against the rush to have success this season.

Defense

Despite losing first-round NFL Draft pick George Karlaftis and leading tackler Jaylan Alexander, this Purdue defense is seasoned and deep, as the Boilermakers are projected to return seven starters.

Jalen Graham, who plays all over the field but will likely start in a nickel-type role, is the star of the show for Purdue’s defense. He’s extremely versatile and also lines up at linebacker and safety. He logged 12 tackles in the Music City Bowl, adding to a two-interception, seven-PBU year. He struggled with a hamstring injury in the preseason but should be good to go against Penn State.

Up front, Purdue’s interior defensive line returns both its starters in seniors Lawrence Johnson and Branson Deen. Cole Brevard, who transferred in from Penn State, could see time here as well.

At end, Jack Sulivan will replace Karlaftis and is a promising talent after registering a sack during a bowl game start. The Boilermakers also have a position called “LEO,” which is equivalent to a fourth linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and is a hybrid role. Murray State transfer Scotty Humpich will likely line up here. Sophomore Kydran Jenkins will also see time.

Between seventh-year player Semisi Fakasiieiki and graduate Kieren Douglas, Purdue has an abundance of veteran leadership at linebacker. Douglas was third on the team in tackles in 2021 and will occasionally be joined by the aforementioned Graham at linebacker. Auburn transfer OC Brothers provides reinforcements here as well.

Thanks to the return of injured players, the Boilermakers’ secondary has the potential to be lethal. They lost Marvin Grant, who was the No. 2 tackler last year, to the transfer portal, but retained ball-hawking safety Cam Allen, who led the team with four interceptions. Cornerback Corey Trice returns from an ankle and ACL injury and will play across from Jamari Brown, who also was banged up heading into the season.

Special Teams

The addition of Jones will provide a major boost to Purdue’s return game, as the Iowa transfer won Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year in 2021. The Boilermakers also added Karl Maslowski as special teams coordinator over the offseason.

Mitchell Fineran returns as the placekicker after knocking in 24 of 29 kicks last season. Jack Ansell and Brandon Cropsey split punting duties last year and will continue to compete for the job.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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